March 1, 1996
NewsHour regular Clarence Page on Race and Identity in America
Pulitzer-Prize winning columnist Clarence Page answers your questions about race in America. In his new book, "Showing My Color: Impolite Essays on Race and Identity," Page says that racism has become a Rorshach word, a linguistic ink-blot test in modern discussions. How you use it or hear it reveals something about you, who you are, how you view the world, and how you don't --and the attempt to promote "colorlessness" has been as destructive in its own way as ultra-separatism.
Page notes that the very American question, "What are you?" invites different answers in different places. "In Chicago... it invites an ethnic answer. In the District of Columbia... it invites a political answer. In Cambridge and other college towns, it invites a scholarly answer. In Manhattan, it invites an occupational answer. In Los Angeles, it invites a lifestyle answer.... In the rural South, it invites a religious denomination answer. Identity is all these things and more within the dark recesses of the individual human soul, pulled and tugged by a society that reveres the opposing human values of individuality and the need to belong." (p. 19)
The prescription? Page recommends cultural sharing, and a focus on encouraging all Americans to be "color-curious" rather than color-blind or color-bound.
"Until Americans are willing to show a little more genuine curiosity about the joys and pains of one another's ethnic and racial experiences, we will continue to build walls between one another, and true integration will continue to be nothing more than an elusive dream." (p.45)
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A Question from David Sudmeier of Seattle, WA:
It is my observation as a classroom teacher that few adults - and even fewer children - have a clear sense of their own ethnic/racial identity. We have lost contact with our past, and have come to view only the present and future as relevant to our existence. How can we meaningfully discuss race as a society when we cannot fathom our individual backgrounds? I wonder if this loss of historical connection has had an effect on the discussion of race in our nation.
Clarence Page Responds:
Credit or blame the so-called "melting pot" effect, for the lack of ethnic background knowledge so many Americans have today. It only widens the divide between whites and people of color, in my view, since it makes color consciousness easier to deny.
I write a lot more about this in my book. Let me know what you think. Thank you for your interest.
A Question from Don Paulsen of Sacramento, CA:
At what point do we judge that affirmative action has succeeded?
Do you support the implementation of affirmative action goals for recent immigrants who by ethnic origin qualify?
What standards, other than merit and accomplishment, should be used in this society?
I value your opinions, although politically we are probably very far apart. I feel you have risen in your field do to hard work and talent. I would appreciate you views on the three above questions.
Clarence Page responds:
Thank you for your questions.
It is hard for me to answer how long I think we will need affirmative action, since there are so many different types and circumstances. Some of it already is being phased out, as it should be.
On the other hand, I am of the belief that as long as we have gross racial disparities, we should target aid to the neediest in our inner cities, etc. This includes college and job recruitment, investment, etc. This is necessary not because of the goodness of our hearts but for the future of our UNITED states.
By the way, despite the allegations made by my buddy Pat Buchanan and other conservative critics, there is nothing in affirmative action that calls for unqualified people to get jobs or scholarships. It is just a rather modest effort to level the playing field for those who, up until the past three decades, would not even have been considered.
As for immigrants, that depends on whether you see affirmative action as a reparations program or a diversity program. If diversity is your goal, you should be looking for a few immigrants to sprinkle into the mix, too, regardless of what their color is.
I could say a lot more... and I do in my book.
A Question from Mark Schuermann of Washington, D.C.:
Being "color curious" is often easier said than done. After working for a well-known and controversial African-American political figure, I became sensitized to the problems in the African-American community - high poverty and unemployment rates and the constant battles that African-Americans faced solely because of the color of their skin.
Although I'll never know exactly what it means to be "black in America," to a certain degree my experience enabled me to walk a mile in their shoes. When I raised these issues with close friends (and I was by no means proselytizing), ultimately all of them would mention that I was becoming centered on black issues to the exclusion of others. This eventually has a chilling effect because many whites do not want to be curious about blacks. How do we overcome this?
Clarence Page responds:
Welcome to the club of those who try to get the members of the privileged to become more interested in the less privileged.
Every time we have a racial eruption like the OJ Simpson verdict, I realize that many white people would rather not be bothered with this nation's simmering racial divide until it hits them in the face. (Pardon my mixed metaphors.)
Instead of waiting for our melting pot to boil over, we need to turn down the heat.
