JIM LEHRER: Clarence, that makes sense to you?
CLARENCE PAGE, The Chicago Tribune: That makes a lot of sense. We have
gone around the table and I have exhibited great patience by withholding my
comments. Everybody here is expressing this dream of integration but we all
have different courses about the pain we want to pay, the pain we want to
experience to get there.
I'm sure, equal opportunity in a corporate world,
an educational world, but how much equal opportunity are you willing to
sacrifice in pursuit of diversity. The integration dream that Roger is
expressing. And let us get back to Richard's question about the language
that we speak. I have heard us go from prejudice to racism and then over to
diversity and integration. You think we are talking about the same thing
but we are not. You know racism is institutional. We are talking about
That is why if you want diversity in San Francisco schools,
if you want that virtue of having your kids exposed to other kids of
different races and backgrounds, then you got to be willing to say we got to
put a ceiling on some people. I have told the same thing to
African-Americans back in Chicago with housing, because we want to keep
desegregated housing, then you have got to tell black folks as well as white
folks, hey, we have got enough of you right now, and that's a hard thing to
do but because integration, desegregation does not come by just good wishes.
You got to work at it. You got to take some mechanical steps to get from
here to there and until we can do that, we can't have an honest dialogue.
Until we are willing to talk about how much are we willing to pay.
The making of an honest dialogue.
JIM LEHRER: Somebody has to get hurt in order for some other people to be
CLARENCE PAGE: Right. There has got to be some pain involved. And everybody talks
about it. Mr. President, I have written this so, it's only popular that I say
this to you personally. I feel like that one problem with the race dialogue
was that I feel you were reluctant to deal with the question of affirmative
action. It is the most divisive question we got along lines of race in our
country besides crime, which is another question for the dialogue. But we
need to talk, and of course, I agree with you fully, we need to amend it,
not end it, we need affirmative action, but how do we define it, and how do
we deal with those people who feel like they are sacrificing and I think the sacrifices have been overrated and the polls tend to don't bear me
Most white folks don't feel that pained by affirmative action or quotas,
etc. It's a great political tool and until we deal with it effectively,
have a real dialogue about it, it's going to continue to be exploited
politically by various people in a positive or negative kind of way. And I
guess I'll have to say how do you feel about that in terms of the kind of
tiptoeing around the really tough issues of race?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: See, I believe, I frankly, I believe that the real reason it's a problem, it's more a problem with education now than economics because the
unemployment rate is so low, and because the jobs are opening up so most
gifted people feel that if they're willing to work hard, they can find a job so
you don't see, we don't have the anxiety about affirmative action you used
to have when the police departments and the fire departments were being
integrated and promotions were being given.
Every now and then you hear
something about that, but most of the controversy is about education. Why?
because people know education is really important and if the parents and
children make a decision about where they want to go to school in the case of Elaine,
a public school that they believe is good or a college, they are afraid
if they don't get in where they want to get in, they will get a substandard
I have a different view.
The reason I supported affirmative
action, as long as you don't just let people in who are blatantly
unqualified to anything is that I think number one, test scores and all
these so-called objective measurements are somewhat ambiguous and they are
not perfect measures of the people's capacity to grow, but secondly and even
more importantly, I think our society has a vested interest in having people
from diverse backgrounds. I mean, when I went to college in the dark ages
one of the reasons I applied to Georgetown was they had foreign students
there and they had a policy of having a kid from every state there.
And you know, maybe I got in because there weren't too many people from Arkansas who
applied, for all I know. I think there are independent educational virtues
to a diverse student body and young people learn different things in
different ways so, and I don't think objective measurements are perfect, so
I don't have a problem with it.
But I think the most important thing is
that we have to understand that this is one of the hard questions, and it is
best worked out, in my view, by people sitting around a table trying to work
out the specifics like in San Francisco, and when people feel like they have
no voice, then they feel robbed, but there will never be a perfect
resolution to this.
No perfect resolution to the question of race?
JIM LEHRER: Richard, you agree, no perfect resolution to this thing?
RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: No. I do agree. I think generally no perferct solutions. I
left the university over affirmative action. I consider myself a Hubert Humphrey liberal. When it
came time for me to get a position over you because you were white and
because America perceived me to belong to this new brown race, this complete
fiction of the Hispanic race. Does not exist. There is no Hispanic race left
or right of Cuba. We, my father is very light skinned, my mother looks very
Indian, there are white Hispanics, there are black Hispanics, but the
university didn't care about any of that.
I was in new brown race, this
new Hispanic, at a point in the American political discussion when the only
person who was not a minority was people that you came from, poor whites,
particularly poor white males in this society who the language of
affirmative action is that they are somehow represented in the public
society. Like hell they are.
Where are the Appalachian whites represented?
Because there are white men in the front of the airplane. And it came to me
at a time when I was middle class Mexican-American, perfectly capable of
dealing with the competition for jobs and the jobs came looking for me
because I was their brown man. And I threw the jobs back at them. I didn't
want those jobs.
And if that's the way we were going to discuss race in
America with these bureaucratic understandings of who is a Hispanic, without
even knowing what a Hispanic means, we are in real trouble in this country.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: But let me ask you, let me ask everybody, first of all, I'm glad you
said that because we are in the business of defining stereotypes tonight, so
that's good. I think all of us who have worked hard to get where we are
sort of traveled, I mean, when I was a young man, I was the only person on
my law school faculty that voted against our tenure policy because I never
wanted anybody to guarantee me a job. I told them they could tell me to
leave tomorrow and I'd go. I really identify with what you have done.
proud of that. But suppose you are the president of the university.
you like, other things being equal, to have a faculty that were not, that
were reasonably racially diverse and even more importantly, would you like,
other things being equal, to have a student body that reflected the way
America, the way the America of these young people was going to live in once
they graduated, and if you believed that and you didn't want to infuriate
people like you have been infuriated and make them feel like you felt, how
would you go about achieving that? You see, I think this is tough stuff. I
don't pretend my position is easy or totally defensible. How would you do it?
RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: I think you would start at the bottom of the social ladder. You
would start in first grade rather than at graduate school to try to decide
which ones of us get into law school. You would make sure America had a
system of education that saved children in first grade because we lose them
A question of quotas.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: I think that's absolutely right. Even though it sounds like a distinction without a difference,
goals are better than quotas and if you know what you want in a particular
situation, be it a workplace or a college class, then you are not stuck in
the exact situation Elaine mentioned in which you are doing something
patently unfair. Also the nice thing about goals is you don't always have
to reach them. The idea is to keep them, your eyes on them, and hope that
you get the proper and reasonable mix in a group.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Let's go back to this, I want to ask you to, because I want you to
go in here. Did you, what exactly was it did you resent? Did you resent
the fact they were going to guarantee you a job whether you were any good or
not, or did you resent the fact that they were looking for Hispanic faculty
RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: I resented two things. I resented the fact that I was being
rewarded for the exclusion of other people of my ethnic group. In other
words, I was an American minority at from a point which I was not a cultural
minority and the absence of those people, because nine people were not there,
I as a tenth person became 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 this job and you weren't
because I had darker skin and it didn't play on me. I was never a primary
victim of racial discrimination in this country. I belong to California and
I grew up among Portugese and Irish kids, never never a
primary victim and the name of the primary victims I was advanced to
ROBERTO SURO: I've had some of the same experience. Not quite as explictly. There were times when I had
consciously not wanted to be regarded as a Hispanic journalist and I don't
find that as a central part of my definition or qualification and even in
doing reportage. I hope that I could deal with anybody and when I went
overseas looking for assignments I very consciously didn't go to Latin America.
