BEGINNING THE DIALOGUE
December 3, 1997
President Clinton and his race advisory panel held their first town meeting in Akron, Ohio. Following a background report, Phil Ponce and two experts examine at President Clinton's national dialogue on race and the impact it is having across the country.
PHIL PONCE: This afternoon President Clinton and his race advisory panel traveled to Akron, Ohio, to hold their first town meeting.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
December 3, 1997:
Linda Chavez and Christopher Edley debate President Clinton's 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 joins 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.
Beginning the dialogue.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Last June, at the University of San Diego I challenged all Americans to join me for at least a year in addressing the enormous challenge of making one America out of all of our racial, ethnic diversity in this country.
PHIL PONCE: It was in June that the President announced plans to start a year-long public dialogue on racism in the United States. He created a seven-member panel that will spend a year studying the problems of race in society ranging from workplace issues to equality in higher education. But recently, the panel has come under criticism for not listening to a diversity of opinion. The President and his panel picked this Midwestern city because of its community-wide initiative to deal with race relations in schools and in the workplace. Sixty-seven members of the local community representing a variety of ethnic backgrounds, ages, and professions were picked to participate in the first of a series of town meetings.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: And we're beating the odds so far with all of our problems. But I think it is very important that we understand that this is something that we have to keep dealing with honestly and openly. What we're trying to do here is drop a pebble in the pond and have it reverberate all across America.
Diversity in the university.
PHIL PONCE: The President first called on a local university student to tell how he has been personally affected by racism.
McHUGHSON CHAMBERS, Student: I'm an electrical engineering major at the University of Akron. I'm also biracial. And I think that the only time race ever comes up in my mind is when I'm reminded of it by other people. Just in terms of like experiences where I'm discriminated against, or just treated differently because of what I look like. I've been to banks where I've given them a check to deposited from my mother and, you know, I mean, it was a pretty, you know, pretty low sum of money, and I've given it to them and they put holds on them unnecessarily. And I've seen them talking to people, you know, calling on the telephone. And just, it really seems like sometimes that people only realize half of who I am.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: What do you think about what he said? Do you think there's still discrimination here at this school, here in this community, here in the country? And do you think that most people want to live in an integrated society?
JONATHAN MORGAN, Student: Yes. I do honestly think that there's still discrimination in this country to a point. There are a lot of prejudiced people out there that still remain. And my own honest opinion about that is that those people are the older people, the older generations.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: So, therefore, if you worked at a bank and a black person came in with a check, you wouldn't necessarily think it ought to be held?
JONATHAN MORGAN: Yes. I don't think I would give him a hard time. But at the same time I have my own prejudices. Whereas, if I'm walking downtown on a street and I see a black man walking towards me that's not dressed as well, I may be a little bit scared.
PHIL PONCE: The President then turned to two ministers, who have tried to use their inter-racial friendship as a role model for their respective congregations. Pastor Ronald Fowler told how his views on race were changed early in life.
REV. RONALD FOWLER: And part of my positive experience is being rescued from a drowning experience by a white person. Now, that experience gave me an outlook, a view of life that has literally transformed my whole life, the way I respond to issues. Part of what Pastor Larson and I have been trying to say is, how could we be intentional in creating a relationship, an atmosphere in which we could be free to talk about racial issues and getting people to dialogue about it, so that we can keep crossing boundaries and building bridges.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: What impact has your relationship had on the people in your churches?
REV. KNUTE LARSON: It's been good, only for those who get intentional and do something. And our chief leader, we urge you to keep modeling it and every leader in America. The best thing that happens is not legislation but because we've stood together and expressed our love to each other and spend time together. It's got to be intentional. Anybody in both churches has followed, and I always kid too that our church is teaching theirs how to sing. And that's a help.
REV. RONALD FOWLER: Well, I think we both have been amazed how call it catching the spirit--whatever you want to--label you want to put on that--our modeling our relationship, our talking about it, our creating forums in which people could study together about racial issues, celebrate it in worship experience, come together in friendship settings in homes, I think has created a climate of acceptance.
Beyond the Black-White issue.
PHIL PONCE: The discussion then opened to include issues affecting other groups.
VANESA CORDERO, Coordinator, Family Violence Program: This is not black and white America, I mean, from my own opinion. I know it's a strong opinion, but we are a cultural mixed United States, and it's hurt me all these years that I've been in the United States since 1957 that all I hear is black issues and white issues, and we as Hispanics--I am a Puerto Rican born, and I was raised in Brooklyn, New York, and yes, there is true what the young lady said, if you speak English, they want to know why you don't sound like Rosie Perez. I go to court because I am a paralegal and I advocate for juveniles. And I see the discrimination on children.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Are they treated differently in what the judges do to them by race?
VANESA CORDERO: I have seen children that are white and have gotten off easier than a Hispanic. And I know--my son was discriminated against because he was Hispanic.
UNIDENTIFIED YOUNG MAN: Mr. President, I went to a high school that was 60 percent Asian American, and now I live in Akron, and one of the things I've learned is that the issue for Asian Americans is that we're considered foreign. I'm a fifth generation American, and often when I meet white people, they say, you're more American than I am. And I want to say, well, thank you, but that's not really news to me.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: President Clinton asked the people on stage for solutions.
DERWIN HAMMONDS, Student: The most important thing I think that we need to do is as a society we need to realize that outside of dedicating our efforts to where--the point where we do not tolerate racism and we are--we look at it with utter disgust, and we put social dampeners or pressures on individuals who are racist--
BRIAN WILLIAMS, Superintendent, Akron School System: And I support that recommendation for education being the key to overcoming all of our problems in this nation. I also strongly recommend that we put our emphasis with the little ones, the youngest of our youngsters, make them readers by the time they get to the fourth grade, and I think a lot will come along with that, will close that gap where are under-represented with minorities in high level science and math courses at the high school level if we could teach them to read at the elementary level.
UNIDENTIFIED OLDER MAN: I would like to talk about racism as being honest. Once we become honest with ourselves as far as racism we can conquer. We must start addressing honestly and start working with culturally specific programs, so that we may learn from one another.
Affirming Affirmative Action?
PHIL PONCE: The President closed the session by raising the contentious issue of affirmative action and racial preferences.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: How many of you believe we should continue some sort of affirmative action policy with regard to admissions to colleges and universities? Okay. How many of you don't believe we should? What about out here?
PHIL PONCE: That prompted the President to pose a question directly to Abigail Thernstrom, an opponent of affirmative action.
ABIGAIL THERNSTROM, Author: Americans believe in affirmative action. They don't believe in preferences.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Abigail, do you favor the United States Army abolishing the affirmative action program that produced Colin Powell? Yes or no. Yes or no. I get asked all these hard questions all the time. I want to do it.
ABIGAIL THERNSTROM: I do not think that it is racial preferences that made Colin Powell. The overwhelming majority of Americans want American citizens--
PRESIDENT CLINTON: He thinks he was helped by it.
ABIGAIL THERNSTROM: --to be treated as individuals. And we've heard the voices here.
PHIL PONCE: The panel plans to hold several more town meetings before submitting a report to the President.