A Question from Marty Zoubek of Terre Haute Indiana:
I think one of the biggest causes of prejudice - racial and otherwise - is FEAR.
I have cerebral palsy, my wife is confined to a wheel chair as a quadraplegic. We are, therefore, in society's eyes, DIFFERENT, and thus, to be FEARED, unless you know us personally.
What is the ROOT of this fear of difference? (That anyone who associates with me will somehow inherit cerebral palsy, or that simply BECAUSE your skin is of a darker color that you will AUTOMATICALLY accost someone? You and I both know that this is not so...)
How do you and I, and the rest of society, resolve this problem?
I think the resolution to the problem of race relations lies in the show-casing of our talent, and of our ACCOMPLISHMENTS, rather than our short-comings, where society ALREADY has its collective eyes focused...
Clarence Page responds:
Fear of difference is a very basic human impulse, I have concluded. It is a tragic reflex that is the opposite of the "affinity impulse" that I wrote about in my recent book. It divides people into "us" and "them", and forms the basis for racism, sexism and other forms of xenophobia.
The best we can do with xenophobes is to impress them with our relentless visibility and humanity.
Keep the faith,
A Question from Janet Butts of Stone Mountain, GA:
I could not agree more about a "colorless" society. We live in a world where cultural, racial, religious differences are real. They can not be, and should not be, ignored. I love my heritage as an African-American in this society. I come from people who can dance, sing with soul, make some of the best fried chicken and love watermelon. I've never been ashamed of this. However, let us never lose sight that there is more to each one of us than our identity (racial, religious, etc.).
I think that as an African-American, I don't need racial curiosity. I work in a predominantly White environment. I do have a chance to socialize with White colleagues after work (I'm usually the only spot of color). If I want to make it in this country, I have to be able to steer my way through White America. I suppose this is true for every minority. I think that White people need to be a little more racially curious! I would dare to say that my colleagues know little to nothing about African-American society, customs, and heritage beyond the pathetic images they see on the six o'clock news and the few glimpses they see of African-Americans they work with. I'm positive that this would solve a lot of racial strife and tear down stereotypes. When you see people as human AND different (not bad), you can view them in an entirely new way.
Clarence Page responds:
Thank you for your e-mail. I loved it. Sorry I missed you during my recent book tour in Atlanta.
Yes! It is crucial that whites, blacks, Asians, Hispanics, etc., be "color conscious" if this society is to work during the coming multicultural century.
Keep the faith,
A Question from Andrew Trump of Fargo, ND:
With the recent controversy from the The O.J. Simpson verdict and now a case in Canada where some black youths, being found guilty of kicking a white youth first into a coma and who is now disabled due to the alleged beating--many of the young blacks' friends and family are saying that their verdicts stem from their skin color exclusively. Why is this coming to be a more and more common reaction of minority members in such instances?
Historically, yes, blacks were railroaded into patently false verdicts or questionable ones to feed a hatred by many whites concerning blacks. The Scottsboro boys and what happened to all too many people in the American South during the 1950s and 1960s plus accompanying black militancy attest to that. What do you ascribe the recent tendency by many black and other minority members to automatically blame their guilty verdicts solely on skin color?
Why, do you think, there many members of the black and other minority communities who see ONLY racism and conspiracy in the judicial branch, especially if a guilty verdict comes down? What will this mean, in your opinion, to the temper of the country's courtrooms?
Your commentaries on both NPR and PBS are insightful for me, a white, and I always look forward to the program when it is announced that you are being broadcast, whether on radio or television.
Clarence Page responds:
I suspect that a major reason why blacks continue to suspect bias in laws, police and juries is that there really is a considerable amount of bias that continues to infect our laws, police and juries. Examples abound too much for me to recount them here. I have written columns about several in recent months, including a black college athlete who was beaten by three white men in a rural Maryland convenience store under a security camera's watchful eye, yet all three were let off by an all-white jury a month after the OJ Simpson trial. Outside of Sporting News, ESPN and my column, no one else bothered to cover it at the time (although the Baltimore Sun did a story after my column ran in that newspaper.) We have come a long way on race in America, but we still have a lot of work to do.
A Question from Jerome G. Sierra of Oakland, Ca:
I am a student at Laney College and I am taking a class titled "Perspective On American Racism."