It draws this distinction that Richard raised, I think, between primary
victims of discrimination, people who have different kinds of
history and we are dealing with now how do you determine whether, you know,
affirmative action was started as a historical remedy.
speech here was about the foot race, was a reflection on history. And the
question is what do you do when you have people who don't have the same
history, but belong to a minority group? Among Latinos now you have people
who have experienced real discrimination and have a real history of
discrimination, places like south Texas, and you have people who arrived
yesterday, yet our system of looking at them puts them all together in one
JIM LEHRER: Cynthia, the differences, in other words, dealing with people
CYNTHIA TUCKER: Well, this may be one of those places where in fact the
black experience in America is distinct. I did grow up suffering discrimination,
real in your face. I grew up in southern Alabama under Jim
Crow, and now I am not offended by affirmative action programs at
all. I happen to think A, that that does not mean that the person is unqualified,
but I also remember only too well when people that I knew were denied
jobs because they were black, and so that is one of those places where
the black experience is different perhaps from any other experience in
this country with the possible exception of Native Americans.
JIM LEHRER: Elaine?
ELAINE CHAO: Clearly the history of this nation as we went through these racial
stages have been very tragic. No one would dispute that. And it's clear
also that we don't live in a perfect world in which there is equal treatment
for everyone, but I think it's absolutely incumbent upon all of us to
remember that that is the ideal, that equal opportunity must exist for
everyone in this country regardless of color, race, or creed, or whatever
and when we talk about diversity, what a wonderful notion it is. Of course,
most of us support it.
I for one definitely support it. But the issue is
how does one create this diversity and who gets to sacrifice as
Clarence mentioned and who gets to suffer, whereas diversity is implemented
right now, it's basically implemented through the American quotas, goals,
whatever they are called. Basically the touchstone word is we want it to be
representative of America, which means that it's 13 percent
African-Americans, 8 percent Latino Americans, 3 percent Asian-Americans and
perhaps Native, certain percentage of Native Americans and the rest white.
When we don't evaluate things and when we don't offer opportunity based on
merit, how do we decide otherwise and what becomes, who becomes
overrepresented minorities, who becomes underrepresented minorities, and
that just snowballs into differential treatment, preferential treatment,
where one group versus another. I think we should heed to the overall core
value of this country that equal opportunity applies for all and that
should be same standards for everyone.
CLARENCE PAGE: Well how do you define merit? It should be equal opportunity to get into Berkeley and UCLA. But how do you define merit? SAT's ACT's or other criteria?
ELAINE CHAO: No. I think very clearly -- merit.
Native Americans and affirmative action.
JIM LEHRER: Let me ask Sherman, where do Native Americans fit into the
affirmative action debate?
SHERMAN ALEXIE: You know, I get this question asked a lot. I always say if we were
taking the jobs and we were taking the stops in college then why aren't we
having jobs and why aren't we in college? I mean, you got people worrying
about medical school, people worrying about blacks being, getting into
medical school or law school and I walk through the hospital, the brown people are
mopping, so, you know, I think all this debate about affirmative action and
about quotas is illusionary and anecdotal.
There has never been a black
person who has been denied a job who has won a lawsuit against a company for
not hiring them because they were black and yet we are determining national
policy based on anecdotal lawsuits and on one example.
In Texas, we changed
a whole entire admissions system in the University of Texas based on one
person's losing a spot because of their job and it was one lawsuit that
decided that that turned the tide, and so if you want to talk about
affirmative action, that's sort of a legal affirmative action where a white
person has more power in the courts bringing a law suit against a university
would have than a black person not having a suit against a university or
not getting in. So I think --
ELAINE CHAO: Jim, I have to answer that if I could. There is a great database of
differential standards that do exist for different racial groups, that is
common practice in the admissions of universities today all across America
that is common practice for many of our educational facilities.
Institutions at the lower levels as well.
There's definitely no
questions that it's just not anecdotal. The Center for Equal Opportunity, and many others, have compiled substantial databases that do show this is part
of the racial policies of America today. I do want to say one thing
about I think --
JIM LEHRER: I want to go to the president.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: You want me to answer Clarence's things?
ELAINE CHAO: I was going to say, I think education-- Richard has a good point. Education. Education
is important. We ought not to talk about equal opportunity at this late
stage, but how do we get to, back to K and 12. Our schools are falling
apart. How do we fix our schools? How do we slash crime in our
neighborhoods? How do we create economic opportunity for everyone? I mean,
that's the real goal for our country.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: What were you going to say about that?
