The Sociopolitical Impact of UNESCO’s Race Program

Friday, January 5, 2018: 9:10 AM
Marriott Ballroom, Salon 3 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Poul Duedahl, Aalborg University
UNESCO’s initial mission was to carry out a piece of mental engineering. That included the elimination of thinking in terms of superior and inferior races. But was the Organization in fact able to carry out its ambitious plans? Did the initiatives make a difference? This paper focuses on what UNESCO did to practically implement its race program in the member states and the subsequent political and social impact in countries like the United States, India, Brazil, Germany and Japan. It shows how it was indeed possible – not least via its system of national commissions and supportive NGO’s – to help pave the way for a new view of man in the post-war period. But it also shows how the impact varies a lot from country to country. UNESCO’s race pamphlets were, for example, in great demand in Brazil because this particular country was often emphasized as one without racial tensions, something to be proud of, whereas UNESCO had a hard time distributing the very same pamphlets in South Africa where they were seen as false and offensive, and as an interference in internal affairs. In France the pamphlets instantly became must-reads in the country’s high schools while in the US they eventually led to apprehension among school administrators all over the USA concerning the use in public schools of any of UNESCO’s publications, regardless of their content. But as an international organization UNESCO could speak with some weight, and at the same time the race statements were therefore used and referred to in Supreme Court decisions in both countries – and in the US they soon became an inspiration and encouragement for members of the Civil Rights Movement. This paper offers an overview and first estimation of the overall impact of UNESCO’s race program.