Remarks by Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield at a Joint Press Conference with Brazilian Minister of Racial Equality Anielle Franco in Salvador, Brazil

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
Salvador, Brazil
May 3, 2023


MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) So without further ado, we would like to start this press conference. Thank you very much for being here today. We have the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, and we also have the presence of the Minister Anielle Franco. They are going to make their remarks and we’re going to open space for questions.

AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: So good morning, everyone. It is such an honor to be here in Salvador with my delegation, and alongside Minister Franco, to announce our countries’ reaffirmed commitment to reinvigorate the U.S.-Brazil Joint Action Plan to Eliminate Racial Discrimination and Promote Equality.

It’s also an honor to be here with Desirée Cormier Smith, the State Department’s Special Representative for Racial Equality and Justice. Desirée, you are doing such an amazing job, and I’m so proud that you’re here with me and that you have taken this vital step to reinvigorate our relationship. I will embarrass her a bit and say I knew her when she was a small girl. (Laughter.) And like any proud mama, seeing her in this role is really extraordinary. So again, thank you, Des.

So I’m Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the United States Representative to the United Nations; what that means is I’m the ambassador and I’m a member of President Biden’s cabinet. But beyond my role as an American ambassador – and I spent almost 40 years working in the field of diplomacy, so I’ve been around for quite a long time – I have many identities beyond being a diplomat and beyond being an ambassador. I’m a teacher. I’m a mother. I’m a proud grandma. And I’m a very, very good cook. (Laughter.) I probably should have been a chef, but for my parents being a chef meant being a cook and that I hadn’t moved up in the world. So I decided diplomacy over cooking.

But more than anything, standing here before you is a Black woman. This last identity has, of course, had an outsized influence on my life. Being a part of the African diaspora has been challenging, of course. But it has also been one of life’s greatest joys. It has given me community; now I have the community here in Salvador. It’s given me companionship. It gave me a connection to the continent of Africa, where I spent much of my career. It’s made me tougher, and it’s taught me how to build those adversity muscles that so many people hear me talk about. 

But it’s also made me kinder and more compassionate.

Think I need some water. Anybody got water? So sorry about that. I’m fighting a voice problem. I’m going to hold onto it.

As I said, it made me tougher and it taught me how to build my adversity muscles.

But it’s also made me kinder. It’s made me more compassionate. And it’s taught me that Black is beautiful.

Unfortunately, like so many, I have been subjected to racism all my life – every single place I’ve been, all around the world. When I grew up in Louisiana, schools were segregated by law. I was not allowed to attend the school in my neighborhood with White students. I was bused to an all-Black school 10 miles away. I have been called racial slurs, and I have faced discrimination in all kinds of contexts.

And yet, despite the prevalence and pitfalls of racism, I made it through. I have risen to the highest ranks of the United States Government in a country that once enslaved my ancestors. In fact, President Biden chose me to be the face of the United States at the United Nations. Our representative to the world.

That shows just how much progress our country has made. But that cannot leave us satisfied. Instead, by showing us what is possible, it should inspire us to action. It should remind us of those who got left behind. Those who still face racism and discrimination today. And all that we can do to build a less hateful, more equitable, more loving tomorrow.

And that’s what we’re here to do today.

America has the second largest African diaspora – Brazil has the largest. So many of Brazil’s most treasured traditions – samba, Capoeira, carnival – come from that diaspora. These are things that we do in Louisiana as well. As I was walking through the museum and I was kind of feeling familiar – like, what is this? It looks like New Orleans, if you’ve never been to New Orleans. Yet Brazil, just like the United States – just like every country in the world – has systemic racism to uproot.

We know how the disparities and the inequalities our Indigenous people face today is a direct result of some of the ugliest parts of our histories. And we are here in Salvador, the heart of Black Brazil, because this city represents both the historic wrongs of racism and the optimistic future we hope to build.

Salvador was once the center of the slave trade in Brazil. And I know something about that, because my own home state of Louisiana, and New Orleans in particular, was once the center of the slave trade in the United States. And yet, both places are now thriving centers of culture, of art, of music, of Black life. That is not a coincidence. That is the power of persistence. It’s the power of collective action. And it is the power of hope.

And we continue to fight for what is right, for the better future we all deserve. In the United States, we say Black Lives Matter – because they do. In Brazil, you say “Don’t kill me, kill racism” – because we should. And together, we are here today to reaffirm our commitment to ending racism and discrimination against Black people, Indigenous communities, ethnic people of all kinds, everywhere in the world.

