THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release July 8, 1998 2:00 P.M. EDT
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
IN PBS DIALOGUE ON RACE
WETA TV, PBS Studio
MR. LEHRER: Good evening. I'm Jim Lehrer. Welcome toan hour of conversation with President Clinton about race in America.
And welcome to you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Jim.
MR. LEHRER: The President's conversation will be witheight Americans -- four NewsHour regulars, essayist Richard Rodriguezof the Pacific News Service, Roger Rosenblatt and Clarence Page ofthe Chicago Tribune, and regional commentator Cynthia Tucker of theAtlanta Constitution; plus four others; Roberto Suro of TheWashington Post, author of a recent book on Hispanic Americans; KayJames, dean of Regent University's School of Government, Elaine Chao,former head of United Way of America, now at the Heritage Foundation;and Sherman Alexie, novelist, poet, and screenwriter.
Keep in mind, please, that whatever their affiliationand most importantly, their race, each is here as an individualspeaking only for him or herself.
Richard Rodriguez, what do you think is the single mostimportant thing the President could do to improve race relations inthis country?
MR. RODRIGUEZ: I think, Mr. President, I think Americais growing more and more complicated and it seems to me that ourconversation is not keeping up with that complexity. This year began-- this year of dialogue began with John Hope Franklin, the head ofthe Race Commission, saying that the unfinished business of Americais black and white. But it strikes me that after this year, what wereally need to do is to understand how complex this country is, withSamoan rock groups and Filipinos and Pakistani cab drivers. And theracial relationships now in America are so complex and so rich thatit seems to me we don't have a language even to keep up with thatcomplexity.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I basically agree with you aboutthat. As a Southerner like Dr. Franklin, I think that there areunique and still unresolved issue between black and white Americans,and there are some conditions in America which disproportionatelyinvolve African Americans. Some of them are not old. Today therewas just this Journal of American Medical Association story sayingthat African Americans metabolize nicotine in a different way thanother races as far as we know, and therefore, even though blackssmoke fewer cigarettes, they're more likely to get lung cancer --interesting thing.
But to get back to your main point, I have tried toemphasize that America is becoming a multiracial, multiethnic,multireligious society, and therefore it would be more important bothto understand the differences and identify the common values thathold us together as a country.
And I often cite, since we're in Northern Virginia wherethis program is being filmed, I often cite the Fairfax County SchoolDistrict, which is now the most diverse school district in thecountry, with people from over 100 different racial and ethnic groupswith over 100 different languages, actually, in this school district.And I think that's a pattern of where we're going. I've got a friendwho is a Southern Baptist minister here, he used to be a minister inArkansas. He's got a Korean ministry in his church. That's just onetiny example of the kind of things you're going to see more and moreof in the country.
MR. LEHRER: Cynthia, is the unfinished business stillblack and white?
MS. TUCKER: Well, I think that there are, as you justsaid, Mr. President, some issues that are unique to black Americansand white Americans, and some conditions, especially, thatdisproportionately affect black Americans, and the most striking ispoverty. In fact, I think that what many people think of as racialdifferences are often class differences. I worry not just aboutblack poverty, the disproportionate amount of black poverty, but alsoabout the growing wealth gap.
There are blacks who are disproportionately poor, andthat causes them to resent whites, because they blame whites; butthere are also working-class white whose incomes are stagnating ordeclining and they blame blacks and immigrants. So it seems to methat the wealth gap has at least something to do with continuingracial problems in America.
THE PRESIDENT: There's no doubt about that. And Ithink that whenever possible if you think that there is aclass-related or income-related element in the difficulties we havewith race, we ought to have income-based solutions to it.
A lot of things that I've asked Congress to do over thelast five and a half years, a lot of things that are in this budgetnow are designed to address that, with greater incentives for peopleto invest in inner cities and Native American reservations and otherpoor areas; tax systems, which would disproportionately benefitworking people on the lower income of the scale. I think thosethings are very important because -- and there is, by the way, someevidence that in the last couple of years, the income inequality hasbegun to abate some.
But I think it's very important not to confuse the two.I mean, I believe the primary reason for income inequality --increasing inequality in America is that we have changed the natureof the economy. That is, if you go back to 100 years ago, and yousee when we moved from an agricultural to an industrial economy, wealso had a big influx of immigrants. There was a huge increase ininequality, not so much because the immigrants, but because the waypeople made money changed. The whole basis of wealth changed.That's what's happened in this computer-based information economy,and the premium on education these days is so much greater than it'sever been, that there's a lot of stagnant incomes out there frompeople who have worked hard all of their lives, but aren't part ofthe modern economy. And I think that we need strategies to identifythe people that aren't winning and turn them into winners. And atthe very least, turn their children into winners.
MR. LEHRER: Kay James, class or race?
MS. JAMES: You know, it's interesting to me that whenwe have conversations about race, how quickly it turns to class, andI guess one of my experiences in America is that no matter how middleclass you become, if you're still black, you're still discriminatedagainst in many areas. And I guess I would also want to make thepoint that it's very important for us not to immediately go there,it's not immediately important to go the issues of poverty and class,because race is so important that it bears us spending some timethere, I think, to talk about racism in America. Class is a veryimportant discussion, and poverty is a very important discussion, butthey don't necessarily immediately go into a discussion of race.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, obviously, I agree with that, or Iwouldn't have set up this initiative. I think that the point Iwanted to make is to whatever extent you can have an economicapproach that embraces people of all races, if it elevatesdisproportionately -- racial groups that have been disproportionatelydepressed, you'll help to deal with the race problem.
