Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
July 16, 2021
Thank you, Acting Assistant Secretary Lussenhop, for that introduction. And welcome, everyone, to the International Visitor Leadership Program. It is our honor to host all of you to discuss this vitally important topic.
This program’s theme, “The Problem We All Live With,” is named for an iconic Norman Rockwell painting. In it, a little girl, Ruby Bridges, flanked by U.S. Marshals, is escorted into an all-white public school. Above her head, scrawled on the wall, is the n-word. Behind her is a blood-red tomato, splattered, a near-miss.
When Ruby took that walk and became the first Black student to integrate an elementary school in the American South, she was only six years old. I was about to turn eight. I lived less than a two-hour drive away in the same state. And of course, I was attending a segregated school. We have made extraordinary progress since then. Now, I represent America to the world. That is a remarkable journey for our society.
Of course, that journey is far from finished. We have a lot more work to do. And “The Problem We All Live With” is an apt title, both for Rockwell’s painting and for our project. Because we all live with this problem. Not just the people in this room. Not only minorities or ethnic groups. Everyone. Racism is sometimes wrongly believed to be solely the problem of the person who experiences it. I have found the exact opposite is true.
Racism is, at its core, the problem of the racist. And it is the problem of the society that produces the racist. In today’s world, that is every society. It’s why COVID-19 has consistently and disproportionately affected marginalized communities. It’s why millions around the world took to the streets and declared a simple fact: Black Lives Matter. Not because racism is an American problem, but because it is a universal problem.
So, the question is: what are we going to do about it? For our part, I am proud to be part of an administration tackling systematic racism head on. Instead of pretending the problem doesn’t exist – or pretending we have progressed past it – the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to openly and transparently dismantling systemic racism. That takes work. Hard work. And it requires strong, diverse leadership to continue pushing for change. That is why President Biden formed the most diverse cabinet in history – one that looks like America. Because, as President Biden likes to say, we need to lead not with examples of our power, but by the power of our example.
That is where you come in. The truth is, no one country can eliminate racism and uproot white supremacy on its own. We need strong leaders like you – people positioned to push for progress, advance equity, and serve as examples in your own society. So together, let’s dismantle systemic racism, brick by brick. Let’s fight for civil rights and fundamental freedoms in our own communities and countries. And let’s do everything in our power to leave our children a less hateful, more hopeful world.