I would like to know what is your perspective of American Racism. Do you think that Racism has an economic impact in this country? Do you think that Racism is profitable?
If yes, who benefits of Racism? Do you think that Racism is necessary for the survival of our economy?
Clarence Page responds:
Thank you for your inquiry. Sorry I missed you during my recent
book tour to Marcus Books in Oakland. We had a big crowd talking
about just the issue you write about : Racism.
I elaborate on it in my new book, "Showing My Color",
in an essay called "The R-Word." Suffice it for now
to say that there is a lot of confusion about racism, beginning
with the meaning of the word. To avoid the confusion, I prefer
to use the words "prejudice" or "racial (white,
Racism is, in my view, a system that perpetuates white supremacy in America and it will not end until all of us commits ourselves to becoming "anti-racist." No excuses.
A Question from Robert Catherina of Santa Barbara, CA:
I have consistently enjoyed your thoughts and reflection.
Cultural sharing is a nice idea. My jaded belief is that all the people that would most benefit from sharing, won't do it and those that least need to do it, will.
Clarence Page responds:
Thank you for your thoughts on cultural sharing.
You may be right, but it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness, eh?
Marjorie Parent Greenman
This is really not addressing the subject of this forum, I just wanted to ask you a more personal question. I read one of your columns and in it you mentioned LeSourdsville Lake. Wow, did that take me back! But I can't remember where it is -- is it outside of Dayton?, Springfield? I can't sleep until I find out.
When I was in high school to Indian Lake and Russell's Point (ring a bell?) was a major part of becoming an adult. Thinking back on it, I can't recall a single black face enjoying the amusement park or the other various recreational places at the lake. For that matter, it was rare to see a black anywhere. I went to a parochial school and there weren't a lot of black Catholics in Lima, Ohio. When I return to Lima to visit, I still see few and then it's usually at a shopping center. And I'm always stunned. Living and working in a large university town is living in a microcosm and it's easy to forget that the whole country is NOT like this. (This is not to say that Ann Arbor is free of racism, it isn't.)
My husband and I enjoy your columns, your appearances on the Newshour and most of all, your appearnace on Politically Incorrect. I hope you don't mind my taking up your time on the forum with such a mundane question such as "Where is LeSourdsville Lake?"
Clarence Page responds:
What a delight it was to receive your message!
To relieve your curiosity, I am happy to report that LeSourdesville Lake WAS located on Ohio Rt. 4, about halfway between Middletown and Hamilton, just south of the junction with Rt. 747, but I am sorry to report that the park is no more. It closed in the late 1960s or early ''70s, just like almost all the other old-style parks in America, just before the new wave of Great America-style ride-all-day one-price theme parks came along. The "column" you read was not a column. It was an excerpt from my new essay-memoir book, "Showing My Color; Impolite Essays on Race in America." I was writing about LeSourdesville as a place that was restricted to whites-only in my youth in the 1950s, an early racial wound. Perhaps this explains your inability to recall seeing any blacks there? As I write in my book, LeSourdesville Lake offered me an early example of how Jim Crow segregation and other forms of racism could be a deep and painful presence in black lives in ways that could be easily ignored by whites because they were not its targets. The result is that we grow up in parallel universes that inhibit racial dialogue instead of encouraging it. I hope you get a chance to see the rest of the book at your local bookstore or library and will let me know what you think.
Christopher J. Malone of New York, NY
As Black History Month closes, I think we should all be asked to remember MLK's words - to be judged not by the color of our skin but by the content of our character. Remember that these words came in the midst of a speech we in America know as the "I Have a Dream" speech. That is telling, because it seems that we in the United States can never get past the topic of race and the "color of our skin" to the content of our character.
Clarence Page is on to something when he says that we should be more curious about the "other"; empathic understanding - to place yourself in one's shoes, stop and look around at what you see - is very important here. But on the individual level this only means that the striving to reach the content of our character is lost; we have to learn to treat each other as the "whoness" of a person's being rather than the "whatness" of a person's appearance. I am afraid that Clarence Page's solution does not go far enough in this striving.
I do not suggest here that we should all become "color-blind". We have to realize that Blacks have been excluded from the club since their forced arrival here. To forget this fact and hence to become "color-blind" in this regard is just plain wrong. Whites for the most part deep down believe that blacks do not want to become "like us" or even like other minorities.