But there is -- no one could look around the world -- ifyou forget about America, just look at the rest of the world -- noone could doubt the absence of a deep, inbred, predisposition ofpeople to fear, look down on, separate themselves from, and whenpossible discriminate against people who are of different racial andethnic groups than themselves. I mean, this is the primary factor inthe world's politics today at the end of the Cold War.
MR. LEHRER: Sherman, does a poor Native Americanstarting out face more hurdles than a poor white American startingout?
MR. ALEXIE: A poor Native American faces more hurdlesthan a poor anybody.
THE PRESIDENT: Anybody?
MR. ALEXIE: Anybody, in this country, certainly. We'retalking about third-world conditions -- fourth-world conditions onIndian Reservations. I didn't have running water until I was sevenyears old. I still remember when the toilet came. So -- and thereare no models of any success in any sort of field for Indians. Wedon't have any of that, so there's no idea of a role modelexisting. An Indian has not sat on this kind of panel before. So mebeing here for the first time is something amazing.
THE PRESIDENT: Let me ask you something. I'd like tostart, because I think this will help us to get to the race issue youtalked about. Let's just talk about the Native American population.When I was running for President in 1992, I didn't know much aboutthe American Indian condition, except that we had a significant butvery small population of Indians in my home state, and that mygrandmother was one-quarter Cherokee; that's all I knew. And I spenta lot of time going around to the reservations and to meet withleaders and to learn about the sort of nation-to-nation legalrelationship that's supposed to exist between the U.S. government andthe Native American tribes.
I concluded that the American Indians had gotten theworst of both worlds -- that they had not been given enoughempowerment or responsibility or tools to make the most of their ownlives, and the sort of paternalistic relationship the U.S. governmenthad kept them in was pathetic and inadequate. So they literally gotthe worst of both worlds. They weren't given enough help and theycertainly didn't have enough responsibility and power in my view tobuild the future.
So what do you think the most important thing is forAmericans to know about American Indians? And what do you think themost important thing American Indians should be doing for themselvesor should ask us to do to change the future?
MR. ALEXIE: I think the primary thing that people needto know about Indians is that our identity is much less cultural nowand much more political, that we really do exist as politicalentities in sovereign political nations. And that's the mostimportant thing for people to understand, is that we are separatepolitically and economically and should be.
For Indians, themselves, I think we have to recognizethe value of education, which is something culturally we have notdone. And with the establishment of the American Indian College Fundand the 29 American Indian colleges on reservations and in thecommunities throughout the country, I think we've begun that processof understanding that education can be just as traditional, just astribal as a powwow or any other ceremony, that education shouldbecome sacred.
MR. LEHRER: Elaine Chao, where do the Asian Americans,what kinds of obstacles do they start out with, compared to whiteAmericans or Native Americans, or black Americans, whatever?
MS. CHAO: I think what exacerbates the relationshipbetween the races is, in fact, the feeling of inequity, that somehowsomebody else is getting a better deal through unfair means. AndAsian Americans are a much maligned minority. On the one hand,they're sometimes counted as minorities when it's convenient forothers to do so, and other times when they skew the figures in a lessfavorable way, like university admissions, then they're counted aswhite.
So Asian Americans suffer the brunt of both worlds. Butin many ways, Asian Americans are now the victims of being anunder-represented minority, which means they are excluded from manyof the equal opportunities that are available in this country. And Ithink this is a very, very serious problem that I hope that yourgreat panel will be able to address.
THE PRESIDENT: Give us an example.
MS. CHAO: Well, there's a single mother by the name ofCharlene Lo (sp) in San Francisco, and she's raised two boys. Oneboy, Patrick, is applying to a school in San Francisco. It is aschool system, unified San Francisco school system that has basicallyimplemented a quota system through a consent -- and Patrick hasalways -- he scored 58 on his testing scores out of 69, was barredadmission to the high school of his choice because there were "toomany Chinese Americans." They had already fulfilled the Chinesequota. There are different standards in that school system fordifferent students of different color.
If you are white, you have one standard. If you areAsian American you have the toughest standard to meet. And ofcourse, other races have other standards as well. That is a horribleexample of preferential treatment and of unfair treatment based onrace. And I think something has got to be done about it.
THE PRESIDENT: Let's go back to what Kay said. What doyou think the roots of racism are?
MS. JAMES: I think the root of racism, and it's out ofvogue and out of style in this country to even use that kind oflanguage, but I believe it, and so, I say it. I believe the root ofracism is nothing but a very sinful and a very black and dark heart.I mean, after all, racism is a heart problem, a character problem, anintegrity problem.
And that's why I think when we have a conversation abouthow we overcome race in America, it's important to talk on thoseissues and on those terms. I think the government and I think you,Mr. President, can do a great deal to end discrimination in America.And that's an important topic to talk about. What can we do to endracism? And I think that's going to happen as relationships areformed in communities, as people come to trust each other, as peoplecome to spend time with one another, get to know one another. Andthat's when the stereotypes are dispelled. That's when people havethe opportunity to set aside their preconceived notions, theirprejudice, and they get to know each other as individuals.
THE PRESIDENT: Do you think young people -- and you'rea dean of a school of government -- do you think young people areless racially prejudiced than their parents on the whole?
MS. JAMES: Well, that's interesting. I remember when Iwas a part of the group that integrated the schools in the South and,in particularly, in my hometown of Richmond. And I can remembergoing into that school and hearing the young people parrot what theirparents had said to them. And while the government took the correctand appropriate action of forcing immigration, I have to tell you itwas the most segregated integrated environment I'd ever been in.
