TAKING THE INITIATIVE
SEPTEMBER 30, 1997
For the first time since the introduction of "One America," the nation-wide program to promote dialogue on race, President Clinton met with his advisory board to discuss the ongoing initiative. After a background report by Kwame Holman, two members of the board, chairman John Hope Franklin and Angela Oh, discuss the goals of the commission.
JIM LEHRER: Now, the chairman of the advisory board, John Hope Franklin, an Emeritus Professor of History at Duke University; and board member Angela Oh, a Los Angeles attorney, who serves on the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission. Professor Franklin, how would you characterize what was accomplished at this meeting today?
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
September 30, 1997:
A backgrounder on the most recent meeting of the President's race advisers.
September 25, 1997:
A look back at school desegregation in Little Rock, Arkansas 40 years ago.
October 10, 1997:
Online Forum The President's race advisory panel on school desegregation.
July 4, 1997:
Online Forum The Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook joins Angela Oh in responding to the first online forum on race relations.
June 16, 1997:
Experts analyze the merits of the President's weekend speech on race relations.
May 20, 1997:
Betty Ann Bowser reports on the effects of dropping affirmative action programs in Texas universities.
May 20, 1997:
The authors of All That We Can Be: Black Leadership and Racial Integration the Army Way discuss social success in the military.
April 9, 1997:
A federal court in California upholds a state ban on affirmative action programs.
Feb. 21, 1997:
The Online NewsHour hosts a forum on the declining economic power of Hispanic Americans.
Jan. 15, 1996:
Charlayne Hunter-Gault talks to Benjamin DeMott about his book The Trouble with Friendship: Why Americans Can't Think Straight about Race.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of Race Relations.
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN, President's Advisory Board on Race: Well, we did a number of things. Not only were we stimulated and inspired by the President, his words, and the words of the Vice President, but we took stock of our staff and its work. We had a number of other persons, specialists in certain fields, psychologists, and demographers, who gave us some picture of, on the one hand, precisely what kind of population we are now and what we can expect in the future, so far as the diversity of our population is concerned.
And on the other hand, we had a person who--a specialist who told us a good deal about what people thought of race and what their attitudes were toward the problem of race. And then we had some others who talked about certain psychological problems that were related to the development of the relations between various diverse groups in the country and made suggestions about what we ought to do to shore up our whole effort to improve the climate and to move forward toward reconciliation and peace in the area of race.
JIM LEHRER: Ms. Oh, do you feel that your board is off on the track toward doing something that matters?
On the right track.
ANGELA OH, President's Advisory Board on Race: I really do. I think that it--I've said this many times before--I think it's quite courageous for this administration to take on an issue such as this and to be supportive of an initiative that really takes the American public on a journey that many people have not wanted to take, are resisting taking even privately. We're doing this in a very public way as members of this advisory panel in trying to engage the American people in discussion.
JIM LEHRER: Who's resisting?
ANGELA OH: I think there are segments of our population that don't believe that this is an issue that is--
JIM LEHRER: There is no racial problem?
ANGELA OH: Right. And I've had actually young people tell me this, college-educated people tell me that, you know, this is just not an issue of my generation. It seems to be something that's leftover from the 60's. This is what's been said to me. And I find that really to be a remarkable statement because I think while we did make some headway, it's very clear that we haven't realized even half of what we thought we were doing out of the civil rights movement that everyone knows occurred 30 years ago.
JIM LEHRER: Professor Franklin, do you see the race problem in the United States basically a white/black problem?
From Native Americans to new immigrants: ongoing problems in race relations.
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: It began as--well, I don't know that it began as a white/black problem. I suppose it began when Europeans encountered what we now call Native Americans. That's the beginning of it. You and I know something about that in the Southwest. But it began in the Northeast. But beyond that, the problem persists, there's no question about it. And then there was a long period of a black/white problem.
But surely from the late 19th century to the present the problem has been expanding as new groups came into the country and were, of course, not entirely welcome. And the welcome or the lack of welcome was expressed by people who had already developed notions about other groups--different groups, and they used these same things against them. For example, the hostility toward Asians in the 1890's and then this century was developed as a result of the experience which whites had with blacks. So they could--they could place all kind of restrictions on Asians as they came in from the Pacific area to the Western states.
JIM LEHRER: Ms. Oh, do you go about this on the premise that it is the minds of white people that have to be changed if there's going to be a change in the racial situation in this country, or does it go beyond that?
ANGELA OH: I think that when I talk about a new paradigm, a multi-faceted paradigm, I'm talking about introspection in and among the groups that are what we call minority groups in this country as well. There's a great deal of concern internally I know in the Asian-Pacific American community. We look--those of us that are active in this area--we look for ways in which we can educate within our community because in my particular instance, ethnic Koreans, over 80 percent of people residing here are foreign born. What do I represent? I represent the next generation because certainly the people who will be sitting in this chair in the next 20 or 30 years will have been born and raised here.
We need to do some internal education as well because that will also inform as to our relationship to people in the world. You see, I'm approaching this task as one that is looking toward the 21st century. Will America maintain its prominence as the last remaining superpower? Will America continue to be able to lead in economic and political arenas in ways that other countries who are going to be grappling with the same kinds of questions have not yet been able to do.
Race: an issue of the head or the heart?