Looking at the question of race on two levels - individually on the one hand and institutionally on the other - does not necessarily mean that there is a contradiction. It is complex, but then again race in this country is and always has been complex.
To Christopher J. Malone:
Thank you for your thoughtful e-mail message.
Now, let's think this through a little farther: When MLK spoke of the "content of our character," he did not mean to exclude the salient fact that the way we deal with the vagaries of skin color in this color-CONSCIOUS society is an important TEST of our character. Therefore the two--color and character--cannot be viewed as mutually exclusive criteria for judging the character of individuals as long as we have a color-conscious society. You're right. It's complicated. The bottom line is that we Americans do a better job these days of getting along as individuals than we do as groups. Until we do a better job of group relations, we shall continue to see barriers rise between individuals.
Mary Connor of Austin, TX
In short, my experience convinces me that only physical integration -- truly living, working, and learning together -- really succeeds in getting folks to accept differences (of which race is but one) at a deep and permanent level. As long as THEY live on that side of town and WE live on this side, I despair of any lasting progress. Media IS powerful, but nothing like rubbing elbows and sharing air.
To Mary Connor:
Thank you for your recent E-mail thoughts.
I agree with you One Hundred Percent. Unfortunately, the most integrated part of American life these days is the workplace. We go home to largely separate lives and the misunderstandings and resentments continue. We still have a lot of work to do.
Jeremy Wiygul of Louisiana
I'm curious as to how you see colorlessness as destructive. I'm a student at a major state university, and I been part of a microcosm of attempted solutions dealing with the "race problem." I quote the term because it has become so monolithic that the meaning has become blurred, at least for me.
In the time I have spent here, I have been everything from a guilty white liberal to a reactionary using code words such as the "welfare state" to express my displeasure with the way I perceived myself as being treated. Like the answers provided by the university, my own methods of dealing with race fell short of the goal, that is true tolerance. But now I find the best way to deal with race is to make it a non-issue, to discard it totally as a paradigm for evaluating people and events. I am not, however, making myself willfully ignorant of different cultures.
I like to think I explore those cultures when I come into contact with them as much as possible; however, what I do not do is say to myself, "this is a black man, I wonder what his life was like?" Instead I simply think of this person as basically the same as myself, but with possibly radically different experiences.
To Jeremy Wiygul:
Thanks for your recent e-mail.
I suspect your question as to how I see "colorlessness" as "destructive" can be answered in full by reading my new book, "Showing My Color: Impolite Essays on Race and Identity." For now, I would say that your personal odyssey (Spelling?) sounds like many others I have heard. Discarding race in evaluating others ignores how much impact race continues to have in American life and I don't think that helps any of us understand the problem or each other. We get along better as individuals than we do as groups these days, but group problems get in the way of our individual relationships. I think Martin LUther King understood that we cannot judge the content of people's "character" in a color-conscious society without evaluating how they deal with the vagaries of "color." By not asking "This is a black man; I wonder what his life is like?" you enjoy one of the privileges of the majority. When you are in the racial-cultural minority trying to work in the mainstream you cannot afford to ignore what life is like for the members of the majority. Again, thanks for your inquiry. Let me know what you think of the book.
Christian Antalics of Wayne, PA
I find your concept, "to be "race curious" very intriguing and worthy of discussion.
Race relations in America are very important to me because I have a vision of America that transcends race, and because my wife is African-American and we have a son together.
Philosophically, I do not believe that "race" really exists. Rather, I believe that each of us is different yet fundamentally identical. In other words, humanity is painted across the globe in a broad, colorful swath. Humans developed the concept of race as an expedient: on one hand to unify, and on the other to justify the subjugation of the "other" person.
However, racial identity in America is very strong, too strong to brush it aside, as I would, with a comment like, "race doesn't exist." Therefore, encouraging "racial curiosity" may be a useful tool in the effort to get people who identify themselves on a racial basis to begin associating with other people. As was my experience, these people may begin to realize that complex, intelligent human beings necessarily transcend the stereotypes and bounds of "race."
Clarence Page responds to Christian Antalacs:
Thank you for your e-mail message.
