University of Akron
MR. CHAMBERS: My name is Mchughton Chambers and I'm an electrical engineering major at the University of Akron. And I'm also biracial. And I think that the only time race ever comes up in my mind is when I'm reminded of it by other people, just in terms of like experiences where I'm discriminated against or just treated differently because of what I look like.
Growing up in the early days, I really didn't have much experience with this, but later, when I got to high school, I transferred to a private high school and I think that -- it seemed like every day that people would make some kind of comment or they would say something that would just keep the pressure on you and keep you tense and keep you stressed that I think is unnecessary.
Different experiences I've had, like I've been to banks where I've given them a check to deposit for my mother and it was a pretty low sum of money, and I've given it to them and they've put holds on them unnecessarily and I've seen them talking to people, calling on the telephone. And it really seems like sometimes people only realize half of who I am, and they only realize -- they only think about what I look like that I --just basically the stereotypical thing so that I'm an uneducated person.
THE PRESIDENT: Our second student, Jonathan Morgan. Jonathan, what do you think about what he said? Do you think there is still discrimination here at this school or in this community or in the country? And do you think that most people want to live in an integrated society?
MR. MORGAN: Yes, I do honestly think that there is still discrimination in this country to a point. There are a lot of prejudiced people out there that still remain. And my own honest opinion about that is that those people are the older people, the older generations -- thirties, forties, fifties, and up. (Laughter.) I'm not saying all of them are.
THE PRESIDENT: Maybe we need a panel on ageism instead of racism. (Laughter.)
MR. MORGAN: I apologize. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: That makes it worse. Don't do that. (Laughter.)
MR. MORGAN: The main thing I'm getting at is -- I mean, I can look over at McQuen (phonetic) and I can say he's my friend, he's a fellow student here at the University of Akron, we have something in common; whereas maybe someone older and -- just may have preconceived prejudices that just haven't been ironed out yet. And I think it has been ironed out in our generation.
THE PRESIDENT: Do you think it's because of personal experiences, do you think it's because you've had more direct personal experience with people from different age groups? Or do you think it's because you grew up in a different time where the climate, the legal and the political and the social climate, was different?
MR. MORGAN: I think it was because I grew up in a different time. We grew up watching television. The Cosby Show was my favorite show. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: So, therefore, if you worked at a bank and a black person came in with a check you wouldn't necessarily think it ought to be held because you saw Bill Cosby and he was a good role model? (Laughter.) No, this is important. No, no, this is important.
MR. MORGAN: Yes, I don't think I would give him a hard time. But at the same time, I have my own prejudices, whereas if I'm walking downtown on a street and I see a black man walking towards me that's not dressed as well, I may be a little bit scared. So, I mean, at the same time I have those prejudices.
THE PRESIDENT: Do you think that's because of television crime shows, or because of your personal experience?
MR. MORGAN: It would have nothing to do with my personal experience. Just from the media, television shows and things that I have heard.
THE PRESIDENT: Christina Ibarra? What do you think about that? Do you believe that attitudes are better among young people? Do you think that there is still discrimination today? Is it worse for African Americans than it is for other minority groups, is it different? What do you think?
MS. IBARRA: Yes, I do agree that there is still a lot of discrimination. I do feel that it is in younger adults as well as older. But I do feel that that occurs simply because of how people were raised.
Getting back to what John said, yes, I feel that older people do tend to discriminate more and maybe base their stereotypes of people rather than getting to know them. And I feel that people our age do that as well until they do go out in the world and they do experience different people. And I know a lot of people who until they came to college, until they came to Akron, were brought up very prejudiced and did have very prejudiced beliefs. But until they came here and they had classes with different minorities and they realized that we as people didn't fit so many stereotypes that they had thought that we would, that they got to know us as people and realized that minorities as well as white people could interact, and they could be friends and they could be one and that there are very many similarities between us all. We are all people. And that's how I feel.
THE PRESIDENT: So do you believe -- let me ask you this -- do you believe that having an integrated educational environment is the primary reason that young people have better attitudes, more open attitudes than older people -- because they have been able to go to school with people of different races?
MS. IBARRA: I feel that that benefits them, but I feel it's all by choice as well. Older people, obviously, interact with other minorities in everyday life as well. It's just a matter of choice whether you're going to love and to accept -- whether you're going to allow yourself to accept these people into your lives or whether you're not. I feel it's all choice.
THE PRESIDENT: Let me ask you just one other question. Then I want to go on to -- back to our moderator who's here to talk about the next group of folks. There's a big difference, even in college campuses, between the racial composition of the student body and the daily lives of the students -- at least in a lot of places. That is, there are a lot of places where the student body is integrated, but social life is largely segregated.
Is that always a bad thing? What about that, what about that here and what do you think about that? Our institutions of worship are largely segregated on Sunday. Is that a bad thing, or not? Is it a good thing? What should be our -- in other words, one of the things that I want to try to get America to think about is, how do we define success here? I don't personally think it's a bad thing that there is --that people in many ways like to be with other people of their own racial and ethnic group any more than their own religious group. But, on the other hand, it could become a very bad thing if it goes too far, as we've seen in other countries. So how do you know whether the environment is working for you and for other people? How much integration is enough? How much -- what kind of segregation is acceptable, if it's voluntary? How do you deal with all that? Have you ever thought about it in that way?
MR. CHAMBERS: Well, I basically think that once people come to, say, a university, that they -- most of the time it's a new place, and I think that when people go to a new place, they're going to try and find people like them. Now, in my case, I grew up in a predominantly white area and went to white high schools and stuff like that, so I think that when I came to the university I sought the other side of my ethnic background. So I don't think -- I do think that when people get together with people of their own ethnic background or religion, I think that that is good, but I don't think -- I think that you should also respect the other people and try and learn and be forced to learn about the other people as well as yourself and your own background.
MS. IBARRA: I believe that you can measure success just by equality. I think that certain segregation is okay; if people feel more comfortable with their own race, then that's fine, as long as you don't put down other races. And I think that that's how you would be able to measure success. Whether you hang out with different races all the time or sometime or no time at all, I think that that's okay as long as you can accept these other people and not feel that you're any more superior than anybody else.
And I feel Akron is very segregated. I think that there are certain parts of the campus where, you know, white people hang out here and black people hang out here, in our student center as well as athletic events. And as a Hispanic and coming from a Mexican background, where does that put me. I'm neither one.
So I just have friends of both, which I'm very fortunate, but that's kind of an awkward situation as well. If students come together more and integrate more, I think that that would be better.
MR. LIEBARTH: Mr. President, we are joined today by three authors whom you've invited, whose books on race are now being the subject of a national debate. David K. Shipler is a former reporter for the New York Times. His book on Arabs and Jews won the Pulitzer Prize. His book today is A Country of Strangers: Black and White in America.
Dr. Abigail Thernstrom, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, has coauthored America in Black and White: One Nation Indivisible with her husband Steven, the Winthrop Professor of history at Harvard.
And Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, a psychologist, educator, professor at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. Her book is Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria, and Other Conversations about Race.
THE PRESIDENT: I'd like to just start very briefly by giving the authors a chance to comment on how what they've heard from these students today meshes with what they heard when they were preparing their recent books.
And, David, maybe we ought to start with you.
MR. SHIPLER: It's very familiar. I spent about five years traveling the country, talking to young people like these and others, adults, ordinary folks, blacks and whites, primarily about their interactions with each other. And I feel that we're in a different phase of race relations in this country than we used to be. And in some ways it's a more complicated phase. Bigotry, for the most part, is not as blatant and obvious and outrageous as it used to be. A lot of it has gone underground. It takes subtler forms, encrypted forms.
Prejudice is a shape shifter. It's very agile in taking forms that seem acceptable on the surface. Just yesterday in Akron, for example, the Beacon-Journal had a very interesting article discussing the reasons why blacks are under-represented in honors courses in the public schools here. And one of the reasons seems to be that some guidance counselors discourage blacks from enrolling by saying to them: This is very difficult, you know; are you sure you can do the work?
And some black students absorb these images of themselves as less intelligent or less competent. The fewer blacks that are in honors courses, the fewer blacks want to be. It becomes uncomfortable. There is some peer pressure against it.