KAY JAMES: I was just going to say, Mr. President, I think the operative phrase was in
your question, all things being equal, wouldn't we like a diverse community,
particularly in the academic arena. I was looking around the table and
thinking gee whiz, I bet I'm the only one here at the table that needs to make
admissions decisions. And you are right. All things being equal, wouldn't
we like to have a diverse community? And I think that's where most people
in America are.
Most people in America, of course, acknowledge and have
high esteem for diversity and recognize that their lives are much more
enriched in that environment but what they have a problem with is feeling
like there are setasides or preferential treatment for some class of people
that exist for them only because of their race. As an example, I guess I
run across so many middle class African-American students who don't deserve
to have preferential treatment based solely on their race. They have had
They have been given every chance in America and so it
makes no sense to give them preference for purely race-based that maybe we
should look more at some of the programs that exist in America that give
treatment and preference to people out of poverty, that give preference and
treatment for a variety of reasons but to purely have race-based solutions
in America today doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
President Clinton: "We need a vocabulary that embraces America's present and past on this race issue."
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Let me go back. Let me go back to something Clarence said at the
beginning. As you pointed out, we talked about prejudice, discrimination,
and we started talking about diversity and all of that. I think you need,
if I could, go back to the very first thing that all of you started talking
about. We need a vocabulary that embraces America's future.
And we need a
vocabulary that embraces America's present and past on this race issue. And
we need to know when we're making distinctions, and then we need to fess up
to the fact that at least when it comes to Native Americans that if we
don't do something fairly dramatic, the future is going to be like the past
for too many people.
I mean, so...for example, I think most American,
whether they are conservatives or liberals or Republicans or Democrats,
would support the, for example, my budget proposal to give more resources to
the EEOC to get rid of the backlog, because all the surveys show that 85
percent of the American people or 90% or something believe that actual
discrimination against an individual person in the workplace is wrong based
Now, the real problem is that affirmative action, I think, now
since there are a lot of middle class blacks, middle class Hispanics, people
of color, that it's almost, people are not so sure in the workplace and the
school place whether it is furthering the goal of getting rid of the
lingering effects of discrimination, which is Cynthia's experience, and mine
as a southerner, ours, or whether it is now being used to create a more
diverse environment which people feel is a good thing, but not a good thing
if it is sticking it to this hard-working Chinese mother in San Francisco
and her children, who is raising her kids under adverse circumstances.
AndI guess one of the things that bothers me is that a lot, we need to take,
make these kinds of discussions practical and institution or community-based
because I'll say again, I think that we want, we want our children to grow
up to learn to grow up in the world that they will in fact live in.
Therefore, if you forget about discrimination for a minute, you can't ever
do that, but let's just assume there is no discrimination, America has a
wonderful system of higher education.
There are hundreds of schools I think you can get a world class undergraduate education in, and I believe that therefore it's worth having some policy to try to diversify the student
body. It's interesting to see what Texas did when the Hopwood decision came
down and they said, well, we don't want to have a totally desegregated set
of colleges and universities so we'll say the top 10 percent of every high
school can automatically go to any Texas institution of higher education.
That looks more merit based than the other decision because there are
segregated high schools and there are differences in test scores and all of
that, so I just would say we need to kind of, we need 10 hours to discuss
this. I would like to listen to you. But the only thing I want to point
out is the American people have got to decide. You know do they want a
housing project in Chicago, in this case the people of Chicago get to
decide, that's integrated, if so, if the people who don't get in, there do
they have reasonable alternatives?
That's one realistic thing. If a child
doesn't get into a good school that he or she wants to get into, do they
have an equivalent alternative? If they don't, you maybe have hurt them for
life. Is it worth it to get discrimination?
Or in the case, look at Kay's
problem. She runs a government department, makes these admissions
decisions in a school 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
goes to Harvard, it may not be the cultural environment.
KAY JAMES: They couldn't get barely the education they get at Regent.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Let's assume it's equivalent. The child may lose something
noneducational. So I mean-- all these things, I just want the American people
to stop talking about and whether it's real.
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