I agree with your evaluation of race as a social, political and mental construct, not a physiological reality. So do scientists. I am most curious to find out what you think of my new book, "Showing My Color: Impolite Essays on Race and Identity," particularly the last chapter, "What is Race For?" which deals, among other issues, with the contradictions society places on multiracial children.
Paul Henriques of Tokyo, Japan
Although not having access yet to the book here in Japan yet, I have a few ideas about cultural sharing. In theory it sounds most promising. In practice, however, I have a few doubts. Compounding the problems of race are the not insignificant matters of growing economic inequality, class and fear. How many white people of different social classes have many opportunities (or desires) to meet and discuss anything, let alone "cultural sharing," which might also be useful for them. Neighborhoods are divided along the lines of race and class. What do rich and poor people have to say to each other? I should hope there would be a lot but how and where do they meet to do this.
To Paul Henriques,
Thanks for your recent e-mail message. I certainly hope you have access to my book in Tokyo soon (Urgent requests to your local bookstore or library always help.) since it answers your question more effectively than I can here. Anyway, cultural sharing is something we do in order to cross and reduce the barriers to cultural understanding. We do it every day in every way we can, beginning perhaps with the workplace, since that is the most desegregated part of American society,b ut extending to schools and other contacts. Rich and poor always have had much to say to each other. Witness the arts. What is jazz and blues and rap fandom but attempts to see the cultures of others through the peephole of art? The main component of effort is desire. If we want to get to know each other better, we will find a way. Unfortunately too few people have the desire.
Alice Dominguez of Sunnyvale,CA
Many of us have been taught to celebrate our differences of race and culture in school, at home, and by society at large. Yet even an emphases of multi-cultural understanding can be construed as racist and prejudiced. How can we share cultural identities when cultures themselves are mixed up and unclear? We do need to communicate with and enjoy the company of people with different cultures and values, but we need to do so without grouping one another into categories that presume to lump whole races together. By focusing on our cultural differences and cultural identities we should be careful not to widen the gap.
To Alice Dominquez
Thanks for your recent e-mail. I agree with you 100 por cento. I wish I had a short, pithy answer to the issue you raise, but I don't. I wrote a book instead. Suffice it for now to say that, if we really want to get to know others better, across racial and social and cultural lines, we will find a way. The hardest part is to realize that we have a problem and need to make the effort to resolve it.
Unfortunately, too few of us have the desire.
Eddie Roman, Chicago, ILL
I happened to catch you on the Catherine Jhons show and really found it to be a treat. There are few people that share some of the same views that I do, and you are one of them. The point of this letter is to say that the institutional racism that exists in this country is a fact that many whites fail to see. This leads to the continued legacy of racism in many facets of society although many whites aren't actively promoting it. It also blinds many people when racism rears its head in some form or another.
I'm Puerto Rican and find that many whites have racist attitudes and show these when they think I'm "white". They are also very cautious around me when they find out what I am.
I have to run to class but I look forward to reading your book as soon as I scrape the money together!
To Eddie Roman:
Thanks for your recent e-mail message. I really enjoyed it.
I hope you are able to scrape the coins together to buy my book, too. I know how it is to be a poor (as in, low-income) student. Otherwise, there's always the paperback edition, I hope, although I have no idea yet as to when one will be available.
Craig Taylor of Toronto, ONT
It use to be in the middle ages that feuding lords would send their children to live with the other lord's family. This was to allow the children to see the human side of both families and potentially understand their differences and come to appreciate the diversity. In my own experiences at University life, I have come to appreciate the diversity of sexual preferences, religions, and races (though I have to object to the use of race as a scientific definition). People of different colours might benefit from student exchange programs where they go to live with different folks from different backgrounds etc...
To Craig Taylor:
Thanks for your recent e-mail and for your insight into the feudal lords.. Excellent idea! Perhaps if we give this more thought we can come up with something workable. I agree in the last chapter, "What is Race For?," of my book "Showing My Color," that race has no scientific basis. So do scientists. Cheers, CP
Clement F. Shearer of Northfield, MN
"Identity would seem to be the garment with which one covers the nakedness of the self; in which case, it is best that the garment be loose, a little like the robes of the desert, through which robes one's nakedness can always be felt, and, sometimes, discerned. This trust in one's nakedness is all that gives one the power to change one's robes." - James Baldwin
In your new book, you say that the answer to the question, "What are you?" invites different answers according to where you are. I am an American, an African-American, a Christian, decidedly in the democratic party, and more. These garments are loose. I can feel the nakedness of all these identities and at times I choose to doff some of these garments for the moment, or I choose to don some others for some particular reason. It might also be that me and my brothers and sisters, while wearing some of the same garments don't wear them in the same manner -- some may be more fastidious, some may mix different togs, some wear their clothes with more panache, some comfortably and others with the discomfort of stiff wool.
