RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: Mr. President, one of the things I think we need to do as
Americans is also wonder whether these terms we're using mean anything
anymore. The fact is we have been falling in love with each other for over
200 years in this country, from Pocohantas to Thomas Jefferson's children.
The fact is there are very few blacks in America, the fact is that
increasingly now I'm meeting young people who don't want to define
themselves as belonging to a race.
And the two largest Hispanic groups in
this country, a lot of Puerto Ricans, Mestizo Mexicans are entering this
country and injecting a kind of complexity into the whole way we understand
race as a singular thing, and begin to teach us that in fact we belong in
some future to many races.
Richard Rodriguez: "I think American young people are going to be redefining the very stolid, old Crayolas that have been coloring America."
RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: When I said that there is not a vocabulary for
this also in San Francisco I know this young woman who is -- I asked her
what her racial identity was, and she said her father is African-American
and her mother is Mexican.
I said, Well, what are you? She says, I'm a
Blaxican. And she says she is a Blaxican because there wasn't a word for it
yet. When you asked that question about young people, I think American young
people are going to be redefining the very stolid, old Crayolas that we have
been coloring America.
JIM LEHRER: Cynthia, and then to Roger on this question that the president
raised, the new dialogue, the new -- what is -- and Richard, what are the
new words we use? What do we talk about in this new world?
CYNTHIA TUCKER: Well, I think one of the things we have to do is just simply
acknowledge how much the world has changed. Richard's right. I have a
Mexican brother-in-law and my sister and he are about to have a baby, and
she, too, I suppose will be Blaxican, or whatever.
So I think, first of all,
more Americans need a stronger sense of history. I think there has to be an
acknowledgment that African-Americans and Native Americans especially have
suffered burdens others have not, but I also think that all of us, including
African-Americans, need to acknowledge how much the world has changed.
I think one of the reasons we hear so many interesting
things from California, Elaine, is because California is cutting edge. Some
days I look at California and I think that's the wave of the future and I
think oh, goodness, no. But Chelsea chose to go to school there.
ELAINE CHAO: It's a great place.
CYNTHIA TUCKER: Maybe California is doing okay. But I do think that the struggles
among the various ethnic groups in California are a cautionary tale, quite
JIM LEHRER: Roger?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: You know, when you think about how much the world has changed,
I'll flip into a Pollyanna-ish mode for the moment, but one way it has
changed is a lot of things have gotten better. Not only have they gotten
more interesting, not only have they gotten more complicated, all of which
is true, but you, I, you grew up in a world in which hatred was a usable
instrument, where people couldn't go to the same schools, you couldn't vote,
you couldn't do this and you couldn't do that, and not only that, it was an
instrument that was in some dark and deeply stupid way approved of by the
silence of the majority.
Now, as you say, that majority does not approve
We talk about racism in the country, you know, I'm not sure if
we're talking about anything like the same racism with which you two grew up
and of which we were apprised. It isn't to say that everything is getting
better or good as fast as we could want it, but I sometimes wonder how
important affirmative action as an issue for debate really is because I
think eventually it is going to be phased out anyway.
It's going to get
And that, to go back to Richard's irrefutable point to get down to the
youngest people and the best education for them, and all social programs
akin to that would seem to be part of the new vocabulary you called for.
The new racial vocabulary.
JIM LEHRER: Roberto, how would you describe the new vocabulary?
ROBERTO SURO: You know, we've been trying to describe the population and how it's changed. Roger
has a good point. We have to have a new vocabulary to describe our
attitudes. Discrimination is a different thing in this country than it was
20 years ago.
JIM LEHRER: In what way?
ROBERTO SURO: Well, if you take the African-American example, I'd say a young black
male who lives in an inner city experiences being black differently than a
middle-aged, middle class female who lives in a suburb. It's a different
experience of what it means to be a black in this country.
And when you're
talking about remedies of discrimination, when discrimination isn't simply
based that all black people will be excluded from certain institutions, as
it was, as was the case earlier in our lifetimes, you need more subtle
remedies, more complicated remedies, and more complicated vocabulary to
Where people are classified according to multiple
markers, not just skin color, but a variety of different things established
status in this country. And so the remedies have to establish each of those
things, I believe.
CLARENCE PAGE: I have to beg to differ. I'm a middle class black who lives in the
suburbs. In my suburb right now now, there are numerous complaints about
the youth being stopped by cops unfairly just as they are stopped by the cops in the
inner city. The L.A. riots, we had the discussion on this program, I talked
then about my 3-year-old son who everybody thought was quite cute, he looks
just like me naturally, how else could they think?
JIM LEHRER: I don't remember that coming up.
CLARENCE PAGE: You don't remember that part. I was thinking where will he be ten
years from now. My son is now 9, and now I have to say four years from now
because he is going to be a teenager, and today the most feared creature on
urban streets today is a young black male, and that is the future I am
looking toward with my son.
I want a better life for my son like everybody
else does, and the new vocabulary of race to me is very much like the old
vocabulary except it's got some new terms, like the gilded ghetto. The gilded
ghetto is what middle class blacks find themselves in out in the suburbs now
because the white folks who used to be their neighbors have moved farther
out, like Saul Alinsky did years ago.
Clarence Page: "I've got to say in 1998, we are still a segregated society; blacks and whites still live mostly separate lives."