The good news is that over a period of time, there wererelationships that were established. There were individuals thatbecame friends for life out of that. And so I think we break downthe barriers of discrimination and then we deal with the humancondition and the human heart in terms of stereotyping and prejudiceand bigotry.
MR. LEHRER: Roger Rosenblatt, how would you answer thePresident's question? Where do we get our attitudes about race?Where do they come from?
MR. ROSENBLATT: Well, they come from fear I guess, andthey come from ignorance, and they come from a general sense ofotherness, which doesn't only apply to us, it applies to everybodyperceiving something different and then backing off in some way. Forthe worst of those who back off, it takes a form of hatred; for thebest, just a kind of shy retreat.
But what Kay was saying about integration came back tosomething you were saying, too, Mr. President -- what can thePresident do on this major issue, the deep issue. I would love tosee the goal of integration be boisterously set again. You and I andothers around this table remember -- they were hard, but the best oftimes in the early '60s when, frankly, people now at each other'sthroats, were all on the same side -- most people who believed inthat side. Since then, Cynthia mentioned blame; that's all we've hadis context of blame since -- or theories, or bigotry, or separatistnotions.
If the race issue is a microcosm of what the countryought to be, then the solving of racism ought to be the solving ofthe country. We are one place; one complicated, broiling, difficultplace in which a great deal of progress has been made, and that oughtto be said, too. But if you could reaffirm the idea, remind us thatintegration is the goal, I think that would be a huge first step.
THE PRESIDENT: What about what Elaine said, though?Let me give you a little background, although I don't know about thefacts of this case. California, I give them a lot of credit --California is trying to have within the public school system a muchhigher performing school by, among other things, going to charterschools, which seek to have the benefits of public education with thestrengths of private, standard state education. And San Franciscohas a number of schools -- this is probably a part of their schoolchoice program -- where they basically create schools, they get outfrom under the rules and regulations of central administration andthey hold the kids to high standards.
But apparently, they've made a decision also that theythink they ought to have some diversity within their student body.And so, is it fair for a Chinese student who may be the fifth bestChinese student, but also the fifth best overall student who has toget in a class, to be deprived of the chance to get in the class?And if it's not fair, if this child was unfairly treated, what do youdo with the kids who didn't do very well and what school should theygo to and how can you guarantee them the same standards?
MR. LEHRER: How would you answer that, Roberto?
MR. SURO: It's seems to be the sort of dilemma thatpoints up the need to go beyond the black-white paradigm that we'veworked with for so long. I mean, it's very hard to apply a matrix ofa white majority and non-white minorities when you get to a situationas complicated as the San Francisco schools. And we don't have alanguage even to describe these situations, let alone mechanisms thatare defined to work in situations where you've got -- where the linesaren't so clear anymore as to a group that's in a group that's out;where you have mobility of identity and of economic status, and whereracism takes a variety of forms.
You know, it's interesting -- we talked a little bitabout history and when you talk about race, you often talk about yourchildhood memories of the South and how it has formed your views ofit. My question is how we take that history and adapt it, move it,evolve it, into a very different demographic situation now than theone in which it was past -- and how you use it, how you take yourmemories of the black-white situation in the South and apply it to amuch more complicated nation now.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, the short answer is that I try todo now what I tried to do when I was a kid, when I realized what wasgoing on, because I had an unusual background for a lowermiddle-class white guy in the South because I had grandparents whobelieved in integration, and my grandfather ran a little store andmost of his customers were black. So I had an atypical background.But I was sort of hungering for contact with people who weredifferent from me. And my theory, going back to what Kay said, isthat basically if you would ask me, what's the most important thingwe could do, I think it is the more people work, and learn, andworship if they have faith, and serve together, the more likely youare to strike the right balance between celebrating our differencesinstead of being afraid of them and still identifying common values.
Now, you still have -- you have a separate problem forNative Americans, who literally, many of whom still live onreservations. But there has to be a way -- you cannot overcome whatyou do not know. And if I could just say one other thing. One ofthe complicating -- believe me, there are lots of hard questions. Idon't think -- one of the hard questions is the education question,whether it's affirmative action in college admissions or what Elainesaid, for the simple reason that I believe there is an independentvalue to having young people learn in an environment where they'rewith people of many different racial and ethnic backgrounds. And thequestion is, how can you balance that with our devotion to merit andthen not discriminating against people because of their race, ineffect, when they would otherwise, on grounds of academic merit, geta certain situation. That's one of the hardest questions we face.
But I still think the more we are together -- I wasquite impressed, for example, when our daughter was trying to selecta college. And one of the things that she did, she went around andactually got the composition and make-up of every school to which sheapplied, because she wanted -- and then she actually went there tosee whether those people were actually -- (laughter) -- not justadmitted but actually really getting -- relating to each other.
But a lot of the young people in her generation that Ispend time talking to understand that this is something they need todo. I mean, they figured out that their life is going to be realdifferent from ours and they better figure out how to live together.
MR. LEHRER: Clarence, does that make sense to you?
MR. PAGE: It makes a lot of sense, Jim. We went aroundthe table and I've exhibited great patience by withholding mycomments because I wanted to hear. Everybody here is expressing thisdream of integration, but we all have gotten to different questionsabout the pain we want to pay, the pay we want to experience to getthere. Elaine wants, I'm sure, equal opportunity in a corporateworld and educational world. But how much equal opportunity are youwilling to sacrifice in pursuit of diversity, the integration dreamthat Roger is expressing. Let us get back to Richard's questionabout the language that we speak.