This image of blacks as less capable is a powerful that still lurks under the surface of America. I met a white couple in California, for example, who adopted a biracial girl. And she was never -- she was allowed to drift in high school. To the teachers, she looked black. Her friends were mostly black. Their biological children, who were white, got lots of attention. When they fell behind, teachers were on the phone, sending notes home. But when the daughter who looked black fell behind, there were no notes, no phone calls. It was as close to a laboratory experiment as you could get in the differences in attitudes and expectations.
Now, these teachers were not wearing white hoods. They were not standing in the schoolhouse door barring integration. They came from the mainstream of white America, which still harbors many of these powerful assumptions.
I think for us as white Americans, to understand some of this we have to reflect on the differences and experiences that we've had, as opposed to those that blacks and other minorities have had. And one of the things that I learned as I was working in a country of strangers is how little I understood, and perhaps how little I still understand about this. Toward the end of my research, I attended a workshop in Washington run by a facilitor named Lay Minwa (phonetic), who asked a group of us -- and it was quite a diverse group -- blacks, Latinos, Asians, whites -- to answer certain questions by either standing or remaining seated. One of the questions actually goes to what you had said earlier. He said, "I don't have to worry that a check or a credit card will be refused because of my race. If you agree with that, stand." And the only people in the room who stood were the whites. And he left us standing there and looking at each other and at the others for a long time.
He said, "I have been stopped by police officers because of my race." And the black men stood, and a few black women. None of the whites. "I can expect that the next President of the United States will be of my race or ethnic group." And, again, only we whites were able to stand.
And then he asked a very powerful question that I had never thought to ask in all of my research -- "I have considered not having children because of racism." And the young African American woman sitting near me rose to her feet as gracefully as if she were at a funeral. And she looked down at me, and I looked up at her, and we realized that we were looking at each other across an enormous chasm of different experiences.
I think in a dialogue of this kind, the key is to listen, not just to talk. Because we talk a lot and we talk pretty well about race, but we don't listen enough. And I'm hoping that if we listen to each other, we can begin to diminish the size of that chasm and perhaps even make this society of ours into less and less of a country of strangers.
THE PRESIDENT: let me just briefly -- first of all, thank you very much. The reason that I wanted to do this, and a lot of these things, is that I believe there are in any given community literally millions of instances like this where we're not ever fully aware of the motivations behind what we do, or where other people will perceive there may be a racial motivation where there isn't one, which is also just as bad because you have the same net bottom-line result, which is the drifting apart of people. And I don't think there is any legal policy answer to this. I think that this is something we've really got to work out way through.
Jonathan, I was really proud of you for saying that if you were walking and spotted Bill Cosby -- and all of your classmates -- and you were walking down the street alone at night and you saw a black man coming at you, and you were better dressed than he was, you might be scared. Because that's a pretty gutsy thing for you to admit, but that's the kind of stuff we've got to get out on the table. We need to get this out.
But just parenthetically, David, I had a group of African American journalists in to see me a couple of months ago. Every journalist -- all of them with college degrees, all of them quite successful -- every single man in the crowd had been stopped by a police officer for no apparent reason. Every one of them. One hundred percent of them -- I asked them. So these are things we have to get out there an discuss.
Abigail. She has a rosier view, and she's got the guts to say it out here now. (Laughter). Come on.
MS. THERNSTROM: I definitely have the guts to say it. And, in fact, all sorts of reporters said to me before I came, you're going to fudge. I said, I never fudge. And, indeed, I won't talk immediately about preferences, but one of the reasons certainly I was invited here is because I am a dissenting voice on preferences. I do not like any racial preferences or racial classifications -- the boxes in which we're all put. And I hope we can return a little bit to that. But let me early say in response to these wonderful voices of the students, I think they reaffirm the picture of progress that we provide overwhelming evidence of in our book, "America in Black and White."
I mean black progress is indisputably here to stay. Growth of a significant black middle class, increasing suburbanization, rising homeownership rates and so forth -- this is a train that left the station 50 years ago and there is no going into reverse. I mean, just think, in 1940, 60 percent of employed black women were domestic servants. Today 60 percent of black women are white collar workers, and two percent are domestic help.
As late as 1964, the year the great Civil Rights Act was passed, only 20 percent of whites had black neighbors. Today, 61 percent of whites have black neighbors. I mean, despair in this country has become very fashionable, but the truth is that ordinary Americans -- black and white -- are living together; they're working together, they're dining together, they're forming interracial friendships, they're dating members of the other race, and increasing -- and in small but rapidly increasing numbers they are marrying across racial lines. America is outgrowing its racial past. And these students are the voice of that fact.
I mean, there's a recent poll showing that nearly nine out of 10 black teenagers say that racism is a negligible factor in their daily lives. The young have come of age. They understand the good news. They've come of age in a transformed nation. There are absolutely wonderful other figures showing that in terms of the percentage of blacks who say they have dated a white -- it turns out to be 39 percent. The percentage of whites who say they have dated someone who is black -- it turns out to be 24 percent. Asked this year -- teenagers asked this year about dating -- only 13 percent in this country say they would never date somebody of another race. And 83 percent of whites approve of interracial marriage.
It is perfectly right there are generational differences. They don't start, however, as young as 35. (Laughter.) But when you see -- when you see evidence of bigotry, it is mostly the older people. And this is a nation that is being transformed.
Of course, real racial inequality still persists. And I think much of it is driven by an appalling and unacceptable racial gap in educational performance. And I love what you're doing in taking Chicago as a model, dedicating the federal government to this. I would go much further in terms of radical educational reform.
Let me say just one last thing. We also need, if we're going to move forward on the racial front, we need to recapture our confident in ourselves. In my lifetime, America has undergone an unprecedented transformation. We have changed from a nation in which one region resembled South Africa under apartheid to one in which Martin Luther King's dream of a racial equality has become in his widow's words "deeply embedded in the fabric of America." Dr. King and the entire civil rights movement understood our capacity for change. It's time to recapture their optimism, their faith in America. This is a good country, as you just said. Thanks.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Let me just say, I believe that it's a lot better. I grew up in the segregated South, so I have personal experience of how it's changed, since I'm one of those older people Jonathan talked about. (Laughter.) I've actually gotten kind of used to it now.
But to me, that makes this effort all the more important because what I want the American people to do is to have confidence. We know now we can make our economy work. We know now we can have the crime rate go down. We know now we can actually reduce the number of people on welfare and have more people at work. We know things that we didn't know just a few years ago, and we do know we can make progress on this whole complex of issues.
But I think it's also important to point out that there is a lot of residue there, like what McHughton told, the little banker story, and that progress should give us energy for the work ahead, not put us into denial about it. That's the only thing that I want to make sure we don't do.
Go ahead. What would you like to say about this?
MS. THERNSTROM: Well, I would agree that there has been progress, but also that there is still a lot of work to do. And when I talk to my students at Mount Holyoke College, where I teach a course on the psychology of racism, my students -- in a very racially mixed context - talk a lot about their own fears, their own difficulties, even to engage in this kind of dialogue. I think the opportunity to talk about these issues is really important, but what I hear from my students is that there are very few opportunities that they've had in their pre-college experience and even sometimes in their college context, to really talk honestly about these issues.
There is a lot of fear about that, and I think that there is fear on the part of white people to speak honestly about the things that they've learned. I also want to applaud Jonathan's honesty about misinformation that we've all gotten. It's not just white people who take in negative messages about people of color, but we all get misinformed about people different from ourselves. Or, as I like to say, we get misinformation on people like ourselves as well.
And in that context, we internalize that information and we act on it, as we've been hearing. But when we try to create spaces for people to talk about it, it's very difficult. I find -- not only do I work with students, but I also work public school educators in a professional development course, which is specifically focused on trying to help those educators feel more comfortable talking about racial issues, understand them, how they may manifest in schools, and how they can talk about them with their students.
Because there is a lot of silence about these issues, and I think breaking the silence is something that many people are afraid of doing. And yet we can't -- as you've pointed out, we can't really fix this problem or continue the improvement unless we're able to really engage in honest dialogue about that, and get past the fear.
