[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1997, Book II)]
[December 3, 1997]
[Pages 1695-1704]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks in a Townhall Meeting on Race in Akron
December 3, 1997

[University of Akron student McHughson Chambers stated that he was 
biracial and described his encounters with discrimination.]

    The President. Our second student, Jonathan Morgan. Jonathan, what 
do you think about what he said? Do you think there is still 
discrimination here at this school or in this community or in the 
country? And do you think that most people want to live in an integrated 

[Mr. Morgan responded that there were still a lot of prejudiced people, 
particularly in the older generations.]

    The President. Maybe we need a panel on ageism instead of racism. 
    Mr. Morgan. I apologize. [Laughter]
    The President. That makes it worse. Don't do that. [Laughter]

[Mr. Morgan said he believed that his own generation had worked out 
their prejudices.]

    The President. Do you think it's because of personal experiences, do 
you think it's because you've had more direct personal experience with 
people from different age groups? Or do you think it's because you grew 
up in a different time where the climate, the legal and the political 
and the social climate, was different?
    Mr. Morgan. I think it was because I grew up in a different time. We 
grew up watching television. ``The Cosby Show'' was my favorite show. 
    The President. 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 because you saw Bill Cosby, and he was a good role model? 
[Laughter] No, this is important. No, no, this is important.
    Mr. 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 might be a little bit scared. So, I mean, at the same time I 
have those prejudices.
    The President. Do you think that's because of television crime 
shows, or because of your personal experience?
    Mr. Morgan. It would have nothing to do with my personal experience. 
Just from the media, television shows, and things that I have heard.
    The President. Christina Ibarra, what do you think about that? Do 
you believe that attitudes are better among young people? Do you think 
that there is still discrimination today? Is it worse for African-
Americans than it is for other minority groups; is it different? What do 
you think?

[Student Christina Ibarra agreed that older people were more prejudiced 
but said that young people raised in prejudiced environments changed 
after they interacted with a more diverse group of people at the 

    The President. So do you believe--let me ask you this--do you 
believe that having an integrated educational environment is the primary 
reason that young people have better attitudes, more open attitudes than 
older people--because

[[Page 1696]]

they have been able to go to school with people of different races?

[Ms. Ibarra responded that the educational environment was beneficial, 
but that an open attitude was a matter of personal choice.]

    The President. Let me ask you just one other question. Then I want 
to go on to--back to our moderator who's here to talk about the next 
group of folks. There's a big difference, even in college campuses, 
between the racial composition of the student body and the daily lives 
of the students, at least in a lot of places. That is, there are a lot 
of places where the student body is integrated but social life is 
largely segregated.
    Is that always a bad thing? What about that, what about that here, 
and what do you think about that? Our institutions of worship are 
largely segregated on Sunday. Is that a bad thing, or not? Is it a good 
thing? What should be our--in other words, one of the things that I want 
to try to get America to think about is, how do we define success here? 
I don't personally think it's a bad thing that there is--that people in 
many ways like to be with other people of their own racial and ethnic 
group any more than their own religious group. But on the other hand, it 
could become a very bad thing if it goes too far, as we've seen in other 
countries. So how do you know whether the environment is working for you 
and for other people? How much integration is enough? How much--what 
kind of segregation is acceptable if it's voluntary? How do you deal 
with all that? Have you ever thought about it in that way?
    Go ahead.

[At this point, the discussion continued, and moderator Dave Liebarth 
then introduced three authors who were the next participants in the 

    The President. I'd like to just start very briefly by giving the 
authors a chance to comment on how what they've heard from these 
students today meshes with what they heard when they were preparing 
their recent books.
    And David, maybe we ought to start with you.

[David K. Shipler, former New York Times reporter and author of ``A 
Country of Strangers: Black and White in America,'' stated that 
discrimination had become more subtle and gave several examples.]

    The President. Let me just briefly--first of all, thank you very 
much. The reason that I wanted to do this, and a lot of these things, is 
that I believe there are in any given community literally millions of 
instances like this where we're not ever fully aware of the motivations 
behind what we do or where other people will perceive there may be a 
racial motivation where there isn't one, which is also just as bad 
because you have the same net bottom-line result, which is the drifting 
apart of people. And I don't think there is any legal policy answer to 
this. I think that this is something we've really got to work our way 
    Jonathan, I was really proud of you for saying that if you were 
walking and spotted Bill Cosby--and all of your classmates--you were 
walking down the street alone at night and you saw a black man coming at 
you and you were better dressed than he was, you might be scared, 
because that's a pretty gutsy thing for you to admit, but that's the 
kind of stuff we've got to get out on the table. We need to get this 
    But just parenthetically, David, I had a group of African-American 
journalists in to see me a couple of months ago. Every journalist, all 
of them with college degrees, all of them quite successful--every single 
man in the crowd had been stopped by a police officer for no apparent 
reason, every one of them, 100 percent of them--I asked them. So these 
are things we have to get out there and discuss.
    Abigail. She has a rosier view, and I hope she's got the guts to say 
it out here now. [Laughter] Come on.