Fifteen years ago, here in Salvador, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice – a friend, a mentor, and a fellow Louisianan – signed a bilateral agreement: the U.S.-Brazil Joint Action Plan to Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Discrimination and Promote Equality, or JAPER. It’s long past time to reaffirm that commitment and redouble our efforts. And so, right now, that is exactly what I’m here to do.

Today, on behalf of President Biden, I am proud to recommit the United States to JAPER, and to working bilaterally with Brazil to eliminate racial and ethnic discrimination of all kinds. Later this month, we will meet to establish a new, comprehensive, bilateral workplan to address racism and social barriers for marginalized racial and ethnic communities. We will prioritize stopping violence, access to education and healthcare, nurturing culture, and preserving memory. These are all things that are important to us in the United States as well. We will prioritize stopping violence, access to education and healthcare, nurturing culture, and preserving memory. And we will continue to build bridges between our Indigenous communities and yours, and between the Afro-Brazilian community and African American community.

For example, when it comes to the workforce, we are connecting our historically Black colleges and universities with yours, providing career coaching, training more journalists, and offering mentors and funds for new and innovative start-ups. We are supporting new civil society leaders and resources for community networks here in Brazil. And of course, we’re doing this work bilaterally – but we’re also doing it multilaterally at the United Nations. And we’re doing it subnationally too, connecting communities and cities directly.

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Cities Summit of the Americas in Denver, where the Rio de Janeiro mayor launched the Anti-Racist Cities Network. The United States is proud to support that effort, and so many more, from podcasts for Quilombola communities, to English language learning scholarships for Afro-Brazilians, to grants that preserve Indigenous languages and oral traditions in Brazil.

We are doing this work because our diversity is, in fact, our greatest strength. And because racism is a problem we all share – and we all benefit from its demise.

Together, let us do everything in our power to end racism. To eliminate discrimination in all of its forms. Let us share our heritage. Preserve our traditions and culture. Uplift our communities. Inspire the next generation. And let us leave our world with less hate, more hope, for all the future generations to come.

Thank you. It’s now my privilege to hand things over to Minister Franco. (Applause.)

And before I hand it over to her, I don’t know if you guys know it, but today is her birthday, and she has honored us by being here on her birthday. (Applause.) So happy birthday, Minister.

MINISTER FRANCO: Thank you so much.


MINISTER FRANCO: (Via interpreter) Good morning, everyone, ladies and gentlemen. It’s an honor to be with you to share this moment, this happy moment with Ambassador Linda Greenfield, Desirée as well – she’s very dear to me. We had met before this year in the first visit of President Lula to the United States. And I would like to thank the entire team – the secretariat, (inaudible), all my team, everybody that is present here today.

I have to take note of some things that were quite important that I would like to share, but I’m very emotional because it’s my birthday, but also this place, besides being filled with (inaudible), because many Black women have been here leading (inaudible). And this fills me with hope, and I think that what we’re doing here is a milestone in history. It’s an agreement that has been signed in 2008, and this is an agreement that stood still but has lots of potential to grow, to expand, and to transform many people’s lives, Black people’s lives.

And I am the result of affirmative actions. I’ve lived in the United States for some years, played volleyball for some years, and I know what the cultural clash is about – coming back to my country and thinking that we can make a revolution and change the world, but why can’t we do this now? Why not doing so in the social equality ministry in a new government, counting with the support of people that are partners in this fight, right?

So besides being a minister, I’m also a mother of two girls and a teacher. I am a journalist. I am doing my – I’m getting my PhD now. And I do all of this because every day we need to give the response to society which is we Black women can do more and more.

So having a social equality ministry that you know is – was recently implemented and being here, being able to replay the actions in JAPER is – it means a lot. I’m very happy for the fact that you have perceived me and introduced me – the best carnival in the world, with all respect to Louisiana – because even being Carioca, I treasure the carnival in Bahia very much. And it was the last carnival that I spent with my sister, and so I have very, very lovely memories with – from that.

So I would like to say that we are leading this department that, besides filling me with pride, allows me to have many experiences and put meetings together such as this one. So I would like to thank, first of all, to the President Lula for providing this challenge to many Black women that are working with us in the ministry. And I would like to ask – to say that we are also building new things. And the next 30th we’re going to be present (inaudible) bringing more actions in public policies to our country, because we understand the responsibility that it is about. And I also believe that politics made with affection, with exchange, holding hands, eye to eye – we need more and more of that. 

We had something (inaudible) that we could not do because the governor traveled with the president, but we are going to do it later, and I would like to tell you that you can rely on the ministry for social equality. And it’s very, very important to be here, especially on my birthday. JAPER has some essential cores, and inside of those cores we’re going to try to fight racism more and more, because we know that racism is a daily thing. We have been following up those cases. We know even more up close.

