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Secretary-General's remarks to Meeting on “Reimagining Equality: Eliminating Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination for All in the Decade of Action for the SDGs”

Excellencies,  

Ladies and gentlemen,  

Racism plagues our world. 

It is abhorrent.  It is ugly.  And it is everywhere.   

We must condemn it without reservation, without hesitation, without qualification.   

Racism is the repudiation of our common humanity — of the Charter of the United Nations — of all that we are and all that we do. 

We must reject racism.  

But we have a long way to go.  It is a challenge and struggle for us all.   

Racism and racial inequality still permeate institutions, social structures and everyday life. 

Why? 

Much of today’s racism is deeply entrenched in centuries of colonialism and slavery.   

Racial injustice, particularly against people of African descent, caused profound trauma and intergenerational suffering. 

We must do more than merely condemn expressions and acts of racism.   

We must dig deeper.  And we must act.  

Addressing racism is not a one-time exercise.  

Racism is a complex cultural phenomenon; combatting it demands action every day, at every level. 

A number of observers have sadly concluded that our world is entering a post-enlightenment era.  

The values of the enlightenment -- the primacy of reason, tolerance and mutual respect -- are slipping away. 

In their place, we see growing nationalism, populism, xenophobia, even white supremacy and Neo-Nazism.  

Racism is the beating heart of this irrationality. 

We also see racist or discriminatory dimensions in growing anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred, the mistreatment of some minority Christians and other forms of intolerance and xenophobia around the world.  

In this ideological battle, we must assert our common values —  the values of equality, non-discrimination, mutual respect — values that are deeply linked to the affirmation of human rights. 

There is also a strong social and economic dimension to racism and xenophobia.  

We see it in limited opportunities for education and employment, access to healthcare and justice. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed these inequalities  — and represents a damning indictment of systematic prejudice and discrimination.   

In some cases, mortality rates are as much as three times higher for marginalized groups.  

Fault lines often run along racial and ethnic lines. 

And the impact of the pandemic is compounded by intersecting forms of discrimination such as gender, age, class, caste, religion, disability, sexual orientation, as well as minority, economic and legal status.   

Those already left behind are being left even further behind. 

Excellencies,  

As we strive to recover from the pandemic and build a better world, we need to forge a new social contract based on inclusivity and sustainability.   

That means investing in social cohesion. 

As societies become ever more multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural, we need greater political, cultural and economic investments in inclusivity and cohesion, to harness the benefits of diversity rather than perceiving it as a threat.  

All groups need to see that their individual identities are respected, while feeling that they belong as valued members of society as a whole. 

Advancing equality for all also means transparency, equal access to services and meaningful participation, including for the isolated and marginalized.  

It means accountability and justice with no discrimination. 

And it means leaving our comfort zones and recognising and addressing our own underlying biases.  

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