Please install macromedia flash plug-in
PERSPECTIVES ON RACE
Prepared by Charlotte Astor
The subject of race in America continues to inspire a lively and intense expression of opinion across the American social and political landscape. What follows is a sampling of recent commentary from a variety of sources.
NATIONAL DIALOGUE ON RACE
The New York Times:
President Clinton's June 14 call for a national conversation on race evoked skepticism and criticism from partisans on both sides of the racial divide. Foes of affirmative action were disappointed that he did not reject what they consider to be the failed path of quotas and racial preferences. Advocates of more aggressive action on race and poverty were disappointed that he did not commit more resources for job-training and education....The President focused on the future, however, and encouraged his newly appointed advisory panel, with the historian John Hope Franklin as its chairman, to listen before making recommendations.
The issues of race, affirmative action and diversity can be discussed candidly. If Mr. Clinton's speech starts such a process, and leads to concrete actions, it could be remembered as a turning point....
(Excerpted from an editorial of June 16, 1997, p. A22.)
Dr. John Hope Franklin:
Ours is a rare and unique opportunity to make a significant contribution to the resolution of the virtually intractable problem of race that has plagued this country for more than three centuries. I say virtually intractable because the problem was created and nurtured by gifted human beings, but that which man has created can indeed be put asunder....
The task with which this advisory board is assigned is daunting, even awesome....We have the advantage of undertaking the task in an atmosphere of peace....We must therefore seize the present and use the present to promote a significant improvement in the racial climate and racial contacts, and race relations in general.
If black-white relations became the hallmark of race relations in general, they served in turn to influence inter-ethnic, inter-religious, inter-racial relations in subsequent years in many places and in many ways:
"More damn Jews," xenophobic European-Americans complained as they watched some Eastern Europeans disembark in New York City in 1890.
"Restrict Asians in every possible way," Western Americans demanded toward the end of the 19th-century.
"Build mile-high fences," Southwestern Americans commanded, as Mexicans and others from south of the border entered the United States in increasing numbers in the middle of the 20th century.
I do not know how many Americans, of whatever color or race or national origin, are familiar with these old, old stories. Some cannot see the relevance....To them and to all of us, I would say that the beginning of wisdom is knowledge, and without knowledge of the past we cannot wisely chart our course for the future.
The President has called for a national dialogue, and I hope that all of us will answer his call. If we speak frankly and honestly about matters in which feelings are deep and long-held, the conversations will not always be painless....The road to racial peace is not without its problems and even pain. But the journey is worth taking, for in the end we can forge institutions and adopt practices that will help us build communities....
We've only a short time to have an impact on certain courses in our society that are not only old and powerful but resourceful as well. We will not be intimidated by their strength and their resources, for we enjoy support and good will of millions of American citizens....So let the dialogue begin....
(From remarks by Dr. John Hope Franklin to the July 14, 1997, meeting of the Advisory Board to the President's Initiative on Race and Reconciliation. Dr. Franklin, Chairman of the Advisory Board, is one of America's premier scholars of African- American history. Among his seminal publications are Racial Equality in America, 1976, and From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans, [7th edition published in 1994], and The Color Line: Legacy for the Twenty-First Century, 1993.)
Promise and peril surround President Clinton's initiative on race relations.
The promise is a focused examination of racial issues that will clarify dilemmas so that at least we can know where and why we disagree with one another. This is a precondition for sensible reform. Nearly everyone recognizes, as the President recently said, that "we have a long way to go." What precisely, however, is our aim?...
Do we want a society governed by racial demography, in which presidential cabinets, criminal juries and editorial offices must "look like America"? Or do we want a society governed by an anti-discrimination principle that requires citizens to look beyond looks? To understand the ramifications of the choice...requires considerable thought and discussion. That is why the public should eschew the objections of those who contend that we have had too much "mere" talk about racial matters. We have not had too much talk; we have had too much rhetoric and spectacle....
If Clinton's initiative is to amount to anything memorable it must create forums in which knowledgeable, thoughtful people address their fellow citizens about the racial matters that touch them most intimately.
We need to hear about and from people who live in the nation's black and brown ghettos. Do they have reason to believe that if they "play by the rules", their lives and the lives of their children will become more prosperous, secure and enjoyable?... We need to hear from white women who view race as a signal that a black male stranger poses more of a threat to them than a white male stranger. Is their calculation sensible?...We need to hear about and from Latinos, Asian-Americans and blacks, who view one another with racial resentment and discord. What is the basis of their discord?...
To pose these and even more pointed questions, and to permit and consider a range of divergent responses, might help to create the thought-provoking conversation that many Americans would like to have about their racial dilemmas.
(The Washington Post, June 15, 1997, pp. C1-2. Randall Kennedy is a professor at Harvard Law School and the author of Race, Crime and the Law, New York: Pantheon, 1997.)