[Abigail Thernstrom, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute who 
coauthored ``America in Black and White: One Nation Indivisible'' with 
her husband, Steven, the Winthrop professor of history at Harvard, 
stated that she disliked racial preferences or racial classifications. 
Saying that African-American progress was here to stay, she gave 
examples and concluded by quoting Coretta Scott King that Martin Luther 
King's dream of equality had become deeply embedded in the fabric of 

    The President. Thank you. Let me just say, I believe that it's a lot 
better. I grew up in the segregated South, so I have personal experience 
of how it's changed, since I'm one of those older people Jonathan talked 
about. [Laughter] I've actually gotten kind of used to it now.

[[Page 1697]]

    But to me, that makes this effort all the more important because 
what I want the American people to do is to have confidence. We know now 
we can make our economy work. We know now we can have the crime rate go 
down. We know now we can actually reduce the number of people on welfare 
and have more people at work. We know things that we didn't know just a 
few years ago, and we do know we can make progress on this whole complex 
of issues.
    But I think it's also important to point out that there is a lot of 
residue there, like what McHughson told, the little bank story, and that 
progress should give us energy for the work ahead, not put us into 
denial about it. That's the only thing that I want to make sure we don't 
    Go ahead. What would you like to say about this?

[Beverly Daniel Tatum, psychologist and professor at Mount Holyoke 
College, South Hadley, MA, and author of ``Why Are All the Black Kids 
Sitting Together in the Cafeteria, and Other Conversations About Race,'' 
described her course on the psychology of racism and other efforts to 
establish an honest discussion on race, and the role of fear in 
hampering that dialog.]

    The President. Abigail.

[Ms. Thernstrom stated that people opposed to racial preferences were 
often accused of being too optimistic and believing that racism had 
disappeared. She indicated that while America still had a long way to 
go, it should proceed on the basis of optimism rather than pessimism.]

    The President. I agree with that. If I could just make one other 
point. Then I'll call on David.
    One reason I think all this talking business is more important than 
ever before is that if you posit the fact--if you look at the growth in 
educational attainment, the growth of the middle class among African-
Americans or--you can say, well, things have gotten a lot better. And 
then if you identify what the continuing problems are, like what 
McHughson said about--and the examples David cited, you can say, these 
things require changes in human perception, human heart, you've got to 
have more talking.
    I think the thing that's more profound is, when you look at these 
communities that have--there are several counties in America with people 
from more than 100 different racial and ethnic groups now, and they're 
all different in many ways. They have different perceptions and 
different cultural patterns.
    I know, after the Los Angeles riots, I went out and walked the 
streets, and I was so stunned by the gulf between Korean grocers and 
their African-American customers. And I've been in other cities where 
there were Arab-American merchants and their Hispanic customers or 
African-American customers--all these things are proliferating. That's 
the kind of thing that you see eating other countries alive from the 
inside out.
    And that's why we have to begin to deal with this, because a lot of 
you have got to bring the insights you have from your own not only 
personal but historic experiences to bear on a whole different America. 
It's a new thing out there where there's somebody from everyplace out 
there with a family and a community and a culture and a set of 
perceptions that they will bring to bear on all their interactions.
    Go ahead, David.

[Mr. Shipler said that optimism was too close to complacency and 
pessimism was too close to resignation. Mr. Liebarth then introduced the 
next participants. Rev. Knute Larson, white pastor of the Chapel in 
Akron, described growing up in a racist environment and then introduced 
his friend Rev. Ronald Fowler, black pastor of the Arlington Church of 
God. Reverend Fowler stated that whites had always had preferential 
treatment and therefore the Nation should intentionally provide 
incentives and opportunities for minorities, as it did for World War II 
veterans. He concluded that he and Reverend Larson had worked together 
to create an atmosphere for free discussion of racial issues.]

    The President. Let me ask you something. What impact has your 
relationship had on the people in your churches? I mean, it's all very 
well--preachers are supposed to do the right thing. [Laughter] I mean, 
come on. What impact has it had on people in your churches?

[Reverend Larson stated that the impact had been good but that the 
effort had to be intentional, and he urged the President to continue to 
model that kind of behavior. He concluded that humor helps, joking that 
his church was

[[Page 1698]]

teaching Reverend Fowler's how to sing. Reverend Fowler responded that 
his church had never done country music well.]

    The President. You'll probably get a wire from Charley Pride this 
afternoon. [Laughter]

[Reverend Fowler continued that the pastors' joint efforts had created a 
climate of acceptance and an inclusive spirit and that other 
organizations in Akron were following their example.]

    The President. Let me ask you just one other question and we'll go 
to the next group. I'll be the cynic now, just for purposes of argument. 
I'll say, okay this is really nice. You've got two churches, and you 
pray on Sunday and everybody is nice to each other and you make fun 
about each other's music. And I know which is the real beneficiary 
here--that's okay. [Laughter] We do all that kind of stuff. How is it 
changing these people's lives? How is it changing the life in Akron? How 
does it result in less discrimination in the workplace or in the school 
or people helping each other to succeed in school or at work? Can you 
give us any examples about what it's done other than make people feel 
good for an hour on Sunday or some other church event?