I've talked about the fact that white people are fearful, but also I think people of color -- black, Latino, native -- students certainly in my classes will say, you know, part of my fear is that I'll tell my story, I'll talk about being in the bank or I'll talk about feeling isolated on the campus where I am, and it's going to fall on deaf ears; that I'll open up wounds that will be hard to speak about and that people will say, oh, it wasn't that bad, or you're exaggerating, or that somehow that experience is going to be invalidated, in which case the person speaking wonders was it worth the effort. Did it really matter that I came and talked about this experience if it hasn't been received in a way that moves people to take some action about it.
So I think the point that has been made by David about listening is very important as well, that we all have to be willing to take that leap of faith, I think, to risk some discomfort, because these conversations are not comfortable usually and we should anticipate that, and that sometimes we do say things that are offensive to others, not because we want to, but because we've been breathing in that smog. As I like to say, if you breathe in enough smog, occasionally you're going to cough some up, and that we are all smog breathers in that way. But that it is possible for us to engage in this kind of honest dialogue if we're willing to take the risk to do it.
So I think it's wonderful that all these people have gathered here for that purpose. THE PRESIDENT: Abigail.
MS. THERNSTROM: I would like to say a further word on the optimism front. Those of us who are optimistic, and indeed those of us who are against racial preferences, we're not naive, we do not think that America has become color-blind, that we have solved our racial problems, that racism has disappeared. I mean, only fools believe that. And yet, I'm often accused of thinking that.
It is said, well, you're against preferences, you must think this country has solved its problems. Of course, I don't think that. We have a long ways to go. Nevertheless, if we go on the basis of optimism we'll get there. Pessimism is incredibly self-destructive.
THE PRESIDENT: I agree with that. If I could just make one other point. Then I'll call on David.
One reason I think all this talking business is more important than ever before is that if you posit the fact, if you look at the growth in education attainment, the growth of the middle class among African Americans or -- you can say, well, things have gotten a lot better. And then if you identify what the continuing problems are, like what McHughton said about -- and the examples David cited, you can say, these things require changes in human perception, human heart, you've got to have more talking.
I think the thing that's more profound is, when you look at these communities that have -- there are several counties in America with people from more than 100 different racial and ethnic groups now, and they're all different in many ways. They have different perceptions and different cultural patterns.
I know after the Los Angeles riots I went out and walked the streets and I was so stunned by the gulf between the Korean grocers and their African American customers. And I've been in other cities where there were Arab American merchants and their Hispanic customers or African American customers -- all these things are proliferating. That's the kind of thing that you see eating other countries alive from the inside out.
And that's why we have to begin to deal with this, because a lot of you have got to bring the insight you have from your own not only personal, but historic experience to bear on a whole difference America. It's a new thing out there where there's somebody from everyplace out there with a family and a community and a culture and a set of perceptions that they will bring to bear on all their interactions.
Go ahead, David.
MR. SHIPLER: And there are a lot of good people, as you said earlier, working on this. They don't get much publicity, though. The press -- as an old newspaper man, even though I'm no longer a newspaper man, I feel free to criticize the press a bit on this. The press tends to go to the extremes and report the most strident voices. But I ran across a lot of people who were working quietly without publicity in their jobs, in their communities, overcome racial problems. So I think that this dichotomy that some people have set up between optimism and pessimism is a false dichotomy. Optimism is too close to complacency; pessimism is too close to resignation. Neither of those categories fits the racial situation now. Things are getting better. Things have gotten better. Things are getting worse at the same time.
MR. LIEBARTH: Mr. President, to widen the circle of the debate and to illustrate Mr. Shipler's point about the quiet work going on, to continue, the dialogue focuses very directly on the most segregated hour in America, it has been said, on Sunday morning. You have two pastors before you -- Reverend Knute Larson, pastor of the Chapel in Akron, and the Reverend Ronald Fowler, pastor of the Arlington Church of God. Each of them have experiences to share along these lines.
Reverend Larson, your background and your input into this.
REVEREND LARSON: Yes -- very white. Our passion is that people of faith, which are many Americans, will apply that so clearly taught. I grew up in a church where we talked about all the things of love and reconciliation. My dad was one of the kindest men I ever met. When we go to the Hershey Bears games and sit way up, it would be in "nigger heaven." And it wasn't until I was older that I thought how awful some of the things that were side issues were. And visiting as a pastor once with a man from our church to an African American home, as we left, he thanked me that I treated them as regular people. And that was when I woke up that I've got to do something.
My friendship with Pastor Fowler has been the best thing in the world for me.
REVEREND FOWLER: Mr. President, it's been a mutual friendship. And one of the things that I can remember growing up, both in a rural as well as an urban setting, was that the community was predominantly African American. The families were very stable. We had our problems, but we lived every day dealing with racial issues. And part of my positive experience is being rescued from a drowning experience by a white person. Now, that experience gave me an outlook, a view, of life that has literally transformed my whole life -- the way I respond to issues.
I have to differ in part with our noted author in that part of what we've always dealt with in the black community is that whites have always had affirmative action. They've always had preferential treatment. Trying to level that playing ground sometimes is made to seem not working in the interest of all Americans because some people get disadvantaged as a result.
I think we do need to talk about how to do it fairly so that we can continue to provide incentives for all the people to continue to do what the Bill of Rights did for soldiers coming back from that second world war. It gave them opportunities. Minorities need that. Much of what we have seen as success is not because we've been intentional in bringing about one American. It's happened in spite of us.
And part of what Pastor Larson and I have been trying to say is how could we be intentional in creating a relationship, an atmosphere, in which we could be free to talk about racial issues and getting people to dialogue about it so that we can keep crossing boundaries and building bridges.
THE PRESIDENT: Let me ask you something. What impact has your relationship had on the people in your churches? I mean, it's all -- preachers are supposed to do the right thing. (Laughter.) I mean, come on. What impact has it had on people in your churches.
REVEREND LARSON: It's been good -- only for those who get intentional and do something. And as our chief leader, we urge you to keep modeling it, and every leader in America. The best thing that happens is not legislation, but because we've stood together and expressed our love to each other and spend time together. It's got to be intentional.
Anybody in both churches has followed. And I always kid, too, that our church is teaching theirs how to sing. And that's a help. (Laughter.)
REVEREND FOWLER: Mr. President, our church needs a lot of help in learning how to sing. (Laughter.) We've never done country music well. (Laughter and applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: You'll probably get a wire from Charlie Pride this afternoon. (Laughter.)
REVEREND FOWLER: We love Charlie. We sent Charlie to help them out. (Laughter.) But seriously, Mr. President, one of the things in terms of helping people, I think we both have been amazed how, call it "catching the spirit" -- whatever label you want to put on it -- our modeling, our relationship, our talking about it, our creating forums in which people could study together about racial issues, celebrate it in worship experience, come together in friendship settings, in homes I think has created a climate of acceptance and created an inclusive spirit that now we see others who are doing it -- business partners who are doing it. There are other organizations in this city -- that's why Akron is so unique -- beyond just what we're doing that are doing that same thing.
THE PRESIDENT: Let me ask you just one other question and we'll go to the next group. I'll be the cynic now just for purposes of argument. I'll say, okay, this is really nice. You've got two churches, and you pray on Sunday and everybody is nice to each other and you make fun about each other's music. And I know which is the real beneficiary here --that's okay. (Laughter.) We do all that kind of stuff. How is it changing these people's lives? How is it changing the life in Akron? How does it result in less discrimination in the workplace or in the school or people helping each other to succeed in school or at work? Can you give us any examples about what it's done other than make people feel good for an hour on Sunday or some other church event?
REVEREND FOWLER: I can tell you about lives being changed as a result of it. And there have been persons in our congregation who when we first announced that we were going to walk together as brothers, said, fine, go, Pastor. You've been idealistic and you're visionary -- good. But they didn't want to join in the parade toward inclusiveness. I watched those persons change and become deeply involved -- and allies is what we call our partnership between our two churches.
I think that is not insignificant. I think what we model and as we go around and discuss race relations throughout this community,that's not insignificant. I think people are becoming more civil in the dialogue. That is a value that I think we need to cherish and deeply prize because in the celebration of our differences, we do need to be able to come together and say, you know, I kind of disagree without saying you're racist because of that -- so that persons can find the freedom to talk about the issues that deeply affect them.