My sisters used to share their garments by first throwing them into a large pile in the middle of a floor and then in turn drawing from the disorganized collection. They all got to feel what it was like to wear a sister's garments. Maybe you've got something, Mr. Page.
To Clement Shearer:
Thank you for your recent e-mail. I thoroughly enjoyed your comments
hope you enjoy the book.
Susan Hill of Stone Mountain, GA
I grew up in the relatively diverse city of Waukegan IL. Through a set of circumstances, I was relocated to the south where I attend community college. While it is definitely true that culture is exhibited more freely in the south, I question the importance and validity of that expression.
One of the first things that I noticed down here was the acceptance of the "Dixie" flag. While there is the occasional scuffle about the State flag, it is generally accepted that white southerners "celebrate their heritage" by displaying their true colors. This evokes a certain fear and hatred of the whites among the black community. Rightly so.
While culture sharing is an ideal, there are many in our society that will only inflame those of us that do not feel that segregation and hatred are the answer to our racial problems. Blacks and whites cannot have the same perspective on race, therefore they cannot "speak the same language." I will never be able to feel the way a black person feels when he is looked at as if he is a criminal when he has done nothing wrong.
Unfortunately I feel that unless I have been through it myself, I will never be able to have a true perspective on the Black American experience. Even though I feel that I am a compassionate person, I realize there are limits to my empathy, and I cannot create feelings that I have never felt.
To Susan Hill:
Thank you for your recent e-mail. You're right. Neither you nor I can experience someone else's pain, but, if we try hard enough, we can understand it. First, we have to have the desire. Sometimes that's hard when our society is as polarized as it is today, but still it's worth the effort.
Maga Jackson-Triche of Sherman Oaks, CA
Although I don't think that blacks and whites talk the same language about racial issues, I do think that understanding across race/ethnic affiliation is possible. It involves risk though. Both blacks and whites must risk losing a certain idea of themselves, and changing certain closely held beliefs about others to bridge this gap. It is not an easy process. One has to be highly motivated to risk change, especially when the status quo has been self-serving.
To Maga Jackson-Triche
Thank you for your recent e-mail comments. I think you are 100 percent right. May I quote you in the future? Please direct your future correspondence to my e-mail address: CPTime@aol.com.
Ashmeet Sidana of Mountain View, CA:
You advocate color-curiosity, which may be a good exercise for journalists, students and think-tank employees but from a legal and political perspective the only viable, long-term approach for our society is color-blindness.
In this wonderful country, found on principles of individualism, however imperfectly practiced, any other approach is inherently untenable.
Of course, this eliminates affirmative action but it also opens the door to rigorously enforcing statistically valid performance measures of non-discrimination.
As we legally and politically embrace color-blindness, our society will asymptotically approach race based non-discrimination and while we will never totally eliminate it, eventually we will be as surprised by it as someone being refused a job based on hair-color today.
To Ashmeet Sidana:
Thank you for your recent comments.
Alas, I am sorry to see you have swallowed the myth put forth by Antonin Scalia and other conservatives that American law is color-blind and gender-blind. Never has been.
The biggest argument at the first Constitutional Convention centered on how the slaves were to be counted. Indians got no vote. Neither did Women. Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney said in Dred Scott that the black man had "no rights the white man is bound to respect." The post-Civil War Amendments, passed specifically to wipe out slavery, but circumvented by the sharecropper system and "Jim Crow" segregation laws, are the foundation of today's color-conscious affirmative action law. Attempts to solve color problems without recognizing the impact of color only strengthens the status quo, not the forces that can move us toward progress.
Bryan Kilmer of Stratford, Ontario, Canada
As you can see above I am from Canada. We have our ethnic jokes and a level of intolerance as in America but by and large Canadians are tolerant and to a large degree, colour blind. It would be very nice some day to wake up in America and only be able to see the worth of a man for his deeds, abilities, and contribution to the success of the human society. I would like to see the day when race in America isn't a topic at all worth discussion. A man is a man is a man. In a pitch black room there is no race, prejudice, or mistrust, only a feeling of needing your fellow man. Wouldn't that be refreshing on a global scale.
