International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Why is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21?

On October 26th, 1966, The UN General Assembly proclaimed 21 March as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to be commemorated annually. On that day, in 1960, police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa, against the apartheid "pass laws". Proclaiming the Day in 1966 which signifies the struggle to end the policy of apartheid in South Africa, the General Assembly called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.

Over the years, UNESCO has celebrated the International Day by organizing events in Headquarters and its field offices, as well as in cooperation with the member cities of the International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities – ICCAR (formerly the International Coalition of Cities against Racism).

The struggle against racial discrimination is a central element of UNESCO's work to build peace in the minds of men and women, through education for tolerance, the rejection of racist stereotypes that may persist in culture or in the media.

What is Racism?

Racism is different from racial prejudice, hatred, or discrimination. Racism is when the power elite of one group, the white group, has the power to carry out systematic discrimination through the institutional policies and practices of the society while shaping the cultural beliefs and values that support those racist policies and practices. 

  • Racism = race prejudice + social and institutional power

  • Racism = a system of advantage based on race

  • Racism = a system of oppression based on race

  • Racism = a white supremacy system


Types of Racism

Racism: A broad term describing the combination of race-based prejudice and power. Without the power differential (one person/group/institution has more power than another), “racism” is just prejudice and carries less weight and fewer consequences.

Systemic/Structural Racism: Systemic/Structural racism has three components: history, culture, and institutions/policy. Historical racism provides the framework for current racism. Any structure built on a foundation (history) of racism will be a racist structure. Culture, which is ever-present in our day to day lives is what allows racism to be accepted, normalized, and perpetuated. Institutions and policies make up the fundamental relationships and rules across society, which reinforces racism and give it societal legitimacy (which makes it so hard to dismantle). 

Interpersonal Racism: Racism that happens between individual people. When individual beliefs or prejudices become actions toward others.

Institutional Racism: Institutional racism occurs within and between institutions. Institutional racism is discriminatory treatment, unfair policies, and inequitable opportunities and impacts, based on race, produced and perpetuated by institutions (schools, mass media, etc.). Individuals within institutions take on the power of the institution when they act in ways that advantage and disadvantage people, based on race.

Internalized Racism: When racism and white supremacy affect the minds of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) to the point where they begin to believe that they are inferior because of their own race. This can sometimes lead to “inter-racial hostility” in which BIPOC treat other BIPOC in a way that mirrors how white racists might treat them. Another way internalized racism can manifest is by BIPOC accepting and internalizing Eurocentric ideals and values.

Racial Trauma: Simply, traumatization that results from experiencing racism in any of its many forms. Importantly, this doesn’t have to be one major isolated event, but rather it can result from an accumulation of experiences like daily subtle acts of discrimination or microaggressions.


Access the Resource Guide for the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

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