THE PRESIDENT: That's the big issue, by the way --having people feel free to disagree with people of different races without having somebody draw a racial inference, that's a huge thing. That's one of the benchmarks when you know you're getting where you need to be.
REVEREND LARSON: And you only get there by listening. And the people that have taken the classes together and spent weeks, and socials and our time together once or twice a month at least, and in between, that changes your heart. And then when you connect that with what you say you believe, only you see how it works out, it's terrific. So the ones who intentionally do it -- and that's why we're having the town meeting, to call more people to do that -- they get helped.
MR. LIEBARTH: Mr. President, struggling with interracial relationships is something that many of our students have experience with.
Erica Wright, please. Erica, would you explain, sort of, your thoughts on that?
MS. SANDERS: I'm Erika Sanders. Erica Wright is over there. But I've been involved in a white school. I've been in a white school all of my life. And sometimes I feel like I live in two different worlds. When I go to school, I'm the only -- I'm the only one in my government class; I'm the only one in my English class. And sometimes I feel the burden to speak for all of black America. And slowly I'm helping my classmates realize that I'm not all of black America. I'm Erika. And my opinion is completely different than Pastor Fowler's and Erica Wright's.
And yet, when I go to church, when I go home, I'm part of the "every." And I think that that's weird. I think I almost speak two different languages when I'm in the two different communities. And I think that that's one thing that black America struggles with -- how to be just you all the time in whatever community that you're in. And I think once people realize that Erika is just Erika, Erika is not the spokesperson for black America at Talmadge (phonetic) High School, I think that's when the progress can be made.
MS. WRIGHT: I agree totally with Erika Sanders. I don't really deal on hand, you know what I'm saying, racism towards me, but I see it every day. I agree with the gentleman down there about the age thing. But since we can't get rid of everyone over 30 -- (laughter) -- it really plays a part. And, like, the media does play a part on us and with us, and so does -- our peers. But I think the most important is our parents, because we learn -- my Mom and my father are my guides for me. I look at them and I follow their footsteps. And it's like whatever our parents tell us, or whatever we've learned and grown with is what we're going to go for, what we're going to go after.
But then, you come in contact with the media and with your peers and they're saying, do this, do that, but then it's you as an individual to make a choice on what you want to do in life and how you want to react and how you want to solve the racist and more prejudice problem you have today.
MR. LIEBARTH: Let me ask the microphone to be passed to D.J. Beatty. D.J. has grown up in a multiracial household and is a student at the University of Akron.
MR. BEATTY: Yes, I was adopted by a white family, John and Lindy Beatty, in Cleveland. And they have one biological son, Steve, who is white, and they adopted two sisters who are biological sisters who are black. And then we also had two foreign exchange students stay with us -- Evonne Reyes (phonetic) from the Dominican Republic, and Alejandra from Chile. And my godparents have two Korean daughters, Heather and Lynn. So I don't think you're going to find too many families more diverse than that.
What's interesting about my family is that, although I was taken out of the black community, my father was around my childhood, was always interacting with urban blacks, the black middle class. From his college days, he was an assistant pastor up at Harlem, New York City, 1963-1964. And I was never taught that black was bad. We always went to a black church maybe once a year, and it was only once a year, but it was the effort.
And so it's like I'm in a white social circle, but politically and socially, my views are way on the other side of the fence with most of my white friends. We are not at all on the same wavelength. Like, we may listen to the same music, we wear the same clothes, we go to the same places. But if we start talking anything that has to do with public policy, my views are much more in line with the black liberal point of view. Although, when you're taken out of the black community, you're supposed to be more white, more conservative. And that is just not the case for me.
THE PRESIDENT: Why do you think white people are more conservative than black people?
MR. BEATTY: Well, I've discussed it with a lot of people -- it's economics. To solve the race problem you're going to have to deal with the poverty problem. And when most whites are dealing with banks and private financial institutions, and a large percentage of blacks are dealing with public assistance, you're going to have different points of view.
And I think that -- I kind of agree with Mrs. Thernstrom on some things, but I still think she's -- when she says that how the black middle class came about, if you take Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society out of that equation, we're going to be so far behind. And it was activist government and it was a social movement that put the pressure on the policymakers. It was innovative policies -- I mean, if people didn't march you wouldn't have the Public Accommodations Act.
THE PRESIDENT: I agree with that, but let me say -- let me make the more sophisticated argument against affirmative action. Let's deal with that. Hardly anybody thinks that we shouldn't have laws against discrimination on the books, and some people think they should be on the books but not enforced, so I've had a hard time getting Congress to give me the money to clean out the back log of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. But nonetheless, everybody just about -- there is almost -- literally over 80 percent of the people in America, if you took a poll, would say, we should enforce the existing civil rights laws against discrimination.
Now, then the question is, what affirmative steps are necessary to really give everybody an equal chance and hopefully to reduce ultimately the racial disparities in income and educational level and all these other things.
The argument against affirmative action is partly that it doesn't even work, that basically the main beneficiaries of it have been middle class minorities who were well educated and could tap into it, and that what we really need to do is to go back to Lyndon Johnson's other emphasis and have an economics-based social program that offers better educational opportunity to everybody, offers more job opportunities to everybody, and tries to get rid of the dramatically increasing economic disparity of the last 20 years.
This is a very important point. The difference for all you younger people, my generation, after World War II, until the mid-'70s, all America grew together. And in fact the poorest Americans actually had their income increase by a slightly higher percentage than the wealthiest Americans. Then for about 20 years, because of the globalization of the economy, the loss of manufacturing jobs, the rise of service jobs, the rise in importance of education, what happened was the people in the upper 20 percent, their incomes rose like crazy for 20 years. The people in the bottom 40 percent were stagnant to dropping. More education-related than anything else, but it had something to do with where people lived and what their connections and ties were.
So there is a lot of argument that, basically, that affirmative action has gotten in trouble for two reasons. One is it's not really answering the real problem, which is the economic problem. The other is that people believe that if someone gets something based on their race, then someone is losing something, someone is not -- it's a zero-sum game. Someone is losing out who otherwise would have gotten an opportunity to which they're entitled.
Now, I don't subscribe to this. I believe that you can have properly-tailored affirmative action programs which can command broad majority support. We'll get back to that if you want. But I just think that -- there is no question, however, that the biggest problems that minorities have in this country today are problems that are shared with disadvantaged white people, too -- access to education, access to jobs, and that we've got to find a way somehow to talk to each other and to work on this so that we're coming together.
And I think that's what you were trying to say. But I'd like to hear you talk a little bit about that and the affirmative action thing. And then maybe you want to open it up to some other people.
MR. BEATTY: Well, about the class issue. I agree that there is a rising tide of classism in America. And what I want to -- but it goes together with the race issue. Like if I'm black, a lot of people can assume that I'm poor, because they have stereotypes. But if someone is white, they can hide their economic state of reality. A poor white person can dress up. He could go to the mall. He can put an outfit on. And he can look like he's middle class. I can't change the color of my skin. He could get into another social group that I may not be able to because I can't change the color of my skin.
And I agree 100 percent with Governor George Voinovich's position on affirmative action, shifting it to a class debate. But once again, it becomes a partisan debate because his party is just systematically chopping the government down. And if we're going to help people on class, we're going to need some policies. (Applause.) So you can't say, let's help someone and then --
THE PRESIDENT: Let me just -- no, no, I agree with what you said, but let me -- (laughter) -- I don't mean that. I agree with what you said. We have actually seen some evidence in the last two years that inequality may be declining for the first time in 20 years, that incomes are rising -- after-tax incomes are rising for the bottom 40 percent and maybe in a way that will not only cause incomes to rise for the first time in 20 years for that group of people, relative to inflation, but to diminish inequality a little.
And we've had a strategy of changing the tax system, changing the investment incentives, increasing educational opportunity, giving more -- spending a lot more money to help retrain people who lose their jobs, that I think are contributing to that.
