Holding the Line: Combating Racial Discrimination in a Divided America

The United States is today facing a coordinated campaign by extremist forces to weaken the power of people historically pushed to the margins. This shadow report — prepared for the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination — documents the harm done and offers a blueprint to ensure that all people are afforded civil and human rights protections under the U.S. Constitution and in accordance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The work ahead will require each of us to do our part to stop the erosion of our rights and save our democracy. We hope this report will be useful to policymakers and advocates as we work toward our collective goal of building a just and inclusive nation for all.

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Read more about particular issues highlighted in our report, including recommendations for Congress and the administration:

Introduction

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 230 national organizations working to promote and protect civil and human rights, is pleased to submit this report, “Holding the Line: Combating Racial Discrimination in a Divided America.” Since its inception in 1950, our coalition has worked to ensure that all people are afforded civil and human rights protections under the U.S. Constitution and in accordance with international human rights norms. This report provides additional information and offers recommendations for actions that will, if adopted, enhance the ability of the United States to comply with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

Since the committee’s last review of the United States’ compliance in 2014, our nation endured the contentious and polarizing presidency of Donald Trump. His administration aggressively rolled back civil rights protections, fanned the flames of hate, and enacted divisive policies to preserve and perpetuate white supremacy — some of which are detailed in this report.

His racist policy priorities — including on issues like health care access, immigration, voting, and the criminal-legal system — and his violent, white supremacist rhetoric culminated in the unprecedented attack on the U.S. Capitol building and our democracy on January 6, 2021. The big lie perpetrated by the former president and his supporters has fueled dozens of racially discriminatory anti-voter laws passed by state legislatures across the nation. This remains an ongoing threat to our democracy, to civil and human rights, and to the advancement of racial justice in the United States.

To combat these threats and to assist in the United States’ compliance with CERD, the Biden administration should create a stable federal body or structure focused on the implementation of human rights treaty obligations. They should establish an interagency mechanism coordinated by the White House through the Domestic Policy Council and the National Security Council, Department of State, and Department of Justice. This mechanism should be tasked with ensuring, in consultation with civil society, that domestic agencies swiftly implement recommendations from regional and international human rights bodies.

We strongly recommend the creation of a national plan of action to address racial discrimination and fully implement CERD. And we urge the administration to take concrete steps to examine the need for the establishment of a National Human Rights Institution, as most other countries have done. Indeed, taking these steps would be consistent with and advance the president’s overall goals and his Executive Order 13985 on “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities.”

Additionally, we call on the administration to issue an executive order establishing a commission to study reparations proposals for African Americans. While we very much appreciate that the president signed legislation last year to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, a commission to study reparations proposals would be another meaningful response to the institutional racism endured by Black people and will finally acknowledge how pervasive the impact of slavery is on almost every institution and structure in the United States today.

Beyond that, the U.S. Congress can take additional steps as outlined in our report to thwart racial discrimination, advance civil rights, and ensure compliance with CERD.

Civil and human rights must be measured by a single yardstick, both at home and abroad. While this report does not reflect the complete agenda of every Leadership Conference member organization, it does highlight many of the issues that are at the top of our coalition’s agenda. We hope this report will be useful to the international community in assessing our nation’s compliance with CERD and that it serves as a public education tool to aid in protecting and promoting racial justice throughout the United States.

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