It’s time for the U.S. to show global leadership on race

The Obama administration’s decision to boycott a coming global conference on racism is disappointing.

The gathering, which will take place in Geneva from April 20 to 24, seems a natural venue for the United States to offer global leadership to combat bigotry and injustice.

The U.N. conference seems to be exactly the right place for our new president to show the world that his administration’s commitment to “change we can believe in” means rejecting our country’s tarnished legacy of violating international law, undermining the United Nations and using American exceptionalism to justify walking away from the leadership responsibility many in the world expect of the United States. It is also a great opportunity to remind the world that that the United States believes that every group of victims facing discrimination or worse based on their identity should be recognized and promised assistance.

This should be a moment for the United States to rejoin the global struggle against racism, the struggle that the Bush administration so arrogantly abandoned. The language in the conference’s draft declaration to which the Obama administration objected has been removed. The U.N. Human Rights Commission has gone to extraordinary lengths to accommodate our government’s concerns, and yet the administration still has the document under review.

In 2001, I traveled to Durban, South Africa, to join the tens of thousands of people who came to participate in the U.N.-sponsored World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, the precursor to this conference. More than 2,000 people came from the United States, a rainbow of people crossing all lines – racial, ethnic, national, language, immigration status, religious and much more – joining an equally diverse crowd from across the globe. It was an extraordinary opportunity to meet, discuss, argue and strategize over how to rid the world of these long-standing evils.

I hope President Obama will agree that the United States of America must participate with other nations in figuring out the tough issues of how to overcome racism and other forms of discrimination and intolerance, and how to provide repair to victims. Our country certainly has much to learn from – and maybe, for the first time in a long time, we have something by way of leadership to share with – the rest of the world in continuing our long struggle to overcome.

The Obama administration needs to be in attendance at Geneva.

Danny Glover is an actor/activist and the chair of the TransAfrica Forum board of directors.

? 2009, Danny Glover. Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services