So I think the real issue is -- although we haven't done nearly as much as I would like to, and we're going to work on that some more -- the real issue is, if you had, to use the modern jargon, a class-based affirmative opportunity agenda -- not race-based but class-based -- which might disproportionately benefit minorities if they were disproportionately poor, for example, or disproportionately isolated or disproportionately in bad schools -- if you had that, would there still be an argument for any kind of affirmative action admissions policies to various colleges and universities, or any kind of affirmative action problems when it comes to government contracting because there are so few African Americans in certain kinds of businesses. I think that's the question.
I want to let you go on and call on some more people, but I think that's really the nub of the affirmative action debate. If you get rid of the -- politically and substantively you'll help more people and build more unity by having an economic basis for social policy now.
MR. LIEBARTH: Mr. President, Anna Arroyo has thought about this, and for her it is very real because she is now a pre-med student at the University Akron. Anna Arroyo.
MS. ARROYO: Hi. As he was saying before, I'm a pre-med student here. I've dealt with the issue of race a lot. I'm Puerto Rican, but because I'm light, many people have considered me as being white or assumed that I am white. And when I tell them I'm Puerto Rican, I get treated differently, I feel, than I would have if I just let that preconceived notion of me being white stay.
I agree with a lot of what has been said today, and I feel that the only way that anything could be changed is if people get rid of those preconceived notions and start accepting people for what they are and who they are, and not necessarily what their race is.
What I've been seen as being white hasn't really affected me that much because I haven't let it. But one of the problems for me is that when I tell people I'm Puerto Rican, they wonder why I'm not like Rosie Perez or anybody like that. Why don't I speak like her, why don't I act like her, why don't I look like her. People have to get rid of those preconceived notions and realize that Puerto Ricans and Hispanics in general are a wide range of people. They're not just dark-skinned or light-skinned. They're a mixture of things.
And once people begin to realize that there is this mixture, and accept it, then things could actually occur and things can get better.
THE PRESIDENT: Let me ask you a question. Do you believe that most non-Hispanics understand the real difference between Puerto Ricans and Mexican-Americans, for example?
MS. ARROYO: Actually, no. I am taking a Latin America class right now for world civ, and I always get comment on, oh, wow, that's going to be an easy A for you. What people don't understand is that I'm Puerto Rican; I'm not Bolivian; I'm not Peruvian; I'm not Mexican. I don't understand their culture. I don't know their culture. I'm not part of their culture. I'm Puerto Rican -- and all I know is Puerto Rico. And that's why I was taking the class. And that's what people need to understand -- that just because I'm Hispanic or I'm Latin doesn't mean I know everything about Latin America or other Hispanic countries. And that's something that definitely needs to be understood.
MR. LIEBARTH: Anna, let me ask you to pass the microphone down to Jason Kessler. Jason also has a point of view that he'd like to share about this same issue. Jason is a student here at the university as well.
MR. KESSLER: Mr. President, one thing I've talked with D.J. about -- we're really good friends and we've talked about the class issue. And with all due respect to the two ministers down here, one thing I have found coming from my experiences back home is that there are religions out there teaching that poor is bad, no matter what your color. And when they're teaching this, that if you're poor, you are going to hell; and if you are rich, you are going to heaven, that is creating a notion into a lot of people that because that person is poor, we shouldn't interact with them. And I really feel that could be one of the biggest problems today.
THE PRESIDENT: Let me push this a little more. They don't really do that -- and what they really act like is that if you're poor it's your own fault, right?
MR. KESSLER: In a way. And it's like a sign that God is putting something bad on you. At least -- maybe this is just an isolation incident, but I have come in contact with this -- that this is a sign from God that because you're poor, you are going to hell.
MR. LIEBARTH: Mr. President, Vanesa Cordero is the Coordinator of the Family Violence Program and has been very much an activist in Latino right.
MS. CORDERO: I want to thank you for inviting me here. It's an honor. And the first thing I want to say and I want to touch on is this is not black and white America -- I mean, from my own opinion. I know it's a strong opinion, but we are a cultural-mixed United States. And it's hurt me all these years that I've been in the United States, since 1957, that all I hear is black issues and white issues. And we as Hispanics -- I am a Puerto Rican born and I was raised in Brooklyn, New York. And, yes, there is true what the young lady said -- if you speak English, they want to know why you don't sound like Rosie Perez. I've even been told I look like her, so I am expected to speak like her.
I am fully bilingual, and I advocate for my victims, which are women who are battered. I go to court because I am a paralegal and I advocate for juveniles. And I see the discrimination on children. When you go to court the children are not treated the same. The juveniles are not treated the same as the whites. The blacks and the Hispanics are always told, especially the Hispanics, if you do not speak English, get yourself an interpreter. And if they go with the mother, which is usually the person I go with to assist, they are told that they need an interpreter.
That is the purpose I take there. And I interpret for them. I also advocate. And I've been told by my clients -- a lot of times they go to court on the initial case; they go to court and they're treated totally different. And then when they come to our agency, which is El Centro, the social services in Lorraine, Ohio, they come to us for help. And I go with them, and I assist them. And they always tell me that they get treated totally different when they're advocated for.
MR. LIEBARTH: Vanesa, thank you --
THE PRESIDENT: Wait, wait, wait. You mean, if they have an advocate, they do better?
MS. CORDERO: Yes, they do.
THE PRESIDENT: But are they treated differently in what the judges do to them by race, or are they just treated differently in terms of how they're treated in the court setting?
MS. CORDERO: The setting. And at first when they first come in and let's say you have a juvenile that's only had a parking -- has been caught driving without a license. In Lorraine, you get a $50 fine and possibly your parents have to pay for it. When you come in and you're Hispanic, I have seen children that are white and have gotten off easier than a Hispanic. They're harder on them. I don't know if it's -- I know it's the system because, I mean, I love my profession, but the thing is that the system --
THE PRESIDENT: But you do think that Hispanic kids have a harder time in the court system.
MS. CORDERO: Yes, I do because I've been there and I know. My son was discriminated against because he was Hispanic. I've been discriminated against because I've been Hispanic. And this was when I was on public assistance. I'm no longer there, but I worked my way up from welfare to being a professional. But it took a long time. I took advantage and I went to college and I got my degree. But I know a lot of people it's hard for because the system kind of keeps pushing you down. You want to get off, but it keeps pushing you down. And unless you know someone or you starting knowing people in the community, you don't get the help. And that's why we're proud of our agency because we help these people that are low income move up.
THE PRESIDENT: Let me just say very briefly, one of the things that I like about this Chicago school experience -- you heard me mention the Chicago school experiment -- is they used to be known for one thing only -- they had a teachers' strike every year whether they needed one or not. At the beginning of every school year, there was always a teachers' strike, and there was a picture of the Governor's school-age child crawling around on the floor, playing games in the Governor's office while the teachers' strike went on.
Now, what they're trying to do is to change -- I think maybe the most important thing they're trying to do is to change the expectations school by school so that they have the same high expectations of all children without regard to their racial or ethnic group. If they get that done, I predict they'll change the performance results as well. But that's -- anyway, I just wanted to support you for what you did.
MR. LIEBARTH: Mr. President, you've asked that we reserve the last quarter hour of our discussion today to look forward and to see what might happen. And certainly American business plays a great role in recognizing diversity. And the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, headquartered in Akron, is here -- Mr. Samir Gibara.
MR. GIBARA: Mr. President, before I talk about where we go from here, let me first say that I think the enterprise has a unique place in society to bring people together. Because unlike any other place, the workplace brings together people who pursue common objectives. They work to achieve common goals. They go together through similar failure and successes. And that creates bonds that really go way beyond whatever racial tensions may exist in society at large.
So I think that the enterprise really plays a special role and needs to play that role. But business enterprises are not socially motivated. I think it's also a very definite competitive advantage for companies to have a very diverse workforce.
I was fortunate enough that I spent my career in a company where I have worked all my life in a very diverse environment. And if we're saying that the country around us is becoming more diverse and across the country -- if we're saying that we'll work in a global economy that is more diverse, having a diverse workforce is definitely a competitive advantage.
I can give you specific examples of what happened to my company. In our company in the last two or three years we were able to move much faster than our competition to set up companies in China, in India, in the Philippines, in South Africa, in Poland. And that is because we have a very diverse force. Our competitors were not able to move as fast. And we have gained market share in a global economy to the extent that you can relate to other people. To the extent that you have a diverse force, it is a competitive advantage. We can leverage this situation.
