This one time, the Youth Advisory Board, decided to organize a flash mob at the UN-Habitat headquarters in Nairobi… which accidentally triggered the tactical response team at the UN and resulted in a free escort off of the grounds with burly armed men in black bullet-proof vests, who quickly relieved us of our badges.
Of course we certainly didn’t intend to provoke such a reaction. The flash mob was a rather modest affair – youth standing in frozen positions in the main atrium with signs advocating for youth participation. Designed to raise the profile of youth issues at the Governing Council, it lasted no more than eight minutes and was completely peaceful, positive, and non-disruptive.
However I can understand being frightened by something you don’t understand, and apparently security at the UN doesn’t understand:
B) Flash Mobs
C) The Internet
Attempts to explain said concepts did not help and unfortunately in this case the response escalated quickly. Security is trained
by the Americans, the world’s ‘foremost security experts’, and the lack of familiarity with these hot topics was not reassuring (we’re fairly confident they didn’t understand that we were filming the whole process).
But fair enough, why not err on the side of caution?
What I cannot excuse, what left me shocked and disgusted, what soured the entire otherwise laughable affair, is the fact that only the black youth were targeted by security. Despite the fact that white Youth Advisory Board members were standing alongside everybody else, holding the same signs, they were blatantly ignored in favour of rounding up those who were not white.
So, racism is alive and well within UN security.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but it is disquieting nonetheless to be reminded that none of us are colourblind. In this instance all of the security involved were black Africans, though I suspect it would have been a similar outcome no matter the race of those in uniform.
Unfortunately this is consistent with my experiences working in Southern Africa and Kenya, where I am often afforded an undeserved privilege (by all races), because of the colour of my skin.
In a show of solidarity all of the YAB members surrendered themselves and exited with security, forfeiting our badges while we awaited a pronouncement on our fate. Luckily the head of security was very receptive to our flash mob explanation, and with the help of UN-Habitat staff, our ‘misunderstanding’ was quickly sorted out.
But overall, a disappointing day for youth, racial tolerance and acceptance.