North Carolina Rep. G.K. Butterfield
North Carolina Rep. G.K. Butterfield Credit: Shevry Lassiter

Congressman Gregory Meeks (New York) issued a release on racial equality on Oct. 21 praising World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, stunning Black staffers.

Meeks wrote: “President Kim’s passionate commitment to (the World Bank’s) mission is remarkable.” The Congressman’s commendation was shared by Congresswoman Gwen Moore of Wisconsin.

The World Bank Staff Engagement Survey differs. Only 6 percent of the general staff “strongly agreed” Kim’s administration “is taking action to improve diversity and inclusion.”

The World Bank’s 1998 report acknowledges the Congressional Black Caucus has been pressing it to address racial matters since 1978. The 1998 report said Blacks were “rated inferior” and segregated.

On a scale of one to six (with one representing a racist institution and six reflecting an anti-racist one), the study found the bank “hovering between 2 and 3.”

Because the World Bank enjoys immunity from U.S. laws, the only legal avenue for staff alleging discrimination is a tribunal that controls or tamps down racial dissent. Since its establishment, the tribunal has summarily rejected all racial discrimination claims – in an institution that admits “Black staff members face inequitable treatment because of the color of their skin.”

In one case, a black tribunal judge wrote a victim of racial discrimination he had denied justice. He voted to summarily dismiss the case, but he wrote: “I did not find it fit to dissent. I was not yet ready for such a momentous step.”

The staff member filed an appeal to contest the violation of his due process rights. Kim’s administration filed a motion to dismiss the staff member’s appeal. In May, the tribunal accepted the bank’s argument and summarily dismissed the appeal.

Although he is well aware of this case, Kim is opposed to resolving it or discussing any request about alternative means of justice. His administration has given financial incentives to one of the leaders of the D.C. Civil Rights Coalition to persuade him to drop the coalition’s demand for access to justice for Blacks at the World Bank. This is unprecedented.

Another first for Kim is his administration’s tampering with diversity data. The bank’s former director of diversity, who served four presidents, including Kim, is on the record as stating: “The data is fudged now for obfuscation …. So sad.”

Kim’s public relations charm offensive is matched in degree by the campaign of fear he wages that has at best silenced his internal critics or at worst forced vulnerable World Bank staff to praise him.

Concerning racial affairs in the World Bank, the reality is best described in an article in the Jan. 14 issue of the Afro-American newspaper. The author, who used a pseudonym to avoid retaliation, noted institutional racism has worsened under Kim.

There are two U.S. Appropriations acts, which require the World Bank to grant its staff access to justice through external arbitration or face losing U.S. funding. The laws were carefully crafted to avoid undermining the bank’s immunity from U.S. courts. Two World Bank Committees have made similar recommendations in the past. Kim emphatically said no.

Kim is asking the government for more funding. As noted in the Oct. 4 issue of the Financial Times, he has the support of President Barack Obama’s administration.

Because Congress controls the purse strings, Kim needs the support of the CBC, particularly those who are members of the House Financial Services Committee. The timing of the Congressional Black Caucus’ meeting co-led by senior members of the Financial Services Committee is most disturbing, given that African-Americans are the most underrepresented group.

Martin Luther King Jr. died so that African-Americans would gain equality in every aspect of life, most importantly in securing justice – economic, political, and social. We should not tolerate it when Kim reduces King by making his work only about fighting for job opportunities.

Rewarding the World Bank with additional funding before it honors the rights of its Black staff would mean betraying civil rights heroes who died fighting for recognition of their full humanity.

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