Wakanda Offers an Anti-Bigotry Proposal to the Model-UN
All extremism starts small; here’s how we can stop it from growing
Posted Mar 06, 2018
March 3, 2018, on the campus of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, I was the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the Triangle Model United Nations. As it is stated on the Triangle Model UN website, “Our mission is to create a Model United Nation’s conference for middle school students in North Carolina and beyond that is professional, high quality, and allows for and embraces the diversity of delegates from different backgrounds, preparation levels and experiences.” (1)
As keynote speaker, I took it as my job to deliver an opening message that would connect to the meeting theme of examining ways to fight “…the rise of nationalism and extremism… and move toward unified development.” How could I do that in a way that would excite and engage the thinking of these middle-school Model-UN delegates?
Well, given the way the movie has captured the imagination of young people, I decided to present myself as a proxy delegate sent by King T’Challa, the Black Panther. Declaring myself the delegate from the Kingdom of Wakanda, I presented the Wakandan anti-bigotry proposal to the gathering of the Triangle Model UN.
Here is my keynote speech offering that proposal:
To the Secretary General and to the distinguished representatives, delegates and ambassadors of the nations represented here today, I bring you greetings from the Kingdom of Wakanda and King T’Challa, the Black Panther.
As you know, Wakanda is the newest member of your, now our United Nations. As the delegate representing Wakanda for King T’Challa, the Black Panther, I thank you for this opportunity to present our proposal for dealing with, slowing down and ending the rise of extremism around the world.
What is our proposal?
We of Wakanda believe that to deal with, slow and eventually stop the rise of global extremism, the United Nations must create a program to train interpersonal leaders.
We take the rise of extremism in America as the example for a place to start. Although you may think we Wakandans are too new to the world community to make any suggestions, we know America’s racial history because we have watched how those stolen from Africa have been treated.
Our proposal for the training of interpersonal leaders is grounded in the vision of America’s late and great Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. To quote Dr. King’s 1968 prophecy,
“We’ve got some difficult days ahead.” And now, today, we live in those difficult days.
Charlottesville, VA, July 2017; white nationalist march through the campus of the University of Va. chanting, “you will not replace us.” Who are the “You” that those white males fear will replace them. Some were heard to say Jews… but it could be any group of so-called “others”: Muslims, gay and lesbian individuals, Hispanics, women, African Americans, Immigrants.
That rally was no isolated incident of extremism. February 21, 2018, from the Southern Poverty Law Center, news services across America and the world gave this report on the rise of extremism in this country. To quote the report: “The number of U.S. hate groups rose again in 2017.” (2)
How did America and the global community get to this point? The answer is both simple and complex; rapid social change.
Rapid social change has created a new kind of diversity environment; a social environment of neo-diversity (3). Rapid social change has created a neo-diverse interpersonal environment where people from many different groups have to encounter and interact with other people from other groups whether they want to or not.
America is one of the best examples of that since America has gone from a past society of racial segregation by law to today’s society where all people can walk into, and out of, any social environment, no matter their race. And today that freedom of movement includes people of different religions, sexual orientations, mental-health-conditions, ethnicitys, gender-identities, bodily-conditions.
In the old racially segregated America, black people could not go to places and freely interact with white people. In that segregated world, people did not have to think about who they were interacting with by race. People did not have to be concerned about how they talked about people of another race because no one of another race would hear it or could do anything about it. Everybody in the situation was a “we.”
With the old racial laws gone, with the new social environment of neo-diversity, a mix of people are all in the same room, and for too many Americans that causes anxiety. An anxiety that is captured in the question: “Who are among the ‘we’ and who are among the ‘they’?” (4)
That intergroup anxiety is dangerous because that anxiety can activate prejudice and bigotry that comes out in startling ways. In Charlottesville, VA, the chant by the white supremacist was, “You will not replace us.”
To truly understand that chant, you must understand that prejudice is not bigotry is not racism. Prejudice is a set of anti-group feelings that reside inside a person’s psychology. Bigotry, though, is an individual’s outward, behavioral display of a prejudice against a group of people (e.g. that anti-group chant). Racism would be a system of laws that made the outward display of prejudice legal; laws that would support people acting on the meaning of that chant (job discrimination, for example).
That chant in Charlottesville was a neo-diversity-anxiety-driven bigotry about who is in charge; who has power. That’s the neo-diversity anxiety of “who are the ‘we’ and who are among the ‘they’?” That is a bigotry that says that only whites are human and worthy of being in power.
But what can the UN do about that? Yes, one should rightly ask, what can a program to train interpersonal leaders do about the rise of that kind of prejudice and bigotry?
All extremism starts small.
All extremism starts with individual prejudice but grows strongest when that prejudice is expressed in behavior that goes unchallenged. When bigotry goes unchallenged, when we let people we are interacting with use the language that demeans other groups of people, that bigotry starts to get stronger, and stronger.
