Transnational Racial (In)Justice In Liberal Democratic Empire
134 Harvard Law Review Forum 378 (2021)
21 Pages Posted: 27 Apr 2021 Last revised: 18 Jun 2021
On June 17, 2020, Philonise Floyd addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council, the United Nations’ paramount human rights body, demanding justice for the murder of his brother and the many other Black people who have been subject to the regime of racial extrajudicial killings endemic in the United States. His testimony was part of a remarkable “Urgent Debate” — an emergency special session of the Human Rights Council reserved for extreme human rights situations that marked a pivotal global moment in the transnational racial justice uprising of 2020. To the extent that racial justice advocates and legal scholars are engaged in a process of reckoning with racial subordination and emancipatory horizons, this Essay draws a number of lessons from the Urgent Debate. It foregrounds a transnational analysis as essential for assessing emancipatory possibilities for Black people living in the United States and elsewhere, because the maintenance of Black racial subordination is properly understood as involving a transnational dimension, one that institutionally implicates the United Nations and international law as well. This Essay casts the Urgent Debate as the latest illustration of how tightly liberal hegemons can keep the lid on anti-Black racism through transnational means ranging from naked geopolitical bullying to normative insistence on liberal democratic norms and institutions to obstructive bureaucratic techniques. Ultimately, racial injustice must be assessed and grappled with as a potentially defining or systemic feature of the liberal imperial project, rather than a pathology or aberration that simply requires harder work or more commitment to reform. For purveyors of international human rights law and its accompanying institutional mechanisms — no matter how well-intentioned they may understand themselves to be — the point is that racism is not outside of their systems but is instead an institutionalized feature of these systems. The challenge at hand, then, is to develop strategies and goals that account for this reality.
Keywords: 'Urgent Debate', emergency special session of the Human Rights Council of the U.N., George Floyd, racial injustice, international human rights, racial subordination in the U.S., systemic racism and police brutality in the U.S.
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