Race, Racism and the Law 
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United States Report on Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,
  Initial Country Report (Sept, 2000). 

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The Government of the United States of America welcomes the opportunity to report to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on the legislative, judicial, administrative and other measures giving effect to its undertakings under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, in accordance with Article 9 thereof. The form and content of this report follow the General Guidelines adopted by the Committee in July 1993 (CERD/C/70/Rev.3).

This report has been prepared by the U.S. Department of State with extensive assistance from the White House, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and other departments, agencies and entities of the United States Government most closely concerned with the issues addressed by the Convention. Contributions were also solicited and received from interested members of the many non-governmental organizations and other public interest groups active in the area of civil rights, civil liberties and human rights in the United States. The report covers the situation in the United States through August 2000 and constitutes the initial report to the Committee.

The United States ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in October 1994, and the Convention entered into force for the United States on November 20, 1994. In its instrument of ratification, which was deposited with the Secretary General of the United Nations pursuant to Article 17(2) of the Convention, the United States conditioned its ratification upon several reservations, understandings and declarations. These are set forth at Annex I and discussed at the relevant portions of this report.

Since June 17, 1997, the Federal government has been engaged in a major review of domestic race issues. On that date, the President established an "Initiative on Race" and authorized creation of a seven-member Advisory Board to examine issues of race, racism and racial reconciliation and to make recommendations on how to build a more united America for the 21st Century. Executive Order No. 13050, 62 Fed. Reg. 32987 (June 17, 1997). The Advisory Board submitted its report to the President on September 18, 1998. Based on its recommendations, the Administration is proceeding to formulate specific proposals and plans for action. A copy of the Initiative's final report and a chart-book prepared for the President's Initiative by the Council of Economic Advisers entitled "Changing America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well Being by Race and Hispanic Origin" (September 1998) are available at the White House web site: http//:www.whitehouse.gov.

Since 1992, the United States has also been a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, some provisions of which have wider application than those of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The initial U.S. Report under the Covenant, which provides general information, was submitted to the Human Rights Committee in July 1994 (HRI/CORE/I/Add.49 and CCPR/C/81/Add.4) http://www.state.gov. The United States also ratified the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment at the same time as it ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The initial U.S. Report under the Convention Against Torture was submitted to the Committee Against Torture in September 1999. . .

Prior to ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the United States Government undertook a careful study of the requirements of the Convention in light of existing domestic law and policy. That study concluded that U.S. laws, policies and government institutions are fully consistent with the provisions of the Convention accepted by the United States. Racial discrimination by public authorities is prohibited throughout the United States, and the principle of non-discrimination is central to governmental policy throughout the country. The legal system provides strong protections against and remedies for discrimination on the basis of race, color, ethnicity or national origin by both public and private actors. These laws and policies have the genuine support of the overwhelming majority of the people of the United States, who share a common commitment to the values of justice, equality, and respect for the individual.

The United States has struggled to overcome the legacies of racism, ethnic intolerance and destructive Native American policies, and has made much progress in the past half century. Nonetheless, issues relating to race, ethnicity and national origin continue to play a negative role in American society. Racial discrimination persists against various groups, despite the progress made through the enactment of major civil rights legislation beginning in the 1860s and 1960s. The path towards true racial equality has been uneven, and substantial barriers must still be overcome.

Therefore, even though U.S. law is in conformity with the obligations assumed by the United States under the treaty, American society has not yet fully achieved the Convention's goals. Additional steps must be taken to promote the important principles embodied in its text. In this vein, the United States welcomed the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance during the fall of 1994 and took note of the report of his findings (E/CN.4/1995/78/Add.1, dated 16 January 1995). In November 1997, the White House convened an unprecedented Hate Crimes Conference to formulate effective responses to the increasing number of violent crimes motivated by racial and ethnic sentiments. The President's Initiative on Race, the establishment of the White House Office on the President's Initiative for One America, and the preparation of this report constitute important parts of that effort. Indeed, in confronting issues of race every day, the American public is engaged in an ongoing dialogue to determine how best to resolve racial and ethnic tensions that persist in U.S. society.

Reflecting the multi-ethnic, multi-racial and multi-cultural nature of America today, the private sector plays an important role in combating racism in the United States, through activities and programs conducted by such non-governmental groups ("NGOs") as the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Amnesty International, the Anti-Defamation League, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, B'nai Brith, the Cuban-American National Council, Human Rights Watch, Indigenous Environmental Network, the Japanese American Citizens League, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, the Lawyers' Committee on Employment Rights, the League of United Latin-American Citizens, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Conference for Community and Justice, the National Council of La Raza, the National Congress of American Indians, the National Urban League, the Native American Rights Foundation, Na Koa Ikaika, the Organization of Chinese Americans, the Southern Organizing Committee, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Southwest Network for Economic and Environmental Justice, among many others. NGOs played a vital role in the Civil Rights Movement, have been actively involved in the President's Initiative on Race, and continue to be instrumental in working towards full achievement of the purposes of this Convention. Information about the activities of these and many other civil rights NGOs can be obtained through the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a coalition of organizations dedicated to promoting civil and human rights in the United States http://www.civilrights.org.