[Reverend Fowler stated that members of the congregations, though 
initially doubtful, now were able to discuss issues more openly and 
disagree without attributing each other's views to racism.]

    The President. That's the big issue, by the way--having people feel 
free to disagree with people of different races without having somebody 
draw a racial inference, that's a huge thing. That's one of the 
benchmarks when you know you're getting where you need to be.

[Reverend Larson stressed the importance of listening and intentional 
social interaction. Mr. Liebarth then introduced the topic of 
interracial relationships, and high school student Erica Sanders 
expressed her desire to be seen as an individual, rather than as a 
member of the black community at home and church or as a spokesperson 
for black America at her white school. Student Erica Wright stressed the 
importance of her parents' guidance in shaping her choices in life. Mr. 
Liebarth then introduced D.J. Beatty, a black University of Akron 
student, who described growing up in a multiracial household and stated 
that though he shared certain cultural styles with his white social 
circle, his political views were much more those of the black liberal.]

    The President. Why do you think white people are more conservative 
than black people?

[Mr. Beatty stated that economic differences, such as most whites 
dealing with banks and many blacks dealing with public assistance, 
resulted in different viewpoints. He stated that without an activist 
Government and the social movement, blacks would be far behind.]

    The President. I agree with that, but let me say--let me make the 
more sophisticated argument against affirmative action. Let's deal with 
that a minute. Hardly anybody thinks that we shouldn't have laws against 
discrimination on the books, and some people think they should be on the 
books but not enforced, so I've had a hard time getting Congress to give 
me the money to clean out the backlog of the Equal Employment 
Opportunity Commission. But nonetheless, everybody just about--there is 
almost--literally over 80 percent of the people in America, if you took 
a poll, would say, we should enforce the existing civil rights laws 
against discrimination.
    Now, then the question is, what affirmative steps are necessary to 
really give everybody an equal chance and hopefully to reduce ultimately 
the racial disparities in income and educational level and all these 
other things?
    The argument against affirmative action is partly that it doesn't 
even work, that basically the main beneficiaries of it have been middle 
class minorities who were well educated and could tap into it, and that 
what we really need to do is to go back to Lyndon Johnson's other 
emphasis and have an economics-based social program that offers better 
educational opportunity to everybody, offers more job opportunities to 
everybody, and tries to get rid of the dramatically increasing economic 
disparity of the last 20 years.
    This is a very important point. The difference for all you younger 
people--my generation, after World War II until the mid-seventies, all 
America grew together, and in fact the poorest Americans actually had 
their income increase by a slightly higher percentage than the 
wealthiest Americans. Then for about 20 years, because of the 
globalization of the economy, the loss of manufacturing jobs, the rise 
of service jobs,

[[Page 1699]]

the rise in importance of education, what happened was the people in the 
upper 20 percent, their incomes rose like crazy for 20 years; the people 
in the bottom 40 percent were stagnant to dropping--more education-
related than anything else, but it had something to do with where people 
lived and what their connections and ties were.
    So there is a lot of argument that, basically, that affirmative 
action has gotten in trouble for two reasons. One is it's not really 
answering the real problem, which is the economic problem. The other is 
that people believe that if someone gets something based on their race, 
then someone is losing something, someone is not--it's a zero-sum game. 
Someone is losing out who otherwise would have gotten an opportunity to 
which they're entitled.
    Now, I don't subscribe to this. I believe that you can have properly 
tailored affirmative action programs which can command broad majority 
support. We'll get back to that if you want. But I just think that--
there is no question, however, that the biggest problems that minorities 
have in this country today are problems that are shared with 
disadvantaged white people too--access to education, access to jobs--and 
that we've got to find a way somehow to talk to each other and to work 
on this so that we're coming together.
    And I think that's what you were trying to say. But I'd like to hear 
you talk a little bit about that and the affirmative action thing. And 
then maybe you want to open it up to some other people.

[Mr. Beatty stated that there was a rising tide of classism in America 
which was linked to the race issue and that there should be policies to 
address the class issue as well.]

    The President. Let me just--no, no, I agree with what you said, but 
let me--[laughter]--I don't mean that. I agree with what you said. We 
have actually seen some evidence in the last 2 years that inequality may 
be declining again for the first time in 20 years, that incomes are 
rising--after-tax incomes are rising for the bottom 40 percent and maybe 
in a way that will not only cause incomes to rise for the first time in 
20 years for that group of people, relative to inflation, but to 
diminish inequality a little.
    And we've had a strategy of changing the tax system, changing the 
investment incentives, increasing educational opportunity, giving more--
spending a lot more money to help retrain people who lose their jobs, 
that I think are contributing to that.
    So I think the real issue is--although we haven't done nearly as 
much as I would like to, and we're going to work on that some more--the 
real issue is, if you had, to use the modern jargon, a class-based 
affirmative opportunity agenda, not race-based but class-based, which 
might disproportionately benefit minorities if they were 
disproportionately poor, for example, or disproportionately isolated