Clarence Page Responds to Bryan Kilmer:
Thank you for your kind thoughts, Bryan. I, too, look for the day when race in America will not be news anymore. Here's hoping.
Ronald Blachly of Jonesboro, AR
Clarence Page does not come across (on TV talk shows) as one who believes what he writes. He consistently seems to hold views along racial lines, and is not at all objective when the discussion involves a racial matter or people of different races.
In my experience the most successful black individuals (successful, that is, in working seamlessly in the medical field in which I also am involved) have been those who regard their race (or mine) as no more important than shoe size.
Getting along in the medical arena necessitates focusing on the medical, professional aspect of one's work. Getting along in the business world likewise requires focusing on the business at hand, not skin color. The fact that time and energy are spent even discussing these differences detracts from accomplishing the task at hand.
To Ronald Blachly:
Yes, Ron, you have found me out. I am not at all objective when it comes to racial matters or any other matters of importance, for that matter. As a columnist/commentator and as a human being, I am highly subjective. Opinions are my business. I enjoy it and I don't even have to drive a cab or cut hair to deliver them.
Like most humans, I began life feeling color of skin was no important than shoe size but, alas, the world I grew up in and still reside in has had other plans. It would be nice if our racial troubles in this country would go away on their own, but they don't. We have to work at it. While the medical arena gets along without much notice to race (It is, after all, a social, political and psychological construct, not a physical one) the business world is another matter. Witness, for example, how few blacks make it to managerial jobs in sports compared to their participation on the labor level. Could Al Campanis be right that blacks lack the "necessities" for management or might there be other reasons? In any case, I, like you, dream of the day when we will have a truly "color-blind" society, but we're not there yet.
Michael Stocker of Syracuse, NY (and NYC)
Clarence Page is one of our national treasures, as are some of your other commentators, especially on race such as Charlayne Hunter-Gault. It may be -- and I hope it is -- possible that cultural sharing will do some good. But as I see things, this too deeply accepts a variant of "to know them (= the others) will be to accept (even if not love) them", and this does not work very well against racism as found in the U.S. People have far too many, and too subtle, defenses to let the "facts" convince them.
My doubts (fears) come, in large part, from many years of teaching about race and racism at the University level (mainly 3rd yr students) to honors and especially philosophy students; and its having so very little lasting effect. I will, however, get C Page's book and integrate it into the class. All the best to him and to PBS.
To Michael Stocker:
Thank you for your kind words regarding me and Charlayne in your recent e-mail. I would not sell your teachings too short. They may have more "lasting effects" than you immediately realize. In any case, as the old saying goes, it's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.
David Wasser of Mansfield, CT
I teach courses in critical thinking at the University of Hartford, and in thinking through issues of identity and race with my students, I have discovered that--when examined closely-- the term "race" is so vague and fraught with complications as to become almost meaningless. I have noticed similar perspectives appearing here and there in conversations on race issues throughout the media. The most recent example was in the PBS special "Black Is; Black Isn't."
Here, African Americans commented on the contradictions inherent in identifying oneself as of African decent according to skin color, language, traditions, etc. It's the same, I think, for all Americans, regardless of ancestry.
Simple observations reveal as much variation of physiognomy within a so-called race as between them. So my questions are, do you think the term "race" has lost currency? Why do people continue to hold onto these concepts of race? What purpose have they served, and do they continue to serve a worthwhile purpose? And do we, or do we not, in fact, have a "melting pot" in this country?
To David Wasser:
Thank you for your recent e-mail. Like you, I have determined that "race" as a useful category begins to erode quite rapidly under the bright light of critical thinking.
May I refer you to the final chapter, titled "What Is Race
For?" in my book?
It reaches a similar observation, but concludes that we must go
race to get beyond it.
As for the "melting pot," I write near the book's beginning
that I prefer the
metaphor of a "mulligan stew." The pieces do not "melt,"
they maintain their
identity, but they do lend flavor to the pot, while absorbing
flavor from the
pot at the same time. That flavor is the beauty of America to
me, even when
the pot boils over.