I've heard us go from prejudice to racism, get over todiversity and integration, thinking we're talking about the samething, but we're not. You know, racism is institutional. We'retalking about history here. And that is why, if you want diversityin San Francisco's schools, you want that virtue of having your kidsexposed to other kids of different races and backgrounds, then you'vegot to be willing to say, we've got to put a ceiling on some people.And I've told the same thing to African Americans back in Chicago,with housing. Because we want desegregated housing, but you've gotto tell black folks, as well as white folks, hey, we've got enough ofyou right now. And that's a hard thing to do.
But integration, desegregation does not come by justgood wishes. You've got to work at it. You've got to take somemechanical steps to get from here to there. And until we can dothat, we can't have an honest dialogue until we're willing to talkabout how much are we willing to pay.
MR. LEHRER: Somebody has to get hurt in order for otherpeople to be helped?
MR. PAGE: That's right. There's got to be some paininvolved. And everybody talks about -- this is why affirmativeaction is so tough. And, Mr. President, I have written this, so it'sonly proper that I say this to you personally -- I feel like oneproblem with the race dialogue was that I think you were reluctant todeal with the question of affirmative action. It is the mostdivisive question that we've got along the lines of race in thiscountry right now, besides crime, which is another question for adialogue. But we need to talk -- and, of course, I agree with youfully, we need to mend it, not end it. We need affirmative action.But how do we define it and how do we deal with those people who feellike they're sacrificing?
And I think the sacrifices have been over-rated and thepolls seem to bear me out. Most white folks don't feel that painedby affirmative action or so-called quotas, et cetera. That is agreat political tool, and until we deal with it effectively and havea real dialogue about it, it's going to be exploited politically byvarious people in a positive or negative kind of way. And I guessI'll have to say, how do you feel about that in terms of the kind oftiptoeing around the --
THE PRESIDENT: See, I believe, I frankly -- I believethat the real reason it's a problem -- it's more a problem ineducation now than in economics because the unemployment rate is solow and because the jobs are opening up, so most gifted people feelthat if they're willing to work hard, they can find a job. We don'thave the anxiety about affirmative action we used to have when thepolice department and the fire departments were being integrated andpromotions were being given. Every now and then you hear somethingabout that, but most of the controversy now is about education. Why?Because people know education is really important and if parents andchildren make a decision about where they want to go to school -- inthe case of Elaine, a public school -- that they believe is good, ora college, they're afraid if they don't get in where they want to getin, they'll get a substandard education.
I have a different view. The reason I've supportedaffirmative action, as long as you don't just let people in who areblatantly unqualified to anything, is that I think, number one, testscores and all these so-called objective measures are somewhatambiguous and they're not perfect measures of people's capacity togrow. But secondly and even more importantly, I think our societyhas a vested interest in having people from diverse backgrounds.
When I went to college in the "Dark Ages," one of thereasons I applied to Georgetown was they had foreign students thereand they had a policy of having a kid from every state there. MaybeI got in because there weren't so many people from Arkansas whoapplied, for all I know. I think that there are independenteducational virtues to a diverse student body, and young people learndifferent things in different ways. And I don't think objectivemeasurements are perfect. So I don't have a problem with it.
But I think the most important thing is that we have tounderstand that this is one of the hard questions. And it is bestworked out, in my view, by people sitting around a table trying towork out the specifics, like in San Francisco. And when people feellike they have no voice, then they feel robbed. But there will neverbe a perfect resolution of this.
MR. LEHRER: Richard, do you agree? No perfectresolutions to this?
MR. RODRIGUEZ: No, I do agree. I think generally noperfect solution. I left the university affirmative action -- I wasso appalled by it. I considered myself a Hubert Humphrey liberal.When it came time for me to get a position over you because you werewhite, and because America perceived me to belong to this new brownrace, this complete fiction of the Hispanic race -- it does notexist, there's no Hispanic race left or right of Cuba. We -- myfather is very light skinned, my mother looks very Indian. There arewhite Hispanics, there are black Hispanics. But the universitydidn't care about any of that. I was this new brown race, this newHispanic race.
At a point in the American political discussion when theonly person who was not a minority was people that you came from --poor whites -- particularly poor white males in this society, who, inthe language of affirmative action, is that they are somehowrepresented in the public society -- like hell they are. Where arethe Appalachian white represented? Because there are white men infront of the airplane? And it came to me at a time when I wasmiddle-class, Mexican American, perfectly capable of dealing with thecompetition for jobs, and the jobs came looking for me because I wastheir brown man. And I threw the jobs back and them at them. Ididn't want those jobs. And if that's the way we are going todiscuss race in America, with these bureaucratic understandings ofwho is a Hispanic, without even knowing what a Hispanic means, we arein real trouble in this country.
THE PRESIDENT: Let me ask you -- let me ask everybody-- first of all, I'm glad you said that, because we're in thebusiness of defining stereotypes tonight, so that's good. I thinkall of us who have worked hard to get where we are are sort of proudof that. I mean, when I was a young man, I was the only person on mylaw school faculty that voted against our tenure policy because Inever wanted anybody to guarantee me a job. I told them they couldtell me to leave tomorrow and I'd go. I mean I really identify withwhat you -- I'm proud of that.
But suppose you're the president of the university,would you like, other things being equal, to have a faculty that werereasonably racially diverse? And even more importantly, would youlike, other things being equal, to have a student body that reflectedthe America these young people are going to live in once they'vegraduated? And if you believe that, and you didn't want to infuriatepeople like you've been infuriated and make them feel like you'vefelt, how would you go about achieving that?
I think this is tough stuff. I don't pretend that myposition is easy or totally defensible. How would you do it?
MR. RODRIGUEZ: I think you would start at the bottom ofthe social ladder. You would start at first grade rather than ingraduate school and trying to decide which ones of us get into lawschool. You would make sure that America had a system of educationthat saved children in first grade because we lose it there.