And Brazil is back, and Brazil is back so we can find our place internationally again, so we can promote more equality, public policies for everyone, so we can have a ministry for social equality that is more transversal, is more horizontal. And yeah, also acknowledging importance of doing so, and that’s why we work with human rights, with the ministry of women, and many others that have been essential in our trajectory, in our journey.

So I would like to thank you very much for the space, for the opportunity. Thank you, Desirée. Thank you, Ambassador, for being here and building with us new steps. Those steps are going to be more firm and more concrete so we can make the country have a more potent racial literacy, so we can understand more and more as Black people who are the protagonists of their stories.

It’s not an easy mission. When I left home today, my mom always says, “You’re very brave,” and hearing this from her – because I always have her as a model of braveness – shows that I am really brave. So we go restless and working very hard to eliminate racism from our country and strengthen Black people more and more. This is our role, so thank you very much. Thank you very much for everything. JAPER’s back and Brazil is back, and it’s great to have these potent women by my side. Thank you. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: And we have time for – sorry. We have time for a couple questions from folks in the audience, if anyone has (inaudible). We’ll start with Shaun. If you could just say your outlet and name.

QUESTION: Sure, thanks. Shaun Tandon, AFP. Madam Minister and Madam Ambassador, you both, either today or yesterday, spoke about affirmative action and the benefits of it. I was wondering to what extent you think the United States and Brazil can share lessons on affirmative action and cooperate on that? And also, you mentioned the struggle against racism in both the United States and Brazil. Are there other countries to potentially incorporate, other countries of the Americas, even in Europe or elsewhere in the world? Thank you. 

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Maybe I should bring Desirée up to speak on that, but I know that the JAPER also includes Colombia – 

SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE CORMIER SMITH: We have a separate for Colombia.  

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: A separate one in Colombia. And this is an issue, again, that has been addressed in many places around the world. I have made it a personal commitment to raise these issues and discuss these issues. Some years ago, I was in South Africa and Namibia, and had a very intense, emotional, but I thought useful discussion on race in those two countries where clearly there’s a history. 

You talked about affirmative action. I mentioned yesterday, when I heard that phrase used, that I had not heard it used in the United States for a very long time. But I always considered myself, a child of the ’70s, to be an affirmative action baby. And had I not benefited from affirmative actions being taken by our government, I probably wouldn’t be here today. 

So it’s something that I believe very strongly in. There are people who see it as a negative phrase. I’ve never seen it in that in that way, and I think it’s important that we continue to take affirmative actions to correct the ills that we all suffer from the past.

MINISTER FRANCO: (Via interpreter) There are things we can learn from the experience – can I speak in Portuguese? Sure – from both countries, because that’s it. I mean, I always talk about my own life experience, that go beyond being a quota student at the Federal University in Rio, and then starting a graduate program and then another mastership program through affirmative actions, it’s not by chance that we brought Angela Davis to Brazil in 2019. She says: I mean, you always invite me here, but you have wonderful intellectual people here, and I learned from them. So it has to do with understanding and identifying yourself as a Black individual, knowing about your rights and your possibilities to the educational and cultural exchanges.

It’s not by chance that when we talk about the experience of having spent some time abroad and studied abroad, that’s when I learned many things that I’ve already experienced at my own (inaudible) where I was born, and I couldn’t tell what it was. So I believe this exchange of experience around affirmative actions may strengthen us a lot because we face very similar issues since genocide of Black population to racism cases that are happening daily in both the countries. So I believe that JAPER may also, in addition to this partnership, may strengthen this understanding both here and there.

MODERATOR: I think we have time for one or two more. We can go to – oh, let’s go to one (inaudible). Do you need the microphone?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MODERATOR: Oh, sorry. (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Good afternoon, and congratulations, everyone. Good afternoon, everyone. Congratulations, Minister. Happy birthday. Actually, this is still good morning – never mind. But there are two quick questions on JAPER itself. I mean, you talked about education and so forth. I mean, have you got any further details on how you will support African American and African Brazilian, support through the universities? Can you talk more about are there universities being included already, perhaps one in Bahia? And also, the minister mentioned the genocide of Black population, and we are now before two countries suffering from police violence which is nearly 100 percent focused on the Black population. Would there be anything in this agreement of this program addressing the police violence?

