- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Originally released in 2008, this book features the first publication in book form of the Clinton Commission on Race Initiative’s report; a foreword by commission chair John Hope Franklin; President Clinton’s speech that launched the commission; and other important materials for classes on American race relations. "The report, and this volume, will surely assume a place among the most significant works about race and the persistent challenge of racism in modern American life."—William A. Link, University of Florida
Although America confronts a variety of racial and cultural barriers, common themes and concerns emerged throughout the year that reinforced our view that we are indeed more united as a country than divided. Too often, however, race prevents us from moving beyond our differences to see our common interests. In this chapter, we highlight some of the common ground we discovered, the importance of dialogue in breaking down bafflers and finding common ground, the role of leaders in bringing people together, and the efforts in which people across the Nation came together despite racial differences. These efforts, which we call Promising Practices, give us hope that the Nation can make a serious commitment to overcome our history of racism and has the will to eliminate persisting racial disparities, allowing us to move beyond destructive myths, stereotypes, and discrimination and its vestiges.
Americans Share Common Values and Aspirations
Some common values and aspirations that Americans share became evident as we traveled throughout the Nation. We all share common values-a thirst for freedom, the desire for equal opportunity, a belief in fairness, and the need for essential justice. We all possess common aspirations-a decent and affordablehome, a good education, a fulfilling job, financial and personal security, adequate and available health care, and healthy and educated children whose dreams for a bright future are a vision of reality, not a mirage. We all feel the same emotions-joy at the birth of a child, sadness at the death of a loved one, love for our family, fear of conditions beyond our control, anger at people who disrespect us, hope for the future, and frustration at the daily barriers we encounter. We all should aspire to the vision of an America in which we honor and respect the differences that make each of us unique and celebrate the common threads that bind us together. Based on the common themes we heard throughout the year, a set of fundamental principles that we believe all Americans either do or can embrace as ideals for American society-justice, equality of opportunity, respect, responsibility, honor, integrity, civility, and inclusion-has been articulated. Through our work this year, we have established partnerships with individuals, communities, businesses, schools, religious institutions, Administration officials, and tribal governments from across the country to promote these principles and to ensure they become a reality for all Americans.
Dialogue Is a Tool for Finding Common Ground
One of the best tools for finding common ground and developing new understanding among people of different races is dialogue. One goal for this year was to spark an extensive dialogue in which people throughout America could freely discuss how problems of race have impinged on their lives and affected the Nation in ways that could impede progress in other areas. We hoped that these dialogues would help refute stereotypes and provide opportunities for people to share their individual experiences and views, which may be different from others because of their race. Although statistics on discrimination and racial disparity show continuing inequality, it was hearing the personal experiences that had the most effect on us. They are the most useful in bringing people closer together to work for a Nation where people are given equal opportunities and treated fairly regardless of race.
When the President called for a great national conversation about racial issues, he was not calling for more debates about race, which have a long and valued tradition in this country. Today, debates on race often take the form of politicians, experts, pundits, and the public arguing for their positions on issues such as affirmative action, immigration, and bilingual education. Alternatively, dialogue offers an opportunity to talk about race and issues related to race in a way that leads to a better understanding of differing views, experiences, and cultures. We hope the dialogue that began this year will continue with civility and respect for each other's views and that it will extend to all parts of the country and to all segments of our society.
In our discussions with experts on and facilitators of racial dialogue, we learned two important differences between debate and dialogue:
The object of debate is to persuade others to one's point of view. The object of dialogue is to exchange ideas and find common ground.
In debate, the role of the average person is to observe and eventually take sides. In dialogue, each person actually participates, offering his or her experience and perspective regarding an issue.
Dialogue helps to illuminate the areas of disagreement and common ground. The success of a dialogue should be measured by how well the participants develop a tolerance for differing perspectives and a shared insight of the issue.
One example of effective dialogue that we witnessed occurred during a forum on race sponsored by the University of Mississippi. Ten dialogue groups, composed of people from diverse racial backgrounds, were convened in preparation for the public forum, which was held on the campus on March 16, 1998. Most of these groups focused on a specific issue related to race (such as labor, business, and education). Many conducted several meetings in the weeks preceding the forum. During the inspiring public forum, leaders from each group presented specific recommendations for action and committed themselves to ongoing efforts to implement these recommendations.