MR. ROSENBLATT: I think that's absolutely right. And Ithink that even though it sounds like a distinction without adifference, goals are better than quotas. And if you know what youwant in a particular situation -- be it a workplace or a collegeclass -- then you're not stuck in the exact situation Elainementioned in which you're doing something patently unfair. Also, thenice thing about goals is you don't always have to reach them. Theidea is to keep your eyes on them and hope that you get the properand reasonable mix in a group.
THE PRESIDENT: Let's go back to this. I want to askyou to come in because I want you to go in here. (Laughter). Whatexactly was it did you resent? Did you resent the fact they weregoing to guarantee you a job whether you were any good or not? Ordid you resent the fact that they were looking for Hispanic facultymembers?
MR. RODRIGUEZ: I resented two things. I resented thefact I was being rewarded with the exclusion of other people of myethnic group. In other words, I was a numerical minority at a pointin which I was not a cultural minority. And the absence of thosepeople -- because my people were not there, I as the 10th personbecame their minority. And I resented it for all the political,liberal reasons that I have and that there was something that didn't
play on my soul -- the notion that I was entitled to the shot, andyou weren't because I had darker skin, and it didn't play on me.
I was never a primary victim of racial discrimination inthis country. I belong to California, but I grew up among Portugueseand Irish kids -- never, never a primary victim. In the name of theprimary victims, I was advanced to graduate school.
MR. SURO: I've had some of the same experience, notquite as explicitly, but there are times when I have consciously notwanted to be regarded as a Hispanic journalist and define that as acentral part of my definition or qualification. And even in doingreportage, I hope that I can deal with anybody. When I went overseaslooking for -- I very consciously didn't go to Latin America.
It draws this distinction that Richard raised, I think,between primary victims of discrimination and people who havedifferent kinds of history. And we're dealing with, now, how do youdetermine whether -- affirmative action was started as a historicalremedy. Lyndon Johnson's speech here was about the foot race, was areflection on history. And the question is, what do you do when youhave people who don't have the same history, but belong to a minoritygroup. Among Latinos now, you have people who have experienced realdiscrimination and have a real history of discrimination in placeslike South Texas, and you have people who arrived yesterday. Yet,our system of looking at them puts them all together in one group.
MR. LEHRER: Cynthia, the differences -- in other words,dealing with people differently.
MS. TUCKER: Well, this may be one of those placeswhere, in fact, the black experience in America is distinct. I didgrow up suffering discriminations -- real, in-your-face. I grew upin Southern Alabama under Jim Crow. And now, I am not offended byaffirmative action programs at all. I happen to think, a, that thatdoes not mean that the person is unqualified, but I also rememberonly too well when people that I knew were denied jobs because theywere black. And so that is one of those places where the blackexperience is different, perhaps, from any other experience in thiscountry with the possible exception of Native Americans.
MS. CHAO: Clearly, the history of this nation, as itwent through the racial stages, has been very tragic; no one woulddispute that. And it's clear, also, that we don't live in a perfectworld in which there is equal treatment for everyone. But I thinkit's absolutely incumbent upon all of us to remember that this is theideal, that equal opportunity must exist for everyone in thiscountry, regardless of color or race or creed or whatever.
And when we talk about diversity, what a wonderfulnotion it is. Of course, most of us support it. I, for one,definitely support it. But the issue is, how does one create thisdiversity and who gets to sacrifice, as Clarence mentioned, and whogets to suffer?
As far as diversity is implemented right now, it'sbasically implemented through a numerical quota, goals, whateverthey're called. Basically, the touchstone word is we want it to berepresentative of America, which means that it's 13 percent AfricanAmerican, 8 percent Latino Americans, 3 percent Asian Americans, andperhaps -- a certain percentage of Native Americans, and the restwhite. When we don't evaluate things, and when we don't offeropportunity based on merit, how do we decide otherwise, and whobecomes over-represented minorities? Who becomes under-representedminorities? And that just snowballs -- differential treatment,preferential treatment for one group versus another. I think weshould hew to the overall core value of this country, the equalopportunity of rights for all. And there should be same standardsfor everyone.
Q Well, how do you define merit? Does there seem tobe an equal opportunity to get into Berkeley and UCLA? But how doyou define merit -- is it SATs or ACTs or other criteria?
MS. CHAO: No, I think clearly, merit.
MR. LEHRER: Let me ask Sherman, where do NativeAmericans fit into the affirmative action debate?
MR. ALEXIE: You know, I get this question asked a lot.I always say, if we were taking the jobs, and we were taking thespots in college, then why aren't we having jobs and why aren't we incollege. (Laughter.) I mean, people worrying about medical school-- people worrying about blacks getting into medical school or lawschool, and I walk through the hospital and the brown people aremopping. So I think all this debate about affirmative action andabout quotas is delusionary and anecdotal. There's never been ablack person who's been denied a job who's won a lawsuit against acompany for not hiring him because they were black, and yet weredetermining national policy based on anecdotal lawsuits.
Q It's not anecdotal.
MR. ALEXIE: On one example, Texas, we changed the wholeentire admissions system at universities in Texas based on one personlosing a spot because of their job and it was one lawsuit thatdecided that, that turned the tide. And so if you want to talk aboutaffirmative action, that's sort of a legal affirmative action, wherea white person has more power in the courts, bringing a lawsuitagainst the university, than a black person would have bringing asuit against the university for not getting in.
