The Paris-based U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization on Thursday launched a campaign to fight prejudice. The move coincided with International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
Begun with the French city of Bordeaux, the UNESCO billboard campaign features a variety of faces — old and young, men and women, and of many ethnic backgrounds. The tagline, “us different?” aims to make us think about who we are, and our prejudices.
“You would walk by it and hopefully react. … [Is that] person on the screen different?” said Magnus Magnusson, partnerships and outreach director at UNESCO’s social and human science division.
Mindful of stereotypes
“Ultimately, it’s about our own awareness of our own stereotypes, and we need to work, each one of us, on those stereotypes that could illustrate or be reflections on racism,” he said.
The campaign rollout comes at a time when experts say brazen forms of racism are resurging — in sports, on social media and in politics.
The initiative follows last week’s mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, in which a self-proclaimed white nationalist opened fire on worshippers at two mosques. Fifty people were killed. The suspect has been charged with murder.
Migration is one factor behind the increase in racist incidents, experts say, but so is the power of social media in spreading and enforcing stereotypes.
Activists are fighting back. A round-table hosted by UNESCO featured imaginative ways to counter prejudice, including through chess.
Cameroonian artist Gaspard Njock fights it with his pen. He’s the author of comic books and graphic novels sold in bookstores across France.
Njock said comics can be a powerful tool to fight racism, because it’s a medium that reaches all types of people and can tackle important themes.
One of Njock’s graphic novels, Un voyage sans retour, is about the dangerous migration of sub-Saharan migrants to Europe. Njock arrived in Europe several years ago, making his way to France after a few years in Italy.
Njock said he never considered himself a victim of racism — not because he never encountered it, but because he developed ways to fight it.
Magnusson of UNESCO said education is key to wiping out racism. So is being more aware of how we think and feel.