And what we're doing now in terms of how do we -- for the future, what we're doing now is we've stepped up our efforts to become even more diverse than we are. We're hiring now five times as many minorities as we did three, four years ago because we have realized it is a definite competitive advantage. It really is a competitive advantage.
Now, having said that, this can only succeed if the corporation has values. And when I took over as CEO two years ago, I -- wanting I did, as I brought my leadership team together, we went off-site for two, three days, and we decided what values do we want to have for our people in this company. And we said we want three values. The first is integrity and honest. The second is we want a diverse workforce, because we treasure and want to nurture a diverse workforce. And the third one is training and education for our people. So I think that this is really a competitive advantage for corporations.
THE PRESIDENT: Let me just follow up. I believe, myself, that what you just said is not only true but is the answer to a lot of the next steps. That is, just as you heard all these young people say they thought that there was less discrimination among young people, partly because they all go to school together; the more people we have working together, succeeding together, doing something constructive together; helping their own families together, the less problems we're going to have. I don't think there is any question about that.
Let me ask you, before we run out of time -- and I'll call on you next because you've been having your hand up --but I want you to think about this, and I want you to be blunt and brief. Blunt and brief. What do you think is the most important thing we should be doing about this issue today? Whether you think I should do it, or you should do it, or somebody else should do it -- I'll try to call on as many people as I can, as quickly as I can. Raise your hand, the most important thing. You go first.
Q The most important thing I think that we need to do as a society, we need to realize that, outside of dedicating our efforts to the point where we do not tolerate racism and we look at it with utter disgust and we put social dampeners or pressures on individuals who are racist, there are each and every one of us who has that uncle or that cousin who says that word every now and then that we don't agree with. But if we don't tell them that that's offensive, that language isn't tolerable in my family, and that behavior is not permissible, we are guilty of helping and perpetuating that type of behavior. And I think we should be looking forward to continuous improvement. And that's where I think we should be heading.
Q Mr. President, I think it has to do with education. The Hispanic community, as you well know, has the highest dropout rate, high school dropout rate in the country. And in the state and collectively, we have not been able to answer that question, but I think that's the heart of the issue, if in our educational systems, if they can take the leadership banner that you're suggesting in terms of character leadership, in terms of really learning what diversity is about and what our difference is about, that that will make a big difference in the future.
THE PRESIDENT: We're going to run out of time. We don't have time to talk about this, but I want all of you to think about it, especially the Hispanics here. For the last 30 years, Hispanics had higher work force participation rates than African Americans, and often left school to go to work to support the family. It was a real cultural thing.
Now African American high school graduation rates are almost equal to whites; they're almost statistically indistinguishable. But the high school dropout rates among Hispanics is still very high. Apparently, for good cultural reasons, they think they've got to get out and help the family and all, but it's a disaster in the modern economy. We need to figure out what to do about it.
But what's the most important thing to do. Go ahead. Let's go back to the main question. Go ahead.
Q I'm the superintendent here in Akron, and I support that recommendation for education being the key to overcoming all of our problems in this nation, and I strongly endorse your education opportunity zones. I want to volunteer the Akron Public Schools to be one of the 25 that you're going to bring in. (Laughter and applause.) And I also strongly recommend that we put our emphasis with the little ones, the youngest of our youngsters, make them readers by the time they get to the 4th grade. And I think a lot will come along with that. We'll close that gap where we are under-represented with minorities in high-level science and math courses at the high school level if we can teach them to read at the elementary level. (Applause.)
Q Mr. President, I have the personal view that I don't think that there is clouds in the sky because it's raining; I think that there is rain coming down because there's clouds in the sky. And what we need to do is open up that dialogue, and people need to be receptive. People need to realize that I can never be black, and somebody who is black can never be white or Hispanic or Puerto Rican or anything like that.
So what we have to do is put down our defenses, and, even if that means risk being hurt, risking being hurt, and be hones with each other and then move forward so that that progress can be made.
Q Hi, Mr. President. I'm with the Coming Together board and one of the things we have stressed to students is to go beyond their own comfort level to talk to each other and learn about each other's different cultures or differences to show that their cultures are okay and show that you can get rid of some of those stereotypes by learning about each other.
Q I'm with the Coming Together program, too. I just want to say, it does with yourself, like when I'm in school and my friends are having conversations and one of my friends happens to say a racial joke, I am quick to tell them they should not be saying that. Kids should be telling their friends they should not be saying racist statements. If my friend says the word "nigger," I am the first person to tell them that is like not a thing to be saying, to be using loosely. Those words are things that hurt people. You shouldn't be saying those loosely in school.
Q Mr. President, I think that if we're going to have this dialogue on race, I think that what needs to be included is the under-class. I heard throughout the dialogue that the middle class has grown over the last few years, but the correlation with that is that the under-class has also grown. And I think that they need to be included in this dialogue.
THE PRESIDENT: So what's the most important thing we can do for the under-class.
Q Well, that's what I was hoping to get from you. That was my question I was going to ask. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: I'll tell you what I think. What we're trying to do is to re-establish vibrant living communities where really poor people live. We're trying to mix housing now between middle class and poor people in the neighborhoods. We're trying to give special tax incentives for people who invest to put jobs back there. We're trying to make bank loans more available, and we're trying to overhaul the schools.
I think you've got to put life back together. It's an economic problem and it does not exclusively affect minorities, so it is not a race-based problem, although minorities are disproportionately affect by the large under-class in America. It's very hard to keep a country together if 20 percent of the people, no matter how hard they work, are still going to fall further and further behind.
Q Mr. President, I'd like to thank you for this opportunity. This is a great opportunity. And I would like to talk about racism as being honest. Once we become honest with ourselves as far as racism, we can conquer it. What we've been addressing as far as racism in the past is the effect of racism -- desegregation, integration, busing, affirmative action, quotas, and all that. But now what we need to do is start getting to the causes of racism, and to me personally I feel the cause of racism is two concepts or perceptions -- white superiority, black inferiority. And I feel like it's a concept embraced by both races and other races that we must start addressing honestly and start working with culturally-specific programs so that we may learn from one another.
THE PRESIDENT: Before we run out of time, is there any Asian American who wants to be heard? Go ahead.
MR. FLORES: My name is David Flores. I come from Lorrain, Ohio, from the Old Vine neighborhood. And one of the things I've got to say it, all the horror stories and the success stories go back to one thing -- education, education with the family, education in the schools, teaching them the answers for why. Number one, we have to have schools that have money. You want educational programs, and maybe these people don't want to hear it, but we've got too much emphasis being placed on tax dollars to pay for it. Where will the tax dollars come from? The people. The people are tired of paying. We need some of the money -- and I'm not saying money overseas; what I'm saying is bring some of it back to the infrastructure, to the schools. We have crumbling schools. We have equipment in some schools but not schools. So the primary thing I'm saying is education, but with the family involved.
We've got to teach moral values back. We've got to bring the family back together. We've got to make sure racism goes away forever. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Very briefly -- since I have been President, my Education Secretary, Secretary Riley, who is here with us today, has done a lot of work to try to support schools that introduce character education programs into the curriculum. Do you think that's a good thing? And I gather what you say is you not only think it's a good thing but you think that the absence of prejudice is one of the virtues we ought to be trying to promote on a uniform basis throughout the country, and it ought to be part of the school curriculum.
MR. FLORES: Yes, exactly.
THE PRESIDENT: You agree with that.
MR. FLORES: I agree with that, but here comes the problem. You've got administration against the bargaining units because they say there is no money to hire teachers, to hire more custodians to keep the buildings open around the clock. I have a principal that wants the buildings open for all the kids. We're fighting for space. In our neighborhood we have buildings that were built in 1924. That's the bottom line.
THE PRESIDENT: Briefly -- I tried to pass a school construction initiative, and we'll come back to that in some forum. But the other thing I wanted to say is there was money appropriated by the Congress in two different bills this year to give the school districts for after-school programs, partly because the vast majority of juvenile crime is committed between 3:00 in the afternoon and 7:00 at night. And young people need something positive to do, and this could be a part of what could be done.