Q Jim, I have to answer that, if I could, becauseit's not anecdotal evidence. There is a great database ofdifferential standards that do exist for different racial groups.That is common practice in the admissions of university today allacross America. That is common practice for many of our educationalfacilities, institutions, at the lower levels as well. There isdefinitely no question that it's just not anecdotal. At the Centerfor Equal Opportunity and many other think tanks have compiled asubstantial database that do show this is part of the racial policiesof America today.
I do want to say one thing about --
THE PRESIDENT: Do you want to answer Clarence?
Q I was going to say -- I think education -- Richardhas a good point -- education is important. We ought not to talkabout equal opportunity at this late stage, but how do we get back toK and 12? Our schools are falling apart. How do we fix our schools?How do we slash crime in our neighborhoods? How do we createeconomic opportunity for everyone? I mean, that's a real goal forour country.
THE PRESIDENT: What are you going to say about this?
MS. JAMES: I was just going to say, Mr. President, Ithink the operative phrase was, in your question, "all things beingequal," wouldn't we like a diverse community, particularly in theacademic arena. And I was looking around the table and thinking, geewhiz, I bet I'm the only one here at the table that has to makeadmissions decisions.
THE PRESIDENT: You've got to make these decisions.(Laughter.)
MS. JAMES: And you're right, all things being equal,wouldn't we like to have a diverse community. And I think that'swhere most people in America are. Most people in America, of course,acknowledge and have high esteem for diversity and recognize thattheir lives are much more enriched in that environment. But whatthey have a problem with is feeling like there are set-asides orpreferential treatment for some class of people that exist for themonly because of their race.
As an example, I guess I run across so many middle classAfrican American students who don't deserve to have preferentialtreatment based solely on their race. They've had every opportunity,they've been given every chance in America, and so it makes no senseto give them preference for purely race-based -- that maybe we shouldlook more at some of the programs that exist in America that givetreatment and preference to people out of poverty, that givepreference and treatment for a variety of reasons. But to purelyhave race-based solutions in America today doesn't make a whole lotof sense.
THE PRESIDENT: Let me go back to something Clarencesaid at the beginning. You pointed out we've talked about prejudice,discrimination, then we started talking about diversity and all that.I think you need -- if I could go back to the very first thing thatall of you started talking about -- we need a vocabulary thatembraces America's future, and we need a vocabulary that embracesAmerica's present and past on this race issue. And we need to knowwhen we're making distinctions. And then we need to fess up to thefact at least when it comes to Native Americans that if we don't dosomething fairly dramatic, the future is going to be like the pastfor too many people.
For example, I think most Americans, whether they'reconservatives or liberals or Republicans or Democrats, would support,for example, my budget proposal to give more resources to the EEOC toget rid of the backlog. Because all of the surveys show that 85percent of the American people, or 90 percent or something, believethat actual discrimination against an individual person in theworkplace is wrong based on race.
Now, the real problem is that affirmative action, Ithink now, since there are a lot of middle-class blacks, middle-classHispanics, that it's almost -- people are not so sure in theworkplace and the school place whether it is furthering the goal ofgetting rid of the lingering effects of discrimination, which isCynthia's experience, and mine as a Southerner -- ours -- you know,or whether it is now being used to create a more diverse environmentwhich people feel is a good thing, but not a good thing if it issticking it to this hard-working Chinese mother in San Francisco andher children, who is raising her kids under adverse circumstances.
And I guess one of the things that bothers me is that alot -- we need to make these kinds of discussions practical andinstitution or community-based, because, I'll say again, I think thatwe want our children to grow up to learn to live in a world that theywill in fact live in. Therefore, if you forget about discriminationfor a minute -- you can't ever do that, but let's just assume thereis no discrimination -- America has a wonderful system of highereducation. There are hundreds of schools I think you can get aworld-class undergraduate education in. And I believe that,therefore, it's worth having some policy to try to diversify thestudent body.
It's interesting to see what Texas did when the Hopwooddecision came down. They said, well, we don't want to have a totallysegregated set of colleges and universities in Texas, so we'll justsay the top 10 percent of every high school can automatically go toany Texas institution of higher education. That looks like amerit-based decision, but, of course, it's not any more merit-basedthan the other decision because there are segregated high schools andthere are differences in test scores and all that.
So we need to kind of -- we need 10 hours to discussthis and I'd like to listen to you. But the only thing I want topoint out is, the American people have got to decide, do they want ahousing project in Chicago -- in this case, only the people fromChicago have to decide -- that's integrated. If so, the people whodon't get in there, do they have reasonable alternatives? That's onerealistic thing. If a child doesn't get into a good school that heor she wants to get in to, do they have an equivalent alternative?If they don't, you maybe have hurt them for life. Is it worth it toget rid of discrimination?
Or in the case -- look at Kay's problem. She runs agovernment department that makes these admission decisions in aschool that has a certain religious and value-based approach to life.So if a child gets deprived of going into there, even if the kid goesto Harvard, it may not be cultural environment --
MS. JAMES: They couldn't get near the education theyget at Regent. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: But let's assume it's equivalent. Thechild may lose something non-educational. So all these things are --I just want the American people to start talking about this in a waythat's real here.
MR. RODRIGUEZ: Mr. President, one interesting -- Ithink we need to do as Americans is also wonder whether these termswe're using mean anything anymore. The fact is, we have been fallingin love with each other for over 200 years in this country -- fromPocahantas to Thomas Jefferson's children. The fact is we care -- inAmerica. The fact is that increasingly now I'm meeting young peoplewho don't want to define themselves as belonging to a race.
And the two largest Hispanic groups in this country --mulatto Puerto Ricans, mestizo Mexicans -- are entering in thiscountry and injecting a kind of complexity into the whole way weunderstand race as a singular thing, and beginning to teach us that,in fact, we will belong in some future to many races.