Another example of how dialogue can deepen understanding occurred during the Annual Session of the National Congress of American Indians in Sante Fe, New Mexico. Advisory Board members Angela Oh and William Winter participated in a conversation with more than 20 representatives of tribal governments and Indian organizations from across the country. Not only was the substance of the conversation remarkably honest, the physical format used was a reflection of the values held by many American Indians. Sitting in a circle, without a dais or microphones, the Board members learned that there was a divide among tribes about the Race Initiative. Specifically, some were angry that an American Indian or Alaska Native was not asked to serve on the Board. Others expressed the view that it was better that way because American Indians and Alaska Natives are not "minorities," rather they are people of sovereign nations. Thus, any input from American Indians and Alaska Natives should be in the form of an appropriate government-to-government exchange.
Honest, Open Racial Dialogue Is Difficult
As we began to organize and participate in dialogues, it was apparent that few citizens have been involved in or have organized conversations in which genuine dialogue on racial issues has taken place. Many people are uncomfortable examining the complexities of racial issues with those who may see them differently. Many people fear saying the wrong thing or being misunderstood and, therefore, being labeled a racist. Many minorities and people of color may be tired of constantly talking about race without seeing concrete action to reduce disparities. Some may also be concerned about being labeled as traitors to their race or too sympathetic to the perspectives or views of those of other races. Dialogue is not always easy; often, it is quite difficult. Yet, most of those who did participate in these dialogues found them beneficial, insightful, and a welcome opportunity to discuss difficult issues in an environment in which it was safe to express their views.
For example, some Board members were able to participate in the Central High School 40th Anniversary Observance in Little Rock, Arkansas, sponsored by the National Conference for Community and Justice. We were struck by the ability of the people of Little Rock-particularly the Little Rock Nine, who were the first to desegregate Central High School-to share their experiences and examine a painful chapter in their lives and in the Nation's history. It was powerful and touching to see an apology from one who vehemently opposed and protested the desegregation to one of the Little Rock Nine result from the dialogue surrounding the commemoration.
In fact, coinciding with our September 1997 Board meeting, the Center for Living Democracy released its year-long study which identified more than 80 interracial dialogue groups in more than 30 States and the District of Columbia. The Center estimated that hundreds of thousands of Americans were engaging in sustained dialogues.
Dialogue Helps to Dispel Stereotypes
The dialogues in which the Board participated involved interaction and communication among people of different racial backgrounds. This type of interaction was particularly important because it served as a means for confronting and dispelling stereotypes. One of the more formidable barriers to bridging our continuing racial divide is negative racial stereotypes. These stereotypes are endemic in our culture; we learn them from our friends and family, in school, and through the media. One of the most effective ways to confront and dispel racial stereotypes is through continuous, meaningful interaction among people of different racial backgrounds. Unfortunately, opportunities for such interaction are often limited. More opportunities for these types of sustained dialogues are necessary to build a foundation for racial reconciliation.
In addition to enabling people to find common ground, we believe that increased dialogue on race will make today's debates on race less divisive. Debates on the effect of affirmative action on minority college admissions will have more meaning if people also engage in dialogue on the amount of discrimination faced by elementary and high school students and the larger societal goals of affirmative action programs. Debates on bilingual education will be more productive if people engage in dialogue with those who have limited English ability about their desire to become fluent and the best means for accomplishing that goal. Because most people are not engaged in dialogue about the underlying perceptions of race, debates about future strategies often become divisive or remain stagnant. Dialogue also may be impeded by the failure to include empirical data about race and racial disparities. Although all may not agree on the meaning of the facts, they provide a basis for illuminating participants' opinions.
Sparking the Dialogue
Recognizing the importance of dialogue and the need to bring people together to begin these conversations, the Board, in partnership with Administration officials, engaged in several outreach efforts to initiate dialogues on racial issues throughout the Nation. These outreach efforts took the form of One America Conversations, Campus Week of Dialogue, Statewide Days of Dialogue, and meetings with tribal leaders.
