BEYOND BLACK AND WHITE
March 26, 1998
During two stormy days of meetings, President Clinton's commission on race faced Native Americans who were angry at the lack of representation in the national dialogue. Betty Ann Bowser reports on the Denver protests and the commission's efforts.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: This was the seventh in a series of forums the president's commission on race has set up around the country. Denver was chosen because of the changing demographics of the city. The Hispanic population is growing rapidly and is currently at 25 percent. The African American population is growing more slowly and makes up 14 percent of the city. And the number of whites is decreasing, although they are still in the majority at 68 percent. — where organizers of community leaders would lead a dialogue on stereotypes. But the discussion didn't quite go as planned. When the commission's chairman -- John Hope Franklin -- was introduced, dozens of native Americans yelled out from the audience.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
March 2, 1998:
Have things improved or worsened since the Kerner Commission was released?
December 19, 1997:
President Clinton meets with conservative leaders to discuss his race initiative.
December 3, 1997:
President Clinton holds a town hall meeting to discuss his One America initiative.
December 2, 1997:
A report on a camp working to better relations between the races.
November 25, 1997:
Cornel West and the NewsHour historians discuss the importance of civic symbols.
September 30, 1997:
Presidential race advisers discuss Clinton's One America initiative.
September 25, 1997:
A look back at school desegregation in Little Rock, Arkansas 40 years ago.
October 10, 1997:
The President's race advisory panel on school desegregation.
July 4, 1997:
The Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook and Angela Oh respond to your questions on race relations.
May 20, 1997:
Betty Ann Bowser reports on the effects of dropping affirmative action programs in Texas universities.
April 9, 1997:
A federal court in California upholds a state ban on affirmative action programs.
Jan. 15, 1996:
Benjamin DeMott discusses his book The Trouble with Friendship: Why Americans Can't Think Straight about Race.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of Race Relations.
Native Americans protest the president's race commission.
GLENN MORRIS: How can you have a national dialogue on race without one American Indian on your board?
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: You raise a question which I cannot answer because I have no appointive power at all.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: They were angered that the seven-person race commission appointed last June does not include a Native American. Native Americans make up 1-percent of the population of both Denver and the country as a whole. Energy Secretary and former Denver Mayor Federico Peña tried to intervene.
FEDERICO PEÑA: Let us have a constructive dialogue and give the doctor, the chairman, an opportunity to present his position.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But the shouting continued. For several minutes moderators lost complete control.
MODERATOR: Would the President's initiative on race staff please help us out here.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The protest ultimately forced Franklin to abandon his remarks. He turned the microphone over to Hispanic actor Edward James Olmos, one of the scheduled speakers.
EDWARD JAMES OLMOS: We have really not been able to understand our roots in this hemisphere because the indigenous people have not been given a voice ever. If--if only our children were allowed to understand--but we can't because 92 to 93 percent of all the history that we study from the first grade to the twelfth grade is European American studies, period.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The actor's speech did little to quiet the protesters. Finally, the moderators abandoned any hope of proceeding with the planned discussion. Instead, they invited members of the audience to come forward.
GLENN MORRIS: There can be no national dialogue on race without dealing with the first peoples of this hemisphere.
TINK TINKER: What Indian people insist on is a nation to nation government that respects who we are as peoples, respects our nationhood, respects our sovereignty, and begins finally to listen to who we are.
Community leaders react.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Several community leaders who had been scheduled to speak sympathized with the Native Americans' complaints but they said the forum needed to move on to other issues.
REV. GIL FORD: Sitting around here complaining isn't going to change a thing. We haven't changed one thing today in this time we've been up here for these several hours because we haven't been able to look beyond our own self.
SAUL ROSENTHAL: No one on this stage questions the pain and suffering of the nations that we have caused as Americans to others. That's not the question. The question is the healing question, and we haven't gotten to that yet. And I wanted to hear what these other folks thought, and I wanted to hear what some people out in the audience who were not Native Americans thought.
LYNN ELLINS: It should be the Anglos who should be listening. But, you know, they can't hear you, and they probably won't because of the noise.
Returning to the schedule.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: One panelist left the stage in frustration. The following day Native Americans moved their protest outside, where they were joined by about a dozen whites, Hispanics and African Americans. Inside, the commission went ahead with its plans to hear from a panel of experts from around the country.
FEDERICO PEÑA: We confront this morning the issue of stereotyping, which is only a small step from racism.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Most of the discussion by the panelists was an academic presentation of their research on racial issues.
FRANKLIN HOPE: One other thing that stereotypes can do is to essentialize group differences. And these are things that can--when they're identified with a group or linked to a particular group--
WOMAN: Could I ask you to just define for the audience what you mean by essentialize.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But there were a few moments of contentious debate.
CHARLES KING, University of Colorado: I'd like to discuss one thing that's very important in this -- that's affirmative action, which does exactly what stereotyping does. It doesn't take account of individual differences. No matter what the--whether the Hispanic is a rich Argentinian, who just arrived here--he gets the benefits, he gets racial preferences. He is--in a sense--the government calls him culturally and socially disadvantaged over some poor white fellow like me.
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: When you speak of affirmative action, affirmative action, does not, it's my understanding, does not apply to a whole group. It merely makes an opportunity available to individuals within that group. So that you don't--you don't have--
CHARLES KING: What you're just saying is just, more or less, empty rhetoric, Dr. Franklin. I heard you before.
PHYLLIS KATZ: I'm going to exercise my prerogative as moderator here. Affirmative action is certainly a worthwhile topic for discussion, but it's not quite relevant to the topic of how stereotypes are acquired.
Hearing from a frustrated public.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Many audience members felt it was time for them to start participating in the discussion. They didn't want to wait to speak during the allotted 30 minutes at the end of the meeting.
MARY VIV LAWSON: And you can tell that there is a tremendous need for people in this group to talk, to have all of our voices heard. And this format of a panel of power brokers and the citizenry is just not working.
JAI ROGERS: You are all educators. You exist in the world of academia. You can't expect people who maybe have never attained their master's or Ph.D. to understand everything that you're talking about. I have a bachelor's degree, and some of the stuff you're saying is going right over my head.
MICHAEL BERRY: Unless you have a lot of money, it's very difficult to fight discrimination in this state. So, I guess, my recommendations would be, for one, to have more of these types of dialogues, that if the president is really concerned about racism and diversity, that you have these type of forums more often.
VALERIE DANA: I'm the child of an indigenous woman from the Rapahannock Nation in Virginia and an African-American father. I'm married to an Iranian, and I have a Chinese daughter. Now under all the of stereotypes that makes me a double savage married to a terrorist with a scientifically gifted sneaky child. (applause) What I want to say, and I ask you to take this back: We must look at racism as a disease. It is a cancer. It is very good and noble that the President has started this initiative. But you cannot put a band-aid on to treat cancer.
Gov. Winter: "There is no band-aid solution."
BETTY ANN BOWSER: As the meeting concluded, the board members said the people's message had been heard.
GOV. WINTER: We understand that there is no quick fix; that there is no band-aid solution. But what I have seen and heard here in Denver, has instructed me beyond anything that you can imagine.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Chairman Franklin said in spite of the disruptions, he thought the meeting had been worthwhile.
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: I do think that the whole experience that the people are having is going to have a salutary effect on the problem of race; that is, that even when they don't listen to what we're doing up here, or even when they are thinking about some of their own problems, the fact that we have some kind of joining of issues, of the audience with the panel, and the audience with the board. That means that they take away something.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Early next month the Commission holds a series of forums on college campuses around the country.