When I said that there is not a vocabulary for this -- Ialso in San Francisco, I know this young woman who is -- I asked herwhat her racial identity was, and she said her father is AfricanAmerican and her mother is Mexican. And I said well, what are you?And she said I'm a "Blaxican." (Laughter). She said she's a"Blaxican" because there wasn't a word for it yet.
You asked that question of why young people -- I thinkAmerican young people are going to be redefining the very stolid, oldCrayolas that we have been calling Americans.
THE PRESIDENT: That's good.
MR. LEHRER: Cynthia and then to Roger -- on thisquestion that the President raised, the new dialogue. And toRichard, what are the new words we use? What do we talk about inthis new world?
MS. TUCKER: Well, I think one of the things we had todo is to simply acknowledge how much the world has changed. Richardis right. I have a Mexican brother-in-law, and my sister and he areabout to have a baby. And she, too, I suppose will be "Blaxican" orwhatever. (Laughter).
And so I think, first of all, more Americans need astronger sense of history. I think there has to be an acknowledgmentthat African Americans and Native Americans especially have sufferedburdens others have not. But I also think that all of us, includingAfrican Americans, need to acknowledge how much the world haschanged. I think one of the reasons we hear so many interestingthings from California, Elaine, is because California is cuttingedge. Some days I look at California, and I think that's the wave ofthe future, and I think, oh goodness, no. But some days -- Chelseachose to go to school there -- maybe California's doing okay. But Ido think that the struggle among the various ethnic groups inCalifornia are a cautionary tale, quite frankly.
MR. ROSENBLATT: Now, when you think about how much theworld has changed -- I don't want to flip to a Pollyanna-ish mode forthe moment, but one way it's changed is that a lot of things havegotten better. Not only have they gotten more interesting, not onlyhave they gotten more complicated -- all of which is true -- but yougrew up in a world in which hatred was a useable instrument; wherepeople couldn't go to same schools, you couldn't vote, you couldn'tdo this and you couldn't do that. And not only that, it was aninstrument that was in some dark and deeply stupid way approved of bythe silence of the majority. Now, as you say, that majority does notapprove anymore.
We talk about racism in a country -- I'm not sure ifwe're talking about anything like the same racism with which you twogrew up in and of which we were apprised. It isn't that I'll saythat everything is getting better or good as fast as we could wantit, but I sometimes wonder how important affirmative action as anissue for debate really is because I think, eventually, it's going tobe phased out anyway. It's going to get there, and that, to go backto Richard's irrefutable point, to get down to the youngest peopleand the best education for them and all social programs into thatwould seem to be part of the new vocabulary you called for.
Q Roberto, how would you define the new vocabulary?
MR. SURO: We've talked a lot about how trying todescribe the population and how it's changed. Roger touches on animportant point. We have to have a new vocabulary to describe ourattitudeS. Discrimination is a different thing in this country thanit was 20 years ago.
THE PRESIDENT: In what way?
MR. SURO: Well, I would say if you take the AfricanAmerican example, I'd say a young black male who lives in an innercity experiences being black differently than a middle-aged,middle-class female who lives in the suburb. It's a differentexperience of what it means to be a black in this country. And whenyou're talking about remedies of discrimination, when discriminationisn't simply based that all black people be excluded from certaininstitutions, as was the case earlier in our lifetime, you need moresubtle remedies, more complicated remedies, and more complicatedvocabularies to describe attitudes. More people are classifiedaccording to multiple markers, not just skin color but a variety ofdifferent things establish status in this country, and so theremedies have to address each of those different things, I believe.
Q I could beg to differ. I'm a middle-class blackwho lives in the suburbs, and in my suburb right now there arenumerous complaints about black youths being stopped by the copsunfairly, just as they're stopped by the cops in the inner-city.And, Jim, you know, after the L.A. riots in '92, we had thisdiscussion on this program, and I talked then about my three year oldson that everybody thought was quite cute -- he looks just like me,naturally -- how else could they --
MR. LEHRER: I don't remember that coming up.(Laughter.)
Q But I was saying then, where will he be 10 yearsfrom now? Well, my son is now nine, and now I have to say four yearsfrom now, because he's going to be a teenager. And when -- and todaythe most feared creature on urban streets today is a young blackmale. And that is the future I am looking toward with my son. Iwant a better life for my son like everybody else does, and the newvocabulary of race to me is very much like the old vocabulary, exceptit's got some new terms, like the gilded ghetto. The gilded ghettois what middle-class blacks find themselves in out in the suburbs nowbecause the white folks who used to be their neighbors have movedfurther out --
MR. LEHRER: What do you tell your son? What do youtell your son about why this is happening?
Q We treat race talk like sex talk around our house,Jim. We don't bring it up unless our son brings up a question, andthen we answer the question he brings up. But we live, fortunately,in a desegregated, integrated neighborhood. Our son is very wellaware of racial difference, has been since he was four years old, asall children are. But he doesn't see racial value; he doesn't seeone race being better than another -- I hope. I mean, certainly, byassociations he has, he doesn't reflect that. I hope that is ourfuture.
But I have to say -- and Richard and I always have thisdiscussion and the vision he paints of the future is so beautiful, Ihate to throw cold water on it. But I've got to say, in 1998, we arestill a segregated society. Blacks and whites still live mostlyseparate lives. We're better off than we were 30 years ago, thankGod, but we are still -- outside of the workplace, outside of theworkplace we still live largely separate lives. Why in the workplacehave we got this association? Because of affirmative action. That'sa big reason.
