First legally sanctioned racial discrimination case in the U.S. in the 21st century


Dr. Yonas Biru with his wife and children PHOTO/Huffington Post

The World Bank, EU, OECD and IMF are institutional partners of the Global Poverty Project. Would the project’s Annual Global Citizen’s Festival in N.Y. tell Jay Z to sing his hit songs from behind the curtains because of his race and have a white performer lip-sync his hits on the festival stage? This is what the World Bank did to Dr. Yonas Biru to spare Europeans the indignities of seeing a black man in a position of power.

Rare is the case when conservatives and liberals, from Dr. Ben Carson to Reverend Jesse Jackson, and from Breitbart News to Afro American Newspaper, join voices with leaders of over 500 faith-based organizations to bring to light institutionalized racial discrimination in the U.S.

Even rarer is the case when U.S. lawmakers from both Chambers of Congress request three U.S. government agencies – Departments of State, Treasury and Justice – to investigate a racial discrimination case. Despite it all, justice has not been rendered.

The victim is Dr. Yonas Biru, an Ethiopian national and a permanent resident of the U.S. The culprit is the World Bank that is immune from lawsuits in U.S. courts. In 2014, the World Bank justified the precedent-setting racial discrimination case by business rationales, after a study it commissioned found it to be a “blatant and virulent case of racism,” and its Senior Advisor for Racial Equality condemned it as being “profoundly beyond the pale.”

Though there are over two-dozen articles by liberal civil rights leaders about Dr. Biru’s case, my primary focus will be on those by conservatives because rare is the case that they admit the presence of institutionalized racial injustice, much less condemn it in public.

Dr. Carson attributed Dr. Biru’s suffering to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim’s “lack of humanity.” Armstrong Williams, a conservative columnist, asked: “In what way are the World Bank’s actions different from what white supremacists espouse? In an “Open letter to [President Trump], Pastor Steve Parson, “Advisory Board for National Diversity Coalition for Trump,” presented the injustice as “the first legally sanctioned racial discrimination case on U.S. soil in the 21st century.”

What sparked the unprecedented outrage in the conservative landscape?

The World Bank stripped Dr. Biru of his stellar management performance record, claiming that it is “hagiographic” and defended its decision to credit white World Bank and IMF managers for his work. Merriam Webster defines “hagiography” as a “biography of saints.” What was that the Bank found unsuitable for a Black manager, but fitting for white managers? Dr. Biru’s performance record reads in part:

  • “He has multiple roles in the Bank’s global management, managing one of the most critical programs the World Bank has ever managed.”
  • “The global program is extremely important and high profile with many international partners involved… Yonas’ work in managing sensitive relationships between stakeholders is very impressive.”
  • “He initiated and managed methodological innovations in critical areas that have created a lasting-legacy… The program just couldn’t be successful without his expertise and knowledge of key players.”
  • Retrospectively, this was declared too good to be true for a Black man. The problem started when Dr. Biru applied to become the global manager of a high-profile international program. In October 2016, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen wrote a three-page letter to the U.S. Departments of State and Treasury, stating: “While serving as Deputy Global Manager, Dr. Biru applied for promotion to Global Manager. In response, he was told he could not be promoted because ‘Europeans are not used to seeing Black man in a position of power.’”

    As described in Reverend Jackson’s open letter to President Obama, “The consolation that the World Bank offered [Dr. Biru] was to be a de facto global manager without official recognition and accept the Bank’s decision to front a white consultant as global manager. The Bank had no qualms acknowledging that World Bank rules do not allow consultants to work fulltime or manage any World Bank project. Evidently, the white consultant was fronted as global manager not to offend Europeans by designating a black man as global manager.”

    Since the World Bank is immune from lawsuits, Dr. Biru’s complaint was heard internally, first by the World Bank Appeals Committee and then by the Administrative Tribunal.

    During the Appeals Committee hearing, one of the Bank’s senior executives (an Iranian) put the blame on three high-level officials of the European Union (EU), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a DC based organization run by Europeans.

    The Iranian testified under oath and on tape stating “the day-to-day coordination of the global work and the team was basically taken over by Yonas Biru” but the consultant was designated global manager to avoid “a very embarrassing situation.” She said: “I’m sorry, it broke my heart.” She went on further: “You see I’m not sort of a European blonde… How could I discriminate against somebody else?”

    Pambazuka for more

    Comments are closed.