First, and most important, is that the President, the leader of this country, is saying that race is a top issue for America and giving it the highest visibility. Second, it is at the black/white level that race has to be addressed first and foremost, and I hope that the President's task force addresses it as the major conflict, the primary issue.
(The Washington Post, June 15, 1997, p. C2. Robert Johnson is President and Chief Executive Officer of Black Entertainment Television.)
I see encouraging evidence in my family, neighborhood and workplace of the possibility of a kind of racial unity that transcends mere integration (which tends toward assimilation) and multiculturalism (which tends toward balkanization). But President Clinton is right that there is work to be done. As a nation we need to accept the moral responsibility for the inequalities and animosities that are the legacies of slavery, legally enforced segregation and prejudice. We need to design creative, politically-viable new approaches to addressing economic, educational and social inequalities.
(The Washington Post, June 15, 1997, p. C2. Anita Allen is Associate Dean and Professor at Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, D.C.)
You cannot legislate attitudes and gut reactions. But the federal government has the capacity to set a tone, to get some thoughts out there for the nation to consider. This initiative comes at a time when we are poised to consider some other possibilities only because we are going into the year 2000.
When we talk of race relations, one thing we are going to become conscious of as a nation is that we're a very young nation. Yes, we've made mistakes...but we have maintained a strength and leadership role that no one in this country wants to give up. As a nation we have an interest in coming together, and this President is visionary in asking this diverse set of folks and communities to come to the table and seriously consider where we are....
We're a country that is quite unique in that we tend to put things in terms of race. I know several Asian-Americans who grew up in Latin-America....They identified culturally as Brazilian, Panamanian, Chilean, not by race. Then, when they came here...their face...put them in the category of Asian. So then they had to struggle with what that means in this context.
This country has always been segmented, based on skin color or race. Asian-Americans because of how we look....Our susceptibility or vulnerability to being called foreigner is never going to go away. I have had people ask me, "How does it feel to always be viewed as a foreigner?" African-Americans actually have said to me, "At least we know we belong here...." That is a very unsettling question when it is put to you. African-Americans are never told, "Go back to your own country...."
We have this wonderful heritage in the instrument that provides the basis of building this nation [U.S. Constitution]. When our forefathers drafted the instrument, they certainly didn't expect people like Angela Oh to be part of the picture. But the extraordinary thing about this nation is people have interpreted these rights to mean we do want to include the Angela Ohs, the Linda Chavez-Thompsons [advisory board member] and the John Hope Franklins....
Los Angeles Times, July 13, 1997, p. M3. Angela Oh, a Los-Angeles-based lawyer, is a member of the Advisory Board to the President's Initiative on Race and Reconciliation. She serves on the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission and the Korean American Family Service Center.)
EQUAL OPPORTUNITY AND AFFIRMATIVE ACTION
Christopher Edley, Jr.:
Whether Asians or any other particular group should be targeted for affirmative action depends on the context and on the justification for affirmative action....I suggest that some of the central choices are whether group-based discrimination still exists and requires either remedy or preventive measures, and whether a particular institution or organization needs diversity in order to be excellent and fulfill its mission.
For new immigrants generally, I don't think the question is whether they or their forebears have suffered discrimination. That reasoning assumes that the moral justification for affirmative action has to do with reparations for historical wrongs. It doesn't, in my view. I ask, what are the risks today of discrimination, and how potent are the lingering effects of recent discrimination? What are the benefits today of special efforts to be inclusive and diverse in a given setting? To me, the historical wrong is most relevant because it powerfully compounds the moral imperative to adopt effective measures that bring about racial and gender justice.
If an immigrant group, based on our history, is likely to overcome obstacles in relatively short order, within the ordinary operation of America's mechanisms of opportunity, then the extraordinary justification for race-conscious affirmative action is missing. But if we see a new group in all likelihood is becoming just another generation of victims to familiar patterns of discrimination and injustice, then something must be done. Affirmative action, done the right way, can be helpful.
(From an Oct. 5, 1996, Internet Forum submission on Proposition 209. Christopher Edley, Jr., a law professor at Harvard University, worked on the July 19, 1995, Report to the President on affirmative action.)
Jack Kemp and J.C. Watts Jr.:
In [his June 14 speech in] San Diego, when [the President] turned to "affirmative action," he offered no improvement over the current system of race-based quotas, set-asides and preferences. He issued the following challenge: "I ask you to come up with an alternative. I would embrace it if I could find a better way." Well, Mr. President, there is a better way....
Our "better way" replaces discrimination with opportunity, poverty with jobs, and despair with education. We offer more than the simplistic and absolutist version of "affirmative action."
A new approach must focus not only on equality and strong enforcement of our existing civil rights laws but also on the expansion of opportunity. Instead of deliberating over fair ways to mete out educational acceptances, job openings, contract agreements and program slots, we should be looking for ways to multiply and extend them.
