UNRISD Conference on Racism and Public Policy (Durban, 3-5 September)

Physical differences, such as skin colour; hair colour and texture; and
eye, nose and lip shapes were previously thought to reflect distinct
biological and behavioural differences between people. Recent findings in
genetics reject the scientific value of the concept of race. Advances in
DNA research in the last 20 years demonstrate that, on average, 99.9
percent of the genetic features of humans are the same; of the remaining
percentage that accounts for variation, differences within groups are
larger than between groups; only six genes out of at least 100,000 that
make up the human genome account for differences in skin colour;
variations in colour are not discrete, but are distributed along a
continuum, which reflects different levels of melanin in the skin; and
many physical differences are due to environmental adaptations.

Despite efforts to disseminate these findings, including adoption of the
International Convention Against All Forms of Racial Discrimination in
1965, a gulf exists between scientific knowledge and popular beliefs about
race. Trivial as physical differences may be in accounting for biological
attributes, they structure perceptions and constitute a significant source
of prejudice in social relations.

Racial ideas may influence discourses on social integration or
accommodation, encourage insular or xenophobic practices, and distort
perceptions about rights and citizenship. Citizens are supposed to be
carriers of equal rights and obligations. In polarized racial settings,
however, social solidarity, the cornerstone of citizenship, may be
embedded in racial-not civic-networks, affecting the way the public domain
is governed. However, it is instructive to note that all communities,
whether based on racial identification or ethnicity, are complex, undergo
change, and experience internal diversities and conflicts. Race, in other
words, is not only constructed: it is also contested.

The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) is
organizing an international conference on 'Racism and Public Policy' from
3 ­ 5 September 2001 in Durban, South Africa. The conference will coincide
with the 'World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination,
Xenophobia and Related Intolerance', scheduled to be held in the same city
from 31 August to 7 September 2001.

The UNRISD conference will address four main themes:

1. The social construction of race and citizenship
2. The social dynamics of racism and inequalities
3. Organized responses to cultural diversity
4. The impact of public policies on race relations

About 30 high level social scientists, historians and legal scholars are
invited to lead discussions. The meeting will be open to the public, which
will include officials from international agencies, non-governmental
organizations, the media, government representatives and academics.

The UNRISD Racism and Public Policy conference will provide participants
attending the World Conference with research-based information and a
neutral forum in which to discuss the sensitive issues of racism and
xenophobia. By combining academic research with a strong policy focus, the
UNRISD conference represents a unique and comprehensive contribution to
the World Conference.

UNRISD plans to disseminate the findings of its research for the
conference in a variety of formats, including Programme Papers, an issue
of Conference News, and edited volumes. Papers prepared for the conference
will be available on the UNRISD Racism and Public Policy website.

If you would like further information regarding the event, please visit
UNRISD website <http://www.unrisd.org/racism> or contact Thomas Ansorg,
UNRISD, Palais des Nations, 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland, tel:
+41.22.917.2981, fax: +41.22.917.0650, e-mail: ansorg@unrisd.org

Important: please note that the list of participants has been finalized
and that persons planning to attend should register with UNRISD prior to
the event. An online registration form will be made available on the
UNRISD website soon.

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