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Opening Statement by Desirée Cormier Smith
August 11, 2022

Opening Statement by Desirée Cormier Smith, Special Representative for Racial Equity and Justice, U.S. Department of State at the U.S. Presentation to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination concerning the U.S. Report on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD Report

As Submitted for the Record 

Madam Chair, distinguished members of the Committee, representatives of civil society, colleagues 

My name is Desirée Cormier Smith, and I serve as the U. S. Department of State’s first Special Representative for Racial Equity and Justice.  In my historic new role, it is my duty to ensure that U.S. foreign policy protects and advances the human rights of people belonging to marginalized racial and ethnic groups, including Indigenous communities, and to combat systemic racism, discrimination, and xenophobia around the world.  I am here today because we acknowledge that our leadership on human rights issues, especially on issues of racial justice, must begin at home for us to be credible champions abroad.  

The United States is unequivocally committed to addressing racial discrimination, inequity, and intolerance of all forms both within our own borders and globally.  We strive to promote respect for the rights of individuals who are oppressed due to their race or ethnicity, and create a more just, inclusive, and equitable world where all people have opportunity to live up to their fullest potential. 

The United States is a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and multi-cultural democracy. Our beautiful and rich diversity is a source of strength and indeed great pride.  To honor that diversity, we strive to ensure that every American is protected against discrimination based on race, color, and national origin, along with other protected categories, as is codified under the U.S. Constitution as well as in federal, state, and local laws. However, we continue to grapple with the gap between our stated ideals and the lived realities for Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian and Pacific Islanderand other Americans of color.  Racial inequity in our country manifests in a multitude of ways that alone and together impede the quality of life of Americans of color and negatively impacts the well-being of all Americans.  It is important to also fully acknowledge the tragic and ugly parts of our history, including the displacement of Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans, and their lingering legacy as contributing factors to the current racial disparities and inequities we face today.  

As President Biden often says, great nations do not shirk from their past.  They come to terms with the mistakes they made in order to heal and do better.  And that is exactly why, on his first day in office, President Biden signed a historic Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities that mandated a whole-of-government approach to identifying and remedying racial and other inequities in our own policies, programs, and assistance.  In April, over 90 agencies across the U.S. federal government—including many represented here today—released Equity Action Plans that highlight concrete steps they have taken and will continue to take to advance equity in their respective missions.  We are proud of our vibrant civil society, many of whom traveled from the United States to be here today to represent their communities and bear witness to our presentation, and I want to acknowledge and thank them for the critical role they play in making sure that we never lose sight of the fact that our work is urgent, dynamic, and ongoing. 

President Biden acknowledges that we, the United States, are most credible when we lead not by the example of our power but by the power of our example.  While we recognize the very real challenges we continue to face, I hope that our commitment to eliminating racial disparities and discrimination is clear.  Indeed, we have a lot of work to do to make equality for all a reality, but I also want to recognize the progress we have made since the beginning of the Biden-Harris Administration.  As Secretary Blinken has said, what makes America unique is its ability to acknowledge its imperfections and domestic challenges, including systemic racism, and work to overcome them.  

With that, I am honored to turn it over to my colleague, the Mayor of Atlanta, The Honorable Andre Dickens, to make some opening remarks.

Thank you, Madam Chair.