The "better way" we offer can be summed up in five policy prescriptions....Establish renewal communities and enterprise zones to draw businesses and jobs into distressed urban areas; open up the educational system to the influence of parental and community choice; reverse federal and state welfare provisions to reward rather than punish recipients for working, saving and investing toward an independent future; implement privatization of public housing and other efforts to bring home ownership and property ownership into low-income neighborhoods, and embrace strategies that will get our national economy growing at a pace that will accommodate the talent of all Americans.
The legislation that could help achieve all five of our desired goals is already here before Congress in the Community Renewal Project. This bill...would expand opportunity in our cities by removing tax and regulatory barriers to job creation and entrepreneurship and by expanding access to capital and credit.
Expansion of opportunity requires expanding the overall economy so that it has plenty of room for the effort and enterprise of all Americans, including minorities and women. On principle, we should not accept the idea that a job gained by one American equals unemployment for another, or that a contract won by one qualified bidder spells disaster for an equally qualified contractor.
Finally, we must move to a place of real racial reconciliation....We must begin the dialogue that President Clinton and others have called for....As a great African-American abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, said, "When we are noted for enterprise, industry and success, we shall no longer have any trouble in the matter of civil and political rights."
(The Washington Post, July 8, 1997, p. A15. Former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Jack Kemp, who also served as a Republican in the U.S. Congress, is co-director of Empower America, a nonpartisan public policy and political advocacy organization that promotes progressive-conservative policies. J.C. Watts is a Republican member of the U.S. Congress from Oklahoma.)
Today, I believe we are saying to young black kids, if at first you don't succeed, redefine success, because your failure must have been the result of culturally-biased exams, the lack of role models and a racist society. Our kids have come to believe that they cannot survive in a world without special consideration. Their competitive spirit has been weakened by this dependency on affirmative action. We owe it to them to better prepare them for the rigors of a highly competitive world. And we owe it to all that is good about America to not let them sink into the debilitating mentality of believing that our nation is racist at its core....
There are those who defend racial preferences who often speak in glowing terms about "diversity." Let me be clear: Today's vote was not a rejection of diversity. It was a rejection of using diversity as an excuse to discriminate....
(Excerpted from a November 1996 speech by Connerly, a University of California official, and chief proponent of the California Civil Rights Initiative, Proposition 209, which largely prohibits discrimination or use of preference programs by California state or local governments.)
ASPECTS OF DIVERSITY
Joe R. Hicks:
Clearly, black political power and influence, particularly in U.S. cities, must be reconceptualized in the context of an America that is far more diverse than white and black people. What then does racial integration mean in the context of an American population in flux?...
The shifts in the racial mix of U.S. cities, with the percentage of African-Americans falling, and growing black skepticism toward the value of integration, both undercut traditional notions of "integration" and "assimilation." In the 1960s, "integration" meant inclusion in an America largely defined by European-Americans. Today, integration must mean inclusion, involvement and participation in a nation that has evolved far beyond the black-white paradigm.
(Los Angeles Times, July 20, 1997, pp. M1, M6. Joe R. Hicks is former executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a civil rights organization that strives for full equality and equal opportunity through political and economic action.)
Our nation is truly at a crossroads and Latinos are [at] the proverbial "fork in the road." What is crucial for us as a nation is to come to terms with how we will respond to the difficult challenges that lie before us. If we, as a nation, choose to continue separating our interests -- as well as our communities -- based on which are more powerful, more clever, or more "deserving," we will surely perish. The healing that President Clinton so eloquently spoke about in his second inaugural speech cannot and will not happen unless we take affirmative and proactive steps to be inclusive and honest about who we are and what we are all about as a people.
(Excerpted from a June 1997 Forum in Hispanic magazine, p. 40. Raul Yzaguirre is president of the National Council of La Raza, a private, nonprofit organization which strives to improve life opportunities for Hispanic-Americans.)
Dr. Samuel Betances and Dr. Laura M. Torres Souder:
To discriminate is deadly. To be inclusive is just plain good for business. The future is screaming at us with new demographic trends which announce a new world reality in which to do business....Harnessing the rainbow of the total workforce -- its diverse ways of knowing, world views, insights, passions and talents -- will in fact add value to the organization and its goals.
African-Americans, together with numerous other interest groups, will reap the rewards of a non-racist system since, as an interest group, they have struggled most consistently to eliminate discrimination. Their struggle has proved a blessing to every group seeking to be included, respected and rewarded for their work. All groups, therefore, must take a strong position against racism.
(From a July 11, 1997, speech, "New and Improved Workplace Diversity Initiatives for the Bottom Line," at Agway Technical Center, Ithaca, New York. The authors, respectively, are senior consultant and chief executive officer of Souder, Betances and Associates, Inc., Chicago, Illinois.)
U.S. Society & Values
USIA Electronic Journal, Vol. 2, No. 3, August 1997