True, sometimes it takes a while for a person’s individual prejudice to show itself. Sometimes the prejudice felt by people we know is quiet. But that hibernating bigotry (5) is just waiting for the right stimulus to wake it up.
When that hibernating bigotry roars awake, too often in America the behavior goes unchallenged. People say, “they’re not serious, they’re just joking…” “It’s just a joke,” people claim.
That is exactly what the so-called friends of Dylann Roof said about the way he talked about black people. His friends said that they took the hateful things he said about black people, that “black people are ruining America,” to be “…just a joke.”
Yes, they said it was just a joke and were stunned when he walked into an African American church in Charleston, SC and shot and killed 9 African Americans who were doing a bible study. His bigotry that his friends called a joke went unchallenged because it was just a joke, and so it grew stronger and stronger until he felt he had to kill some black people. (6)
That is why it is important to understand that no, it’s not just a joke when we hear another person’s bigotry. You see, there are no innocent anti-group jokes. (7)
That is why in moments when hibernating bigotry awakens, we need individuals who will speak up against that kind of expressed thinking. We need interpersonal leaders.
We must and can train individuals to stand up against bigotry when it comes up in their social interactions with another person; we must and can train individuals to take a public stance against bigotry that comes up during their everyday social interactions.
What would that training be like? Your American social psychologists have studied and shown that there is something we can teach people to say in the face of anybody expressing anti-group feelings. This interpersonal strategy is simple.
When someone makes a statement of bigotry, the best way to challenge that bigotry is for someone to say:
“I’m sorry I find that kind of language offensive, it hurts me.”
Research (8) shows that this strategy works to stop bigotry from getting stronger. That is why we must train interpersonal leaders; people who know how to stand up to bigotry in their own social interactions with other people.
In his first and still only speech to this UN, King T’Challa, the Black Panther of Wakanda said:
"Wakanda will no longer watch from the shadows. We cannot. We must not,"
"We [of Wakanda] will work to be an example of how we as brothers and sisters on this earth should treat each other. Now, more than ever, the illusions of division threaten our very existence. We all know the truth: more connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis, the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe." (9)
What King T’Challa was saying, and all of Wakanda is saying through me today, is that we must deal with each other as if we are all of the same tribe; no worry about who are the ‘we’ and who are among the “they’; no, us versus them. We must treat each other with respect for the humanity that we are all members of; no, us versus them.
How do we create that world where we all respect each other no matter our tribes, no matter our background group memberships? Again, we must train people to stand against bigotry by using this interpersonal strategy:
“I’m sorry I find that kind of language offensive, it hurts me.”
As the representative of Wakanda, to you the UN, I thank you for listening to the Wakandan proposal to you for action, to create training programs to develop interpersonal leaders who will speak up against bigotry in all its forms.
We need, humanity needs, interpersonal leaders who will speak up against bigotry against women, bigotry against the disabled, bigotry against religion, bigotry against homosexuals, transgender or the gender fluid. We need, humanity needs, interpersonal leaders who will stand up against bigotry in all its forms.
To slow and stop the rise of global nationalism and extremism, our world needs interpersonal leaders who are trained in how to speak up against bigotry in the small interpersonal moments where extremism starts. That is what the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was telling the world when he said,
“The greatest tragedy of this age will not be the vitriolic words and deeds of the children of darkness. But the appalling silence of the children of light.”
You Delegates of the United Nations are the representatives of the “Children of Light.”
Thank you for your time and attention.
1. Triangle Model United Nations, Inc.: http://www.trianglemun.org/
2. Simpson, I. (2018). Number of U.S. hate groups jumps 20 percent since 2014: Watchdog. Reuters (February 21) (https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/number-of-us-hate-groups-jumps-20-percent-since-2014-watchdog/ar-BBJpZuP)
3. Nacoste, R. W. (2009). Post-Racial?: Something Even More Bizarre and Inexplicable. Making Connections: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Cultural Diversity, 11, 1-10.
4 Appadurai, A. (2006). Fear of small numbers: An essay on the geography of anger, (Durham, NC: Duke University Press)
5. Nacoste, R.W. (2015). Taking on diversity: How we can move from anxiety to respect (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books).
6. Nacoste, R.W. (2015). After Charleston, what now? Stop tolerating intolerance. News & Observer OP-ED (June 22) (http://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article25185835.html)
7. Nacoste, R. W. (2015). Sometimes a joke is not just a joke, Psychology-Today-Blog-A Quiet Revolution (September 22) (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/quiet-revolution/201509/sometimes-joke-is-not-just-joke)
8. Czopp, A.M., Monteith, M.J. & Mark, A.Y. (2006). Standing up for a change: Reducing bias through interpersonal confrontation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 784-803.
9. Coogler, R. & Cole, J.R. Black Panther, directed by Ryan Coogler, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 2018.