MINISTER FRANCO: (Via interpreter) Absolutely. Black universities, that’s what we expect. We will have the first meeting on the 23rd of May with the presence of Desirée and others. We are still setting up the plan. But regarding the genocide of Black population, we had another program which will be our kickoff. From that point we can establish targets, because this is one of the most difficult topics. That’s why we take in the department – the secretariat of the presidency and other departments. So this JAPER design was already this way a few years ago, and these talks first to re-implement the JAPER has to do with the American state telling us who will be our contact. Therein we should also decide it here. I wouldn’t be right if I told you that we already have this university assigned, but we’re still building it. Its first meeting to announce everything is already scheduled for the 23rd of May.

MODERATOR: And I think we have time for one last question. Anna.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Good morning, Minister. I am Anna, reporter from Bloomberg. I would like to ask you, you mentioned that Brazil is back, that we now see the re-inclusion of topics in the agenda that were excluded before. I’d like you to elaborate a little further on this idea of retaking and re-addressing what does it mean, and whether the Brazilian democracy is facing challenges.

(In English) And also, for Ambassador, if I could ask, we’ve heard a lot about Brazil retaking the path of democracy and retaking previous agendas. And I was wondering if you could explain a little bit about why that kind of shared experience of democracy and reinforcing the importance of a representative government and how that strengthens the alliance between the two countries on the international stage.

MINISTER FRANCO: (In Portuguese.) What’s your name?


MINISTER FRANCO: (Via interpreter) We could spend the whole morning explaining why Brazil is back. I apologize to the interpreter because I speak too quick, but never mind. When we have a president that we affirmed that he would rather have his son dead than dating a Black woman, it shows me what kind of person he is. And when we talk about democracy and the return of democracy, it has to do with a getting back to talking and defending human rights. We know that there’s a culture here where some people understand that defending human rights is equal to defending criminals. That’s not it. Human rights – the humans are the people.

When we talk about Brazil being back, it is in re-acquiring this international respect. I was with President Lula in Portugal, Spain, and also I’ve been to the U.S., and beyond that, the invitations we’ve been getting, how we (inaudible) is to have a ministry for race equality, and having a humane government, a humane administration. So when we talk about getting back to retaking the agenda and getting back to democracy, it’s to avoid things that happened on the – on January 8th, very similar to what happened in the U.S. after Biden’s election. And when we talk about retaking the government, it’s because we understand that having a government that we can actually assign 30 percent of places in the public administration by Black population, and the president say that we’ll sign it – this is a demonstration. We may be here naming several things such as the deep (inaudible) anger to Quilombola communities, to Maroon communities.

So this is the proof of the new Brazil, the Brazil that needed to be taken over again because in 2022 elections were the division between the barbarian and the democracy; it was split between the hate and the fight against fascism and those who defended values that we do not believe, either in our ministry or our government.

When we say that this government is back, it has a very potent taste, because we’re removing from power those who were against our political objectives, particularly regarding the 50 percent, 56 percent of our country, which is the Black population, to the more vulnerable and poorest of people. Because we have to act urgently, and President Lula is aware of this.

Hence to the – with this “coming back,” that’s why we say we came back to democracy, a democracy that we needed to foster.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I think I missed the first part of your question, because I was listening at the translation in Portuguese.



QUESTION: Sorry. So we’ve heard in several of your meetings ministers, people talking about Brazil being back and Brazil returning, and kind of this strengthening of democracy. And I just wanted you to speak a little bit to how that kind of shared experience of reinforcing democratic practices strengthens this alliance and partnership on the international stage.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you so much for that question. And I think the minister addressed quite a bit of that in her response. Brazil and the United States are the two largest democracies in this region. So we share that in common, but we also share the challenges of racial inclusion, the challenges of racism in common. And being back on the international stage, Brazil is in the Security Council. We are a permanent member of the Security Council. These are issues that should be dealt with not just in our bilateral relationship, but also multilaterally, because they’re issues that are global. As I mentioned in my speech, I’ve experienced racism everywhere. It’s not just in the United States; it’s not just here in Brazil. It is a global issue that we need to address together.

And we were very happy to see Brazil reassert itself in the international – on the international stage. That was our mantra as well, that as we came onboard in 2021, that multilateralism was back and diplomacy was back. And we think it’s important that we engage in the Human Rights Council. And I know Brazil is running for a seat on the Human Rights Council. These are all issues that we have to work on together. And I think during my very brief visit here yesterday, today, and tomorrow, we will really work to reaffirm our partnership, to understand where we have commonalities, and work on any challenges that we have in that relationship. And I think as you know, we’ve had a number of high-level visitors come to Brazil over the course of the past few months. I’m the first cabinet official, but there will be others, because we know and we believe that this is an important relationship that we have to nurture.

MODERATOR: Thank you, everyone. Thank you. (Applause.)