US and Brazil seek to eliminate racial and ethnic discrimination

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Hundreds of Americans and Brazilians gathered in Atlanta, the cradle of the American civil rights movement, to address issues of race and social inclusion May 20–21 at the U.S-Brazil Joint Action Plan to Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Discrimination and Promote Equality Conference.

The two-day session, entitled, “A Call to Action,” brought together representatives from U.S. and Brazilian government, civil society and the private sector. U.S. delegation leader Arturo Valenzuela, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said the joint action plan is “a concrete affirmation of our joint commitment to social inclusion and achieving equality of opportunity for every member of our societies.”

Signed in March 2008, the plan recognizes that Brazil and the United States are multiethnic, multiracial democracies whose ties of friendship are strengthened by shared experiences. The action plan pledges a reciprocal and ongoing collaboration between the two governments to eliminate racial and ethnic discrimination and promote equality of opportunity in both countries.

The Atlanta meeting focused on turning rhetoric into action and expanding traditional themes and audiences. More than 400 participants met at a digital town hall to lead off the conference, which was broadcast live and streamed online in Portuguese to audiences gathered in Salvador, Bahia, and watching online throughout Brazil. Media personalities and journalists from the United States and Brazil discussed how the media shapes the public’s views on race.

Actor and author Hill Harper and Brazilian journalist Paulo Rogério led a discussion about how black Americans and Afro-Brazilians are portrayed by the media and entertainment industry. Continually applying narrow, stereotypical roles as rappers, sports figures or criminals to black actors can influence young people’s aspirations, said Harper.

However, the historic significance of the first black American president has broadened the images of successful black Americans, Harper said. “I go around speaking to young people, and at least one out of 10 start saying, instead of ‘I want to be a rapper or a ball player,’ ‘I want to be Barack Obama.’ That’s good progress.”

The interactive format of the group’s fourth meeting in Atlanta was a new approach to the bilateral meetings. The participants tackled four themes — economic empowerment, health, environmental justice, and education and the justice system — in small working groups focused on forming concrete and specific proposals for action to advance social inclusion.

The working groups offered “interactive partnerships at all levels of government, civil society and the private sector,” said conference moderator Julissa Reynoso, U.S. deputy assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs. Brazilian delegation leader Eloi Ferreira de Araújo, minister for racial equality in Brazil’s Special Secretariat for the Promotion of Racial Equality, and the United States’ Valenzuela both praised the working groups for codifying and setting priority goals that are ripe for action.

“We want to make concrete progress on each one of these initiatives,” Valenzuela said. “Our challenge will be to move these [proposals] forward and not just leave them at the level of rhetoric, but make concrete the various different objectives we’ve outlined as being important.” The plan is an “unprecedented venture,” he added, “where governments, civil society, the private sector work together to address the broad challenges that we face.”

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