JIM LEHRER: President Clinton said last week in the 40th anniversary of the Little Rock school situation that race remained very much an issue of the heart. Do you agree with that?
ANGELA OH: I absolutely agree with that.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, Professor Franklin?
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: Oh, yes. I think it's more than heart, but I certainly agree that--
JIM LEHRER: How are you and your fellow board members going to change the hearts of all the hearts that need to be changed on this issue?
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: Well, you first change the heads. We need a very extensive program of education. People need to know. I think the people develop attitudes which are in the heart on the basis of whatever information they have. And much of the information they have is wrong, is erroneous. Their notions about racial superiority and racial inferiority--their notions about certain characteristics of--certain racial characteristics for people--are inaccurate. Perhaps when they get accurate information, they then will consider their attitudes. And the moment they do that, then their hearts might change.
JIM LEHRER: Some specifics. As Kwame Holman said in the piece the President--let's make it very clear--he does not favor reparations or an apology to black Americans for slavery or segregation. Do you agree with the President?
ANGELA OH: Well, the business of the board is not to deal with remedies, or to look at it retrospectively the business of the board is to look prospectively. And this question is really not within the purview of the board's mission. Personally, I have said that I support the notion of reparations. And we've got precedence for it among the Japanese-Americans who were interned during World War II, but it is not a position of the board, nor it is an issue that we intend to take up.
JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about that?
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: Well, I have personal views about it which I think will not be the views of the board. I would be very happy, for example, if we could get some recognition of the fact that it isn't slavery; it's--it began before slavery. It certainly persisted after slavery, and an apology about slavery would not--would not make the point. The other thing is that in the 20th century we have had an enormous amount of hostility. And if it had been slavery, if slavery would have been the cause, it wouldn't be the problem. There are other causes that are very important but, you know, affirmative action was a kind of reparations and it's receiving enormous opposition to that, and if you can't even get a level playing field based on people's qualifications, I'm not certain that because we could get very far in the whole question of reparations.
JIM LEHRER: Is the board going to deal with affirmative action?
ANGELA OH: I don't believe that we are. This is a policy question that has been raised in California. Voters have spoken in that state. I understand that--
JIM LEHRER: Against affirmative action?
ANGELA OH: It was against affirmative action.
JIM LEHRER: Or at least it may take some responses back out.
ANGELA OH: I think we need to talk about what this room that one tool has been taken away and has been taken away so aggressively because I view affirmative action as only one in an array of tools that are available to us as a society. We've chosen to discard it for the moment in California. I don't think that the board is going to take that up. We're looking at broader strategies. We're looking at economic opportunity in education, for instance, in this first phase of our work. And in doing that we had the invited experts give us some informed insight into how we think about race relations in this country. And now we're looking for strategies that will reach our young people. And education is a vehicle also for that.
JIM LEHRER: So how are you going to do that? I mean, first of all, do you agree with her that affirmative action is not on your table at the board?
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: Affirmative action is really not on our table. The President's taken a very strong position on affirmative action. He spoken in San Diego in no uncertain terms in favor of it. And I would agree with him. That, of course, probably still--exists.
"All right. We talked about what you're not going to do. So what are you going to do?"
JIM LEHRER: In California. All right. We talked about what you're not going to do. So what are you going to do? I mean, how will you--how do you get up when you leave this city tomorrow to go now continuing your work as a board, are you--
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: I said earlier that one of the most important things we must do is develop programs of education.
JIM LEHRER: This is with kids in the schools?
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: For everyone.
JIM LEHRER: For everybody?
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: For everyone. We--I said before the North Carolina general assembly that we have Smart Start in North Carolina for children. We need Smart Start for grown people too, for older people, and we can't wait for the younger people to grow up, although we certainly are working with them. We can't wait for them to grow up. The older people need education too, for they are influencing the younger people, so that their education is terribly important. Let me look at various things. For example, today, the Secretary of Housing & Urban Development issued some orders and brought some suits which are for the purpose of correcting some of the evils in the area of housing. That can be done in a number of other areas, and we're looking at those areas and encouraging the President and his administration and various other levels of the government to do everything they can to use the powers they already have.
JIM LEHRER: How are you going to judge success? How is the board going to judge success, Ms. Oh?
ANGELA OH: Well, first, I think we're going to be able to measure it by the level of interest as we travel around the country. One of the things that we will be doing is traveling around the country as a board composed as a whole, as well as some of the individual members in holding various meetings and conversations, some with the President and possibly the Vice President and cabinet members present. The interest that is expressed in participating in those kind of activities will be one measure. We are also looking at trying to identify ways in which we can preserve what we're calling "promising practices," or "best practices." These are efforts that are being undertaken in various parts of the country where people are trying to find ways to build those very bridges that we're talking about needing to be built. And we would like at the end of the day to come up with a product that we can then distribute hopefully to the rest of the country.
JIM LEHRER: Transplanted to other--okay.
ANGELA OH: You know, ideas. This is a resource guide.
JIM LEHRER: Sure. All right.
ANGELA OH: Check this out. Does it fit for you?
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: Literally, scores and scores of examples of what's happening in local communities. And that's what I'm doing--I'm saying put those together and let other communities take patterns and models and replicate them in their own communities. We've got a lot of activity in that area.
JIM LEHRER: We'll have you back from time to time to see how it's going. Thank you both very much.
ANGELA OH: Thank you.
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: Thank you.