JIM LEHRER: What do you tell your son? What do you tell your son about why this
CLARENCE PAGE: We treat race talk like sex talk around our house, Jim. We don't
bring it up unless our son brings up a question, and then we answer the
question he brings up, but we live fortunately in a desegregated, integrated
Our son is very well aware of racial difference, has been
since he was 4 years old, as all children are, but he doesn't see racial
value, he doesn't see one race being better than another, I hope. Certainly
by the associations he has, he doesn't reflect that. I hope that is our
But I have to say, and Richard and I always have this discussion,
and the vision he paints of the future is so beautiful, I hate to throw cold
water on it, but I've got to say in 1998, we are still a segregated society;
blacks and whites still live mostly separate lives. We're better off than we
were 30 years ago, thank God, but we are still -- outside of the workplace,
outside of the workplace, we still live largely separate lives. Why in the
workplace have we got such associations? Because of affirmative action.
That's a big reason for it.
RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: In 1998 we are still unable to say that in fact we are part of
each other's bloodstreams. In 19 -- this is -- this is the heritage 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 any difference. Well, I get
stopped by police in San Francisco when I go jogging before dawn. The last
time I got stopped was by two black policemen, and I think to myself, this
is a very complicated society we live in.
CLARENCE PAGE: Who said blacks couldn't be prejudiced? Of course.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: You know, I'm very sympathetic with what you say, and I want it to
be, as you say, and I agree that we have all kinds of overlapping
stereotypes that we haven't even talked about. One of the things that came
up after the Los Angeles riots, you know, the attitudes of the
African-Americans to the Korean grocers and the Arab grocers and the
Hispanic customers and all that, you know, it's a lot more complicated than
it used to be.
But it is a factual matter, if you just look at prison
population, you wanted to bring that up, if you look at all the unemployment
rate among young single African-American males without an education, if you
look at the physical isolation of people in these inner city neighborhoods,
we have the lowest unemployment rate in 28 years, there are still New York
City neighborhoods where the 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 bipartisan
consensus in this country that we will do those things which we know will
stop another generation of these kids from getting in that kind of trouble.
And my best model now, I guess is what they're trying to do in Chicago in
the school system and what they've done in Boston with juvenile justice
system, but in Boston they went for two years without one kid under 18 being
killed with a gun. Unheard of in a city that size.
So, and if you look at
what they did in Houston, we need to at least adopt those strategies that
will invest money in keeping these kids out of trouble in the first place so
to try to keep them out of jail and give them a chance to have a good life,
and if there's disproportionate manifestation of race, then so be it, then
we ought to have an affirmative action program, if you will, that invests
in those kids' future and gives them a chance to stay out of trouble to me,
it's the kids that are being lost altogether and the disproportionate
presence of racial minorities among those kids that is still the most
disturbing thing in the world. Because if you get these kids up there, 18,
19, heck, they'll figure out things, our kids will figure out things we
weren't smart enough to figure out.
That's how society goes on, that's
progress is all about, but I think we have to recognize that's still a big
race problem in this country, especially for African-Americans.
Talking openly about race.
JIM LEHRER: Clarence raised the point, Sherman, about race talk in his family,
and Mr. President, you have said you had trouble getting people to talk
bluntly and honestly about race?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Yeah. We don't talk alot about it.
JIM LEHRER: How do you get people to talk about race?
SHERMAN ALEXIE: Just walk into a room, I think people are always talking about
race. It's always coded language. They call it class. Or they use coded
language. Well, nobody nobody says that's a black person, let's talk about
being black. It always ends up coming up. Usually, what they will do is come up to
me and tell me they're Cherokee.
But that's usually what it amounts to.
Nobody talks about Indians. So I don't have to worry about that. We grew
up not being talked about at all, and we're still not talked about. You
know, I walked by the locker room out there and there is a Washington
Redskins bumper sticker out there on a locker, and I thought nobody cares
JIM LEHRER: But do Indians talk about race?
SHERMAN ALEXIE: We are actually probably a lot more conservative and racist than
any other single group of people. We are much more reactionary. It's
funny. Politically, we give our money to the Democrats, but we vote for Republicans.
JIM LEHRER: Kay James, how do you get honest talk? Do you think there is
honest talk about race?
KAY JAMES: You have to get people talking about their personal experience. It
gets there pretty quickly. Everyone has a story to tell. I've noticed
around the table even today that as we talk about race in America and the
distinctives of being African-American and that it's really a black-white
issue, I guarantee you if you're bringing an Irish American in here they
would tell you they've experienced discrimination in this country, and if
you get -- you talk to people in the Jewish community and they'll say, well,
you know, our experience in America has been this, and so when you get
people to talk out of their own experience, it gets there fairly quickly.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Yes. Go ahead.
ELAINE CHAO: I think the bottom line is, I think there has to be not allocation of
programs based on preferential treatment at all, but that there be equal
opportunity, and going back to Clarence's issue about merit.
JIM LEHRER: We're talking about talking bluntly about race.
ELAINE CHAO: I think this is part of it and I think the president wanted me to answer
Clarence's Thomas--sorry--Clarence's question about merit--
JIM LEHRER: I have to interrupt you all now and to say thank you, Mr. President.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: We're just getting warmed up.
JIM LEHRER: I know. I know.
ELAINE CHAO: However merit is defined.
JIM LEHRER: But from Washington this has been a conversation with President
Clinton about race. I'm Jim Lehrer. Thank you and good night. And as you
see, may the conversation continue.
Back to the beginning.