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raceAhead: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Turns 70

A group of school children sit outside, gathered around a large poster printed with the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights.A group of school children sit outside, gathered around a large poster printed with the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Photograph taken of children of the United Nations International Nursery School looking at a poster of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was introduced on Dec. 10 1948. Universal History Archive/UIG/Getty Images

Yesterday was the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an enduring document that details in 30 articles the basic, fundamental rights that all human beings should enjoy and that all governments should protect.

It opens definitively: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

It is also the anniversary of the time when the world community agreed nearly unanimously on a notion that would potentially affect the policies of all. Not a single member of the newly created United Nations dared to vote nay.

The delegates working on December 10, 1948 had two world wars, and a new nuclear reality encoded in their experiences, and the world felt as close to a terrible end as it had in modern times.

“That so many of the rights remain unachieved on its 70th anniversary testifies to the boundless idealism of the document’s drafters,” says NPR’s Tom Gjelten.

It is an extraordinary list, mostly gender neutral, and deeply considered. I’ve paraphrased some of my favorites:

No one should be held in slavery or servitude. No one should be subjected to torture. Everyone has the right to seek asylum from persecution in other countries. No one should be denied access to marriage or forced into marriage. Everyone has the right to due process. Everyone has the right to move freely in their country, think freely, worship freely. Everyone has the right to participate freely in a democratic government. Everyone has the right to work, to own property, to adequate housing, nourishment, and health care, and to have social protections against hardship.

We still have work to do.

I agree with Harvard professor Stephen Pinker, author of Enlightenment Now, that there has been great progress in the human experience to celebrate. “In a lot of measures, yeah, things are bad now, but they were even worse before,” he told a gathering of CEOs at the Fortune CEO Initiative conference in San Francisco last June. “War and homicide and rape and violence against children are deplorable problems now,” said Pinker, “but they were even worse a few decades ago.” His warning: plot data over time, to better assess true risk and probability. It is excellent advice.

And yet, it is not possible to observe this anniversary without acknowledging the human data points who still suffer. It is the enduring sameness of our cruelty to each other that is so exhausting.

Eleanor Roosevelt was the chair of the United Nations Human Rights Commission and the engine behind the creation of the charter. When she submitted it to the UN, she said:

“We stand today at the threshold of a great event both in the life of the United Nations and in the life of mankind. This declaration may well become the international Magna Carta for all men everywhere.”

While the document did a better job with gender than her introduction, I look back on her optimism with wonder. Did she really believe?

What would it take for the world to declare a common set of values now?

On Point

Next Gen gets underwayYou’re not going to want to miss the mainstage goodness, which starts at 4:20 Pacific time with Backstage Capital’s Arlan Hamilton and Microsoft’s Peggy Johnson discussing how they’re working together to address the funding gap among women, LGBTQ, and non-white company founders. Later on, powerhouse Stacey Abrams, will sit down with Fortune‘s Beth Kowitt to talk about her life, her bid for governor of Georgia and what comes after her non-concession fighting words. Follow the livestream here, agenda below. Fortune Next Gen Summit

In Brooklyn, gentrifying juries means more defendants lose
It’s just another way to measure the impact of gentrification on a community, and this story from one of New York’s home town papers makes the case plain: “I’m not sure people from the University of Vermont would believe that a police officer would [plant] a gun,” says one veteran defense lawyer. As juries fill up with “law and order types” from “Wisconsin or Wyoming,” they tend to be more reflexively pro-police in criminal proceedings and anti-plaintiff in civil cases. “We’re dealing with more sophisticated people, and they don’t believe [plaintiffs] should be awarded millions of dollars for nothing,” says a long-time plaintiff lawyer.
New York Post

The Smithsonian to open the first ever gallery devoted to the Latinx experience in the US
The gallery is slated to open in 2021, and will sit on the first floor of the National Museum of American History. The gallery will be called the Molina Family Latino Gallery, and will be initially be funded with a gift of $10 million given by the five children of the Molina family; their late father, Dr. C. David Molina founded Molina Healthcare, a health plan that specializes in underserved, uninsured, and non-English speaking patients. The permanent gallery space could be the first step toward a standalone museum. “We want to expand people’s notions of what it means to be Latino,” says Ranald Woodaman, the center’s exhibitions and public programs director. “It’s not this homogenous experience. It depends on where you’re from. Target is also on board with a $2 million donation.
Washington Post

Out magazine has a new executive editor
And for the first time in the magazine’s storied twenty-six year history, it’s a transgender woman. Raquel Ellis, who has earned a high profile as an advocate and journalist focusing on a wide variety of topics from police brutality to the rights of sex workers, tells Essence that she is considering how to shape the magazine going forward. “I am deeply committed to the Black trans community, I’m committed to trans and nonconformity community. I’m committed to the LGBTQ community in all of the ways that it exists,” she says.
Essence

 

The Woke Leader

The abuse behind your fruit salad
The Yakima Herald has a bank of stories of women farm workers who experience harassment and assault, many, on a daily basis. They have no place to turn. “For farm workers living paycheck to paycheck, especially single mothers, the fear of losing their job if they report means they’re rather just put up with harassment,” says Blanca Rodriguez, an attorney with an advocacy group. “It’s even harder for immigrant workers who don’t have legal status and fear being turned in to immigration if they report abuse,” she said. What horrors lurk in your supply chain?
Yakima Herald

The complicated history behind a holiday classic
Here’s the story everyone loves. Jingle Bells was originally written by a beloved Medford, Mass. man named James Lord Pierpont in 1850, while sitting in a tavern and feeling cheery feels about the sound of sleigh bells outside. Turns out, Pierpont was more of a loser than a town treasure, and after a long strange trip failing his way across California and escaping creditors, he wrote “One Horse Open Sleigh” to be performed in a famous minstrel show called “Dandy Darkies” that was popular in Boston in the late 1850s. (There’s even a picture of the white actor singing the song in blackface.) Pierpont abandoned his children, then wandered down to the South to join the Confederacy, to annoy his abolitionist father, or some such. Anyway, the people in Medford will have to do something about the plaque, I suppose.
BU Today

The legacy of slavery at New York Life
New York Life is the latest in a long line of storied institutions struggling to put their involvement with the slave trade into context. The future Fortune 100 company opened on Wall Street in 1845, but by 1847, insurance policies on slaves working in Southern markets accounted for one-third of their portfolio. They are certainly not alone. But the growth of the business is a fascinating indicator of life in the mid-1800s, and slave-owner customers were happy to have the leverage over laborers forced to work under the most hazardous conditions. While New York Life is proud of its subsequent record on race and philanthropy and has been laudably open about its past, things feel fraught. The New York Times was able to track down the descendants of formerly enslaved people whose lives were insured by the company, often to their shock.
New York Times

Quote

Anxiety, Kierkegaard said, is the dizziness of freedom. This freedom of which men speak, for which they fight, seems to some people a perilous thing. It has to be earned at a bitter cost and then — it has to be lived with. For freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.  We must all face an unpalatable fact that we have, too often, a tendency to skim over; we proceed on the assumption that all men want freedom. This is not as true as we would like it to be. Many men and women who are far happier when they have relinquish their freedom, when someone else guides them, makes their decisions for them, takes the responsibility for them and their actions. They don’t want to make up their minds. They don’t want to stand on their own feet.
Eleanor Roosevelt