Philosophical perspectives explored as speakers engaged with students around world

World Philosophy Day in 2020 is, in more ways than one, exceptional. It is being celebrated in the midst of a health crisis, an economic crisis, a climate crisis and an existential crisis. The current pandemic is challenging many aspects of our societies, namely how we relate to our communities, to our condition as individuals and to our economic and political systems.

Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO on the occasion of World Philosophy Day 2020

The pandemic and other crises have aggravated existential and systemic challenges for youth, particularly for young women & vulnerable groups. They may be victims, but they are also the crisis’ big hope to lead innovative and creative solutions to leave no one behind!

Gabriela Ramos, Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences

The Master Class welcomed more than 250 participants from across the world, including Argentina, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Canada, Democratic Republic of Congo, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Gambia, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, Russian Federation, South Africa, Spain and the United States of America.

It also welcomed Prof. Rose Boswell (Executive Dean of Arts at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University), Mr Arnaud Demanche (Humorist and Author), Prof. Lazare Ki-Zerbo (Philosopher and Member of the Centre for African Development Studies) and Prof. Carole Reynaud-Paligot (Historian, Sociologist at the University of Pantheon-Sorbonne). Participants were treated to musical interludes by Ms Paloma Fayet, a young French pianist. The Master Class was moderated by Ms Arleen Pimentel from the Permanent Delegation of the Dominican Republic to UNESCO.

Carole Reynaud-Paligot emphasized the importance of combatting stereotypes through a process of deconstruction – in challenging a level that is not always easy to understand and tackle. She largely attributed negative stereotypes to the relationship of domination that still exists and highlighted that, although the current crisis would favour the resurgence of racist acts and statements, this phenomenon is not obvious and also depends on media and political treatment. The issue of social networks was addressed as a tool that can be used by and for young people to fight against all forms of online discrimination.

Prof. Rose Boswell asked participants to imagine two possible futures, and then highlighted a need to face the realities and “co-create a world where these systemic inequalities are slowly but surely and definitely eradicated and changed.” She illustrated how a dystopic future is unsustainable, by explaining that: “the more inequality, the more violent and difficult it will become to live in this world.”

Prof. Lazare Ki-Zerbo highlighted how culture was about building a shared position or lens to look at the world, citing the keyword “intentionality” in relation to expressing a certain perspective on life. In fighting against hate and racism, he emphasized the importance of understanding that representations still exist and that there is work to be done on the theoretical side to illustrate how today’s representations are going can disappear in the future.

Mr Arnaud Demanche shared an experience that made him become an antiracism advocate in his early years and acknowledged that combatting racism in a practical manner is very complicated. He also reinforced the idea that it is through a culture that we can develop the movement against racism and discussed how his work as a humorist and author can help in addressing experiences of discrimination to convey ideas and concepts of inclusion and diversity to the “hardest to reach” who live in parallel worlds where racism has become a leitmotiv.

Students gained a lot of insightful perspectives on how racism and discriminations is understood and challenged, and how they could take action in their own way. Several students expressed their commitment to fighting against racism and discriminations by developing advocacy and awareness-raising activities in school, observing International Days and promoting anti-racism and antidiscrimination at the individual level when working in groups and by standing up for others. Others referred to existing large scale initiatives, such as the commemoration of Emancipation Day to mark the end of slavery in Canada.

The UNESCO Master Class Series aims to sensitize young people to the phenomena of racism and discriminations in society, understand its origins and discuss concepts. It is a means of conveying fundamental knowledge on the construction of prejudice and sharing experiences through testimonies so that everyone can, at his or her own level, fight against racism and discrimination in various forms. Beyond raising awareness, the Master Class is designed to collectively reflect on a list of commitments to be made by the schools so that they can apply them in their curricula. The Series is part of the anti-racism roadmap that UNESCO is currently developing, which includes a scanning project to strengthen institutional and legal frameworks against racism and discriminations, affirmative actions in public and private sectors and anti-biases training.

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