Q In 1998, we are still unable to say that, ineffect, we are part of each other's bloodstream. This is theheritage of racism, where we were never allowed to marry each other.And now we deny it to ourselves. We say that that doesn't make anydifference. Well, I get stopped by police in San Francisco when I gojogging early before dawn. The last time I got stopped was by twoblack policemen, and I think to myself, this is a very complicatedsociety we live in. (Laughter.)
Q Who said blacks couldn't be prejudiced?
THE PRESIDENT: I agree with that. You know, I'm verysympathetic with what you say. And I want it to be as you say. AndI agreed that we have all kinds of overlapping stereotypes that wehaven't even talked about. One of the things that came up after LosAngeles riots, you know, the attitudes of the African Americans tothe Korean grocers and the Arab grocers and the Hispanic customersand all of that -- it's a lot more complicated than it used to be.
But as a factual matter, if you just look at the prisonpopulation -- you wanted to bring that up -- if you look at all theunemployment rate among young, single African American males withoutan education, if you look at the physical isolation of people inthese inner-city neighborhoods -- we have the lowest unemploymentrate in 28 years; there are still New York City neighborhoods wherethe unemployment rate is 15 percent -- if you look at these things,if I could just come back to sort of what I think is practical here,I think it is imperative that we somehow develop a bipartisanconsensus in this country that we will do those things which we knowwill stop another generation of these kids from getting in that kindof trouble.
My best model now, I guess, is what they're trying to doin Chicago in the school system and what they've done in Boston withthe juvenile justice system. In Boston, they went for two yearswithout one kid under 18 being killed with a gun. Unheard of in acity that size. And if you look at what they did in Houston, we needto at least adopt those strategies that will invest money in keepingthese kids out of trouble in the first place and try to keep them outof jail and give them the chance to have a good life. And if there'sdisproportionate manifestation of race, then so be it. Then we oughtto have an affirmative action program, if you will, that invests inthose kids' futures and gives them a chance to stay out of trouble.
To me, it's the kids that are being lost altogether andthe disproportionate presence of racial minorities among those kidsthat is still the most disturbing thing in the world. Because if youget these kids up there, 18 or 19, heck, they'll figure out things.Our kids will figure out things we weren't smart enough to figureout. That's how society goes on. That's what progress is all about.But I think we have to recognize that's still a big race problem inthis country, especially for African Americans.
MR. LEHRER: Clarence raised the point, Sherman, aboutrace talk in his family and the President -- Mr. President, you havesaid you had trouble getting people to talk bluntly and honestlyabout race.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. We're all too polite about it.
MR. LEHRER: How do you get people to talk about race?
MR. ALEXIE: Just walk into a room, I think. People arealways talking about race. It's always coded language. They call it"class," or they use coded language. Nobody actually says, well,that's a black person, let's talk about being black, but it alwaysends up coming up. Usually what they'll do to me is come up and tellme they're Cherokee. (Laughter.) So that's usually what it amountsto.
Nobody talks about Indians, so I don't have to worryabout that. We grew up not being talked about at all, and we'restill not talked about. You know, I walked by the locker room outthere, and there is a Washington Redskins bumper sticker on a locker.And I said, nobody cares about Indians.
MR. LEHRER: But do Indians talk about race?
MR. ALEXIE: Oh, yeah, we're actually probably a lotmore conservative and racist than any other single group of people.We're much more reactionary. It's funny, politically, we give ourmoney to Democrats, but we vote for Republicans. (Laughter.)
MR. LEHRER: I'm going to leave that one alone.(Laughter.)
How do you get honest talk? Do you think there ishonest talk about race?
MS. JAMES: All you have to do is get people to starttalking out or their own personal experience and it gets there prettyquickly. And everyone has a story to tell. I've noticed around thetable even today that as we talk about race in America and thedistinctions of being African American and that it's really ablack-white issue, I guarantee if we were bringing an Irish Americanin here, they would tell you they've experienced discrimination inthis country. And if you get a -- you know, you talk to people inthe Jewish community, and they'll say, well, our experience inAmerica has been this. And so when you get people to talk out oftheir own experience, it gets there fairly quickly.
Q I think the bottom line is, I think there has to benot allocation of programs based on preferential treatment -- butthat there is equal opportunity. And going back to Clarence's issueabout merit --
MR. LEHRER: We're talking about talking bluntly aboutrace.
Q Right. I think this is part of it. And I thinkthe President wanted me to answer Clarence's comments, Clarence'squestion about merit.
MR. LEHRER: Okay, but we have to -- I have to interruptyou all now to say, thank you, Mr. President, and thanks to all therest of --
THE PRESIDENT: We're just getting warmed up.
MR. LEHRER: I know, I know, I know.
Q It's got to be the same standards for everybody,however merit is defined.
MR. LEHRER: Okay. But from Washington this has been aconversation with President Clinton about race. I'm Jim Lehrer.Thank you and good night. And as you see, may the conversationcontinue.
What's New - July 1998
IRS Reform Act
Year 2000 Computer Problem
Health Care Issues
Patients' Bill of Rights Roundtable
Kassebaum Kennedy Law
The Boys Nation Class of 1998
Pass A Patients' Bill of Rights
New Handgun Safety Protections
Social Security Reform
Girls Nation Event
PBS Dialogue on Race
Honor Officer Chestnut and Detective Gibson
Discipline and Safety in Schools
Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign
Quality of Nursing Home
200th Birthday of U.S. Marine Corps Band
New Grants To Fight Crime
Medal of Honor to Robert R. Ingram
Fourth of July, 1998
New GDP Numbers
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