So all of you who are here from school districts, look at what the Congress did. I just signed two bills with two different pots of money to help the schools stay open after hours so you could do positive things and get young people involved in constructive activities.
Q As an Asian American student, I believe that institution plays a big part. I'm proud to say I was brought up in an Ohio public school system -- schools, they showed how diversity -- various courses teach cultural diversity. I think it's a big part because there are times where family doesn't get, in place of young children, because it's not implemented by their parents. And I think it's up to the school system to implement various sessions in which cultural diversity among different races could come down and set down what they think it is.
And at the same time, I think it should be implemented more in town meetings such as this, because once people leave a certain town meeting, they'll just forget about it the next day and are more concerned about their economic status. And I think this should be applicated more in the city of Akron.
MR. LIEBARTH: Mr. President, we are at that point in the program. We are looking for you now to summarize the town meeting held in Akron, Ohio.
THE PRESIDENT: My summary is going to be, I'll hear from two more people. Go ahead. (Laughter.) And the lady with the gloves, I like your gloves. Go ahead.
Q I was pleased that you mentioned the word "immigrant" and your focus is on youth today. I work at an agency where we resettle immigrants and refugees. We also have a program that we work youth. And we empower youth to also implement the program.
I think what needs to happen is, we need to foster leadership among multiracial, multiethnic youth, especially us older people, and not feel intimidated by their success, because their greatness adds to the greatness of this country, and their lack of success takes away from the greatness of this country.
Q I am the president here in city of Akron of the NAACP. We met in Pittsburgh. I'm a national board member. And I like the educational program that you said that day that you would like to have. Every poor student or anybody that needed a two-year college education, you wanted to be able to give that to them. And I thought that was so magnificent.
The other thing, I am hoping, and my superintendent can attest to that, to getting into the history a part of all the cultures throughout the world so that we can learn at an early age, from K through 12, even if we go no further than the 5th. We can get a better perception of each other, respect, character, and all of the concerns that we have as a race and a great tomorrow and a great America.
MAYOR PLUSQUELLIC: Mr. President, I agree with most of the comments here today about education being one of the most important steps we can take. I think coming together in this dialogue, though, is something by example that you've set for us that we can do throughout this country. And I think it all comes down to leadership. And I want to thank you on behalf of the entire community for having the guts to take on this issue, to come out here to take on various opinions and to really lead. And I think that's what government leaders need to do is lead by example. We're trying here in this community. I appreciate you coming to Akron. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: I believe that education is a big part of this. And I believe that the economics is a big part of this. And I've spent most of my public life -- more than 20 years -- working on those two things. But let me also tell you, there are a lot of highly intelligent people with a lot of money who still have bigoted hearts, or who at least are insensitive to it. This is more than education and economics. That's why we're here. That's why I asked the two ministers to talk more than once -- because I believe that -- I agree with you.
You know, it's easy -- people get preoccupied with their own problems. But when this is over, you guys got to keep doing this. And the people at these other 100 sites have got to keep doing this. This is not a day's battle. We have to change the way we live in America and the way we relate to each other -- because of the global economy, because of the workplace, and because of the people that are in our own neighborhoods. We can't possible answer all this.
This sort of thing needs to become a normal part of daily life in every community in America that crosses political and racial and ethnic and religious and every other lines. The society is too complex, too diverse, and it's changing too fast for anybody to be able to sit off in a corner and give everybody else a bunch of rules about how we're going to do things. This is what we have to do in America. We have to change the way we govern ourselves, literally, at the grass-roots level to do this.
I'm convinced if you have more of this -- I'm convinced if we had four hours, I could sit here and listen to you all and I'd never get tired of it, and we would go on and on, and then you'd want to do more. And that ought to tell you something. Everybody has still got their hand up. That ought to tell you something. We should be doing this in America on a systematic, disciplined basis, community by community. (Applause.) That's the way we ought to run our lives. (Applause.)
So, one more. Go ahead. Quick. Everybody's got to be quick. Go ahead.
Q Mr. President, I think we should, one on one, begin to live the Golden Rule. If we each treat each other as human beings and believe that we can individually make a difference, we can change this world. (Applause.)
Q I'd like to say as a student leader here at the University of Akron, that I challenge all leaders on this campus and everyone in this room to go out and teach someone else about their culture and about their heritage. And I offer myself, not as a representative of the black community, but as a member of the black community to anyone who wants to learn. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Our moderator will either have a heart attack or cut me off in a minute here. (Laughter.) Be quick, everybody.
Q Mr. President, I think education is very detrimental in bridging the gaps. But I think most importantly that the family role is very important also. Being raised in a very modest area in the foothills of West Virginia, having a very modest home and a Christian home, I have been taught love, respect and communication. But most importantly, love and manners. And I think that's important to pass to each other. (Applause.)
Q Mr. President, I think one of the very interesting things is this area of education. We talk a lot about increasing skills -- the technical skills, the hard skills that we get in college and the technical schools. We talk a fair amount about the basic math, basic science and so forth. But the part that I don't see getting much attention goes to the basic attitudes. And it's a reflect of our values. It's reliability. It's teamwork. It's good ability to communicate. It's the ability to realize that we have to continue to learn throughout our lives. And if we do that, the business community is going to welcome the people that are prepared in those areas to come in. And we're going to find we're going to get more equality because we'll have people working side by side.
THE PRESIDENT: I guess what I would -- I'd like to go back to what he said, though. I think you've got to help us do that. There is a huge labor shortage today of people in the technical skills. We could do a lot -- if you think there's an economic basis to racial differences in America today, there ought to be a national effort to train people who are poor and who are isolated to take these jobs. This is maddening to me. Even though the unemployment rate is 4.7 percent, there are hundreds of thousands of jobs going begging in America today that would immediately make people middle class people.
Q I'm Dr. Brown of the Coming Together Project. I must speak on the things that Coming Together is doing. I think the answer is in the pain. We have to continue dialoging. And that is the focus of Coming Together. We have to be able to put all of those differences on the table, be able to talk about them. And each side must have the opportunity to present their viewpoint. And I think in the words of an intelligent man, the answer is in the pain. So we have to get to the pain so that we can solve those issues that continue to separate us.
Q I'd like to offer a positive solution. Everybody, not just here, but in every situation that we all face, we need to look at the people that are around us, whether they're white, whether they're black, Hispanic, anything else, and realize that they may be different, but in that difference lies something that we can learn in them. We can find beauty in anyone if that's what we choose to do.
Q I would like to agree with Shawna that it does start at home. I grew up in a pretty much all-white neighborhood. I did not have any black people in my graduating class. But I always respected other races. I'm Native American, but I've always respected every other race. And it comes to education and understanding the other races and understanding their traditions and understanding ours, and being able to respect that other person for their traditions, not just thinking, oh, they're different so I don't want to know them.
Q Mr. President, having attended predominantly black elementary, middle school and high school, and then attending a university where I was the only black person in a psychology class of 1,500, I can certainly appreciate the feeling of being alone in a situation like that -- and also, in that same university setting, having a roommate that broke out in hives when she discovered that I was going to be her roommate and I was black.
With that in mind, I agree that it certainly needs to start in the home. The Cosby Show was not enough. It needs to start in the home in terms of what we're talking about -- the people who are exhibiting racism now are the people in their 40s and 30s and older, so we need to reach even some of those people. We need to start with more forums such as this. We need to start with community and civic organizations. We need to start in the workplace in educating those individuals in the 30s, 40s and 50s in terms of character and what it means to be different and the importance so that they can start teaching the young people before they enter university settings and exhibit some of the behavior that my roommate did.
Fortunately, it turned out to be a positive situation because she was brave enough to ask the questions that she feared. And so I think that ended up positive, because I was able to teach someone.
THE PRESIDENT: Let me say, I'm very sympathetic with what all of you have said about your home environment. It had a big impact on me. So -- I had a grandfather with a 6th-grade education who was a poor white Southerner who believed in integration. I don't know why. But he did, and he had a big impact on me. So I agree with that.
But I want to say again, when you look to the future you must -- and we do all that -- you must find a way to organize -- that's why I like this Coming Together Project -- you must find a way to organize a continuing mechanism where people of goodwill can come together and deal with this.