As a functioning, multi-racial democracy, the United States seeks to enforce the established rights of individuals to protection against discrimination based upon race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability status, and citizenship status in virtually every aspect of social and economic life. Federal law prohibits discrimination in the areas of education, employment, public accommodation, transportation, voting, and housing and mortgage credit access, as well as in the military and in programs receiving federal financial assistance. The Federal government has established a wide-ranging set of enforcement procedures to administer these laws, with the U.S. Department of Justice exercising a major coordination and leadership role on most critical enforcement issues. State and local governments have complementary legislation and enforcement mechanisms to further these goals.

At both the federal and state levels, the United States has developed a broad range of legal and regulatory provisions and administrative systems to protect and to promote respect for civil rights. Enforcement agencies have worked diligently over the last three decades to improve enforcement of these rights and to promote education, training and technical assistance. In addition, over the years, the U.S. Congress has significantly strengthened the enforcement provisions of some of the civil rights statutes. The Federal government remains committed to providing full, prompt, and effective administration of these laws.

This commitment to eliminating racial discrimination began with the Emancipation Proclamation (effective on January 1, 1863), which freed the slaves in the Confederacy (the region comprised of the southern states which attempted to secede from the Union), and with the end of the American Civil War (1861-65). Since that time, American society has sought to create ever more effective means to address and resolve racial and ethnic differences without violence. Indeed, the amendments to the United States Constitution enacted at the war's conclusion, the Thirteenth Amendment (ending slavery), the Fourteenth Amendment (guaranteeing equal protection of the laws and due process of law), and the Fifteenth Amendment (guaranteeing Black [note 1] citizens the right to vote), directly addressed questions of racial discrimination. The laws enacted in the Reconstruction Era, immediately following the Civil War, also addressed the rights of minorities. Unfortunately, however, these laws did not succeed in changing attitudes born of generations of discrimination, and through restrictive interpretation and non-application, they were largely ineffective. Moreover, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated federal authority to protect Blacks and others from state-sponsored discrimination. As a result, through the first half of the 20th Century, racial discrimination and segregation was required by law (de jure) in many of our country's southern states in such key areas as education, housing, employment, transportation, and public accommodations. Discrimination and segregation was a common practice (de facto) in most other portions of the country. In addition, though the Fifteenth Amendment guaranteed that the "right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude," many southern states enacted laws that were seemingly neutral, but were designed and implemented in a way to deny Black citizens the opportunity to participate in elections.

Prior to the middle of the 20th Century, there were no laws to address other forms of racial discrimination, such as discriminatory provisions in U.S. immigration law and policy. After the U.S. acquisition of California in 1848, there arose a need for cheap labor, and Chinese immigrants flocked to the western United States to work on the rapidly developing railroads. Anti-Asian prejudice and the competition that Chinese immigrants provided to American workers led to anti-Chinese riots in San Francisco in 1877, and then to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The Act banned all Chinese immigration for ten years, and it was extended until 1924 when a new immigration law prohibited all Asian immigration to the United States. Several years later, law and policy toward Asian immigrants was again changed, extending citizenship rights to those already in the United States and establishing a quota for immigrants from various countries. The quota was abolished in 1965.

With regard to Native Americans, the United States has historically recognized Native American tribes as self-governing political communities that pre-date the U.S. Constitution. From 1778 until 1871, the United States entered into numerous treaties with Indian tribes, which recognized tribal self-government, reserved tribal lands as "permanent homes" for Indian tribes, and pledged Federal protection for the tribes. Yet, the United States engaged in a series of Indian wars in the 19th Century, which resulted in significant loss of life and lands among Indian tribes. In the 1880s, over the protests of Indian leaders, including Sitting Bull and Lone Wolf, the United States embarked on a policy of distributing tribal community lands to individual Indians in an attempt to "assimilate" Indians into the agrarian culture of our Nation. This "Allotment Policy" resulted in a loss of almost 100 million acres of Indian lands from the 1880s until 1934, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt ended the policy with the enactment of the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934. This Act was intended to encourage Indian tribes to revitalize tribal self-government, so that Indian tribes might use their own lands and resources to provide a sustainable economy for their people. This policy of respect for Native American and Alaska Native tribes and cultures acknowledges tribal self-government and promotes tribal economic self-sufficiency.