One America Conversations consisted of a grassroots outreach effort to engage Americans across the country in the President's national dialogue on race. Initially, Administration officials, as they traveled on routine business, were encouraged to organize groups of 10-20 people at each location to participate in conversations on race. Some Board members also hosted One America Conversations during their travels. Since late November 1997, Federal agency officials, the Office of the President, and other Administration offices have hosted 175 conversations across the country. Subsequently, the Initiative has branched out beyond Administration officials to expand the One America Conversations effort into other parts of the public and private sectors. In total, more than 17,000 people have taken part in more than 1,300 dialogues on race.
During a meeting of college and university presidents attending an American Council of Education and Association of American Colleges and Universities Conference in October 1997 in Miami, Florida, Board members John Hope Franklin, Reverend Dr. Suzan D. Johnson Cook, and William Winter laid the groundwork for a larger effort at sparking dialogue among college and university presidents, students, faculty, and administrators. This resulted in the Campus Week of Dialogue, which took place in April 1998.
America becomes more racially and ethnically diverse every year; it is clear that young people, America's future leaders, are the most important constituency in our effort to create one America. John Hope Franklin and U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley asked college and university presidents across the Nation to organize race dialogue events, including town hall meetings, meetings between campus leaders and community leaders, meetings of students from diverse races and ethnicities, and other activities such as service events, film screenings, and faculty lectures. Nearly 600 colleges and universities, including community colleges, tribal colleges, and minority-serving institutions, responded to the call to action by organizing activities in every State, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. (See Appendix E for a list of participating institutions.) An example of such an activity was when Advisory Board member Thomas Kean hosted a town hall meeting at Drew University where he is president.
In an effort to engage more State and local government officials and community organizations in dialogue, we partnered with the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) to sponsor the Statewide Days of Dialogue in conjunction with the National Day of Commitment to End Racism and Erase the Hate. To broaden the impact, make the most effective use of limited resources, and institutionalize the process, we again worked with 110 YWCA affiliates that collaborated with local partners to organize dialogues on race in their communities. Twenty-five mayors participated in the local dialogues, and governors of 39 States and 2 territories issued proclamations in support of dialogues on race and/or participated in events related to Statewide Days of Dialogue, which began on April 30,1998. Board members and Initiative staff fanned out across the country to give strength and momentum to the day. Over a 3-day period, Board members and Initiative staff had a presence at more than 100 events in every region of the country. (See Appendix F for a listing of Statewide Days of Dialogue events.)
In recognition of the special legal and political status of tribal governments in the United States and to ensure that American Indians and Alaska Natives had an opportunity to participate in the conversation, Board members made a special effort to meet with and hear from tribal leaders. (See Appendix C for listing of specific meetings.) Two common issues were raised at almost every meeting:
American Indians and Alaska Natives face a unique challenge from racism and ignorance in the United States; tribes are not respected as governments because non-Indians do not understand the fundamental principle of sovereignty and how tribal governments fit into the Federal system.
Participants expressed disappointment and concern that there was no American Indian or Alaska Native Board member. American Indians often lack representation on councils and boards and often are not part of important discussions and policymaking decisions.
In addition, many tribal leaders expressed concern that in many instances the United States Government fails to work with tribes on a government-to-government basis. Other frequently expressed sentiments included the concern that "one America" would be interpreted as a modern form of assimilation. U.S. Government policy toward American Indians and Alaska Natives has always been one of assimilation versus integration. Indian country fiercely defends the right to be self-governing and to maintain their own languages, cultures, religions, ways of life, and traditional practices. Lastly, American Indians and Alaska Natives expressed concern that they are an invisible community in America, viewed as the "vanishing race" because of their depiction by Hollywood, their relatively small population, the remote location of their reservations, the lack of understanding that tribes are governments, and the way school books do not accurately reflect the history of American Indians and Alaska Natives.
A Guide to Dialogue
Board members supported the creation of a guide to assist in furthering discussion about race issues. In March 1998, the Initiative and the Community Relations Service of the U.S. Department of Justice collaborated with six nonprofit organizations specializing in race dialogues to draft and publish the One America Dialogue Guide, a thorough and authoritative guide to conducting discussions on race. (See Appendix G for excerpts from the Guide.) More than 6,000 Guides have been distributed to individuals and groups eager to conduct meaningful discussions on race, and it is available on the Initiative Web site (www.whitehouse.gov/Initiatives/OneAmerica/ america.html).
Excerpted from One America in the 21st Century Copyright © 2009 by Steven F. Lawson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.