Let me just give you an example. We talked about old people, young people -- Denver is plagued -- you've probably seen -- with these horrible recent killings by skinheads of people because of their race. Now, Denver is a city that's only 12 percent black, that's got a black mayor. It is not a racist city. It's a remarkable thing. But even there they have this problem. Now, they've got to figure out how they're going to deal with this -- and not just go prosecute the people that committed the crime, but what's going on in the community, how are they going to deal with it and how are they going to come together.
I'm exhilarated by what I see from all of you today, but you have to make a commitment in some form or fashion to continue this in a disciplined way, because something will come up, things will continue to come up, and this is an ongoing effort. It's not just a one-shot deal.
Q Mr. President, I went to a high school that was 60 percent Asian American, and now I live in Akron, and one of the things I've learned is that the issue for Asian Americans is that we're considered foreign. I'm a fifth generation American. And often when I meet white people they say, you're more American than I am. And I want to say, well, thank you, that's not really news to me. (Laughter.)
And I want to get back to what you started with. You asked about social segregation. And this is all sounding sort of very upbeat and easy, but this is hard stuff. And I want to focus on the fact that we have to make ourselves uncomfortable. Because if you look around yourself and your friends are your same race, or the people you date or marry are the same race, you shouldn't be comfortable about that. You don't necessarily have to enter into an interracial marriage, but you should at least be questioning why is that happening? Is that just a coincidence, or what's going on there.
Q Mr. President, I look forward to the day when the term "changing neighborhoods" will mean architecture, and where my grandchildren will not relate to the term "hate crimes." And I think when we get there we will have made great progress. And I think we can do it, but it's going to be very hard.
THE PRESIDENT: And what's the most important thing we can do about it?
Q I think that we have to make it possible for all individuals, whatever race, to be part of our neighborhoods and know them as human beings.
Q Mr. President, as university President, I am delighted with the comments here that have been made about the importance of education. But I think we have to remind ourselves that what happens in the education setting is very important. We may not begin by changing hearts, but we certainly have an obligation to open minds. And I think that's what these dialogues are all about. But we do have to, as so many have said, sustain it and be very intentional about the values.
The next century requires not only the high-tech skills, but it requires the tools of teamwork and respect and civility and justice and tolerance just as much as it does those high-tech skills. And we believe in that.
MR. LIEBARTH: Mr. President, we're being asked for your closing remarks on this program now. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: I don't have any -- my closing remarks are, this is the beginning, not the end. My closing remarks are that -- (applause) -- that there ought to be a strategy to deal with the economic underclass; there ought to be a middle class strategy, too, that embraces people across different races. We have left open the question of affirmative action.
Just curiously, how many of you believe we should continue some sort of affirmative action policy with regard to admissions to colleges and universities. (Applause.) Okay, how many of you don't believe we should? What about out here? (Applause.)
MS. THERNSTROM: Change it to preferences. Racial preferences is different than affirmative action.
THE PRESIDENT: That's right -- racial preferences are. It's a loaded word.
MS. THERNSTROM: -- Americans believe in affirmative action. They don't believe in preferences.
THE PRESIDENT: Abigail, do you favor the United States Army abolishing the affirmative action program that produced Colin Powell - yes or no? Yes or no? (Applause.) I get asked all these hard questions all the time. I want to do it.
MS. THERNSTROM: I do not think that it is racial preferences that made Colin Powell --
THE PRESIDENT: He thinks he was helped by it.
MS. THERNSTROM: -- the overwhelming majority of Americans want American citizens to be treated as individuals. And we've heard the voices here of --
THE PRESIDENT: Should we abolish the Army's affirmative action program -- yes or no?
MS. THERNSTROM: We should -- the Army does one thing very, very right -- it prepares kids -- it takes kids before the Army and it prepares them to compete equally. That's what you're talking about when you're talking about American education.
Let us have real equality of education. These preferences disguise the problem. The real problem is the racial skills gap, and we ignore it when we --
THE PRESIDENT: Well, then, the real problem may be the criteria for how we admit people to college, too, how we do it.
One more here and then Congressman Sawyer.
Q In terms of the racial skills gap, I don't think that that's very appropriate because, myself, I'm the President of the NHS chapter at Talmadge (phonetic) High School. I'm one of the top members of my class -- there's not a racial skills gap. There's an opportunity gap. And that's what we need to address. (Applause.)
And I would like to add a solution -- a solution to that is look in your community, look in your school or at your workplace and see someone that's hurt by racism and then help that person. That's what you can do on an individual basis. And if everyone does that, the world will change.
THE PRESIDENT: I agree with that, but let me -- to be fair to Abigail -- now, let me explain. Now, wait a minute. I think it's important -- I'm going to call on Congressman Sawyer, but I think you all need to understand about this, because this affirmative action debate, you know, that's all the press wants to write about anyway. They'll probably ignore the fact that we did the rest of this here, which was -- and the rest of this is the important part that we did here.
But let me explain what the difference is. The military affirmative action program does try to get results by race. But it simultaneously prepares people. So that if -- what they try to do is they have these education and training programs and then they hope when you go from lieutenant to captain that there will be a group of the captain pool, of potential captains, that reflect a racial composition of the lower rank as well. But they do prepare people.
The problem is that you have different schools. When you go from high school to college, the college doesn't have control over the seniors in high school to do that. If they did that, but you could have exactly the same program and we wouldn't have this anxiety. Instead we have a system where we assume that the only reliable predictor of success in college is how you did on the SAT or how you did on the grades. So the trick is, since I think our schools would be much poorer if there were no racial diversity, look around here at the schools here, the trick is to find a way of doing this that people believe is merit-based and that -- so they don't think someone is getting something they're not entitled to; and not only that, knocking somebody out of a spot to which they are entitled.
But I think it's very important. A lot of people haven't analyzed -- no one criticizes -- very few people criticize the Army program. It's given us the highest quality Army in the world. The only real differences between the Army program and college admissions is that you're in continuously in the Army program, whereas you go from a high school that may or may not be adequate into college with the affirmative action program. We need to really think this through as a country. And that's why I dropped the bomb at the end, because we can't possible resolve it today anyway.
Congressman, do you want to go? And then we'll quit.
CONGRESSMAN SAWYER: Mr. President, thank you so very much on behalf of this entire community for being here. What you have done today is a beginning, hardly an end. The kind of work that lies before this nation is the kind of thing that we've seen illustrated in this community. It has not all been success or all failure. But what we are doing here is important and it is important that we continue to try.
There was a program on television when we were kids that illustrated historical events. It was call You Are There. Walter Cronkite would open it every Sunday by saying "what kind of day was it? It was a day filled with those events which alter and illuminate our times. It was a day like all other days except you were there."
That's the kind of day today we're experiencing here. And if we can take this across the country and gather together anecdotes and essays on the kinds of topics that we've heard here, gathered from professional writers and people who may never have written a story before in their lives and collect them together, we can build a literature of change and allow everyone in this country to experience what we've experienced here today. That's the kind of asset that we can leave to this nation, so that when we are done, when you are done, after this three years of this initiative, that people will turn to themselves and they say, what kind of time was it? It was a time like all other times that are filled with those events which truly alter and illuminate our age.
Thank you Mr. President. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
I would like to -- I'd like to thank our scholars, David and Abigail and Beverly. I would like to thank the students who spoke in the beginning and all the people on the panel.
To me this is a simple issue that has all kinds of complex manifestations. But the simple issue is we live in a country that is the longest-lasting democracy in human history, founded on the elementary proposition that we are created equal by God. That's what the Constitution says.
And we have never lived that way perfectly, but the whole history of America is in large measure the story of our attempt to give a more perfect meaning to the thing we started with -- the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
And now we have been given this enormous new world to live in with these enormous opportunities and which, as you heard our business executive say, we do not have a person to waste. We're given a world that is much more interested and exciting if we know and relate to people of different racial and other backgrounds. And it's up to us to decide what to do with it.
Our country has never really dealt with the race issue before except in an atmosphere of crisis and conflict and riots in the cities. So a lot of people, I will say again, think I am nuts to be doing this. You know, what's the end, what's the point? The point is, making a more perfect union. The point is, proving we can have one America. The point is, it will be a lot more interesting, a lot more fun and far more noble if we do it right.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
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