In 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an Executive Order prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, creed or national origin in the war industries or Federal government. However, the U.S. armed forces continued to operate racially segregated combat units until 1948. During World War II, persons of Japanese, German, and Italian ancestry suffered blatant forms of discrimination, justified on grounds of military necessity. Thousands of U.S. citizens, the majority of whom were ethnically Japanese, were "relocated" to internment camps throughout the western United States. This policy was held lawful by the U.S. Supreme Court in Korematsu v. United States, 321 U.S. 760 (1944). In recent years, however, the United States has recognized the wrongfulness of this policy and made lump sum payments to Japanese Americans who were detained in accordance with this policy, or to their survivors.

Following World War II, a combination of grass roots civic action and critical decisions by the Executive and Judicial branches of the Federal government set the stage for strategies for overcoming the legacy of slavery. In 1948, the U.S. Supreme Court banned the use of racially restrictive covenants that limited the sale of housing to members of racial or religious minorities. Shelly v. Kramer, 334 U.S. 1 (1948). In the same year, President Truman issued an Executive Order requiring equality of treatment for all persons in the U.S. Armed Forces. In 1954, the Supreme Court rendered its landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), banning state-sponsored racial segregation in public education and creating the foundation for the emergence of the contemporary civil rights movements.

During the past forty years there has been a steady stream of legislation at the federal, state and local levels creating remedies for individuals affected by racial discrimination. Some of the most significant pieces of federal civil rights legislation include: the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination in public accommodations, employment, and education; the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibited voting discrimination and thus brought Blacks from southern states into the political process, and which continues to protect all racial and language minorities throughout the nation from discrimination in the political process; and the 1968 Fair Housing Act which eliminated discrimination in housing and mortgage lending. Executive Orders issued by Presidents through the years have supplemented this catalog of protections by specifically requiring non-discrimination in a vast range of public programs. Similarly, the Immigration Act of 1965 repealed restrictions on the permanent entry of Asians and made family reunification, not race or national origin, the cornerstone of U.S. immigration policy.

In each of the areas covered by this Convention, the American people can point with pride at the great strides towards equality made over the past half-century. However, despite these enormous accomplishments, much remains to be done to eliminate racial discrimination altogether. While the scourge of officially-sanctioned segregation has been eliminated, de facto segregation and persistent racial discrimination continue to exist. The forms of discriminatory practices have changed and adapted over time, but racial and ethnic discrimination continues to restrict and limit equal opportunity in the United States. For many, the true extent of contemporary racism remains clouded by ignorance as well as differences of perception. Recent surveys indicate that, while most Whites do not believe there is much discrimination today in American society, most minorities see the opposite in their life experiences.

Indeed, in recent years the national conscience has been sharply reminded of the challenges to eradicating racism by such notorious incidents as the 1991 beating of Rodney King by two Los Angeles police officers; the death of Amadou Diallo in New York; the burning of Black churches, synagogues and mosques; the brutal murder of James Byrd, Jr., in Texas; the shootings at a Jewish cultural center in Los Angeles, and the pattern of discrimination revealed in civil rights litigation against the Denny's Restaurant chain and the Adams Mark Hotel. Further, heightened awareness and discussion of racial issues have led some to call on Americans to reexamine our history and to consider making reparations in some form to Blacks for past slavery. These and other issues have prompted vigorous debate in schools, media and government over issues of race.

No country or society is completely free of racism, discrimination or ethnocentrism. None can claim to have achieved complete success in the protection and promotion of human rights, and, therefore, all should welcome open dialogue and constructive criticism. As a society, the United States continues to search for the best means to eliminate all forms of racial, ethnic and religious discrimination through the mechanisms available within a pluralistic, federal system of government.

The United States has long been a vigorous supporter of the international campaign against racism and racial discrimination. Indeed, the United States will play an active role in the upcoming World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in 2001. Toward that end, the United States is engaged in a domestic preparatory process that will invite the involvement of state and local government officials as well as academia and civil society.

The last half-century of progress has provided the United States with a useful perspective from which to offer insights to other countries with diverse and growing minority populations. By the same token, the people and government of the United States can learn from the experiences of others. The United States looks forward to a constructive dialogue with the members of the Committee.

_____________
     1.   For ease of reference this report will use the terms for racial and ethnic categories used by the U.S. Census Bureau.

 
  
Same level:
[ Introduction ] General Report ] Legal Prohibition ] U.S. Reservations, Understandings and Declarations ] Compliance with Specific Articles ] Article 1 - Racial Discrimination ] Article 2 ] Art 3 Condemn Racial Segregation and Apartheid ] Article 4 Eliminate Incitements or Acts of Discrimination ] Article 5 Equality Under the Law ] Article 6 Assure Effective Protection and Remedies ] Article 7 Adopt Measures ] Conclusion ]
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Thanks to Derrick Bell and his pioneer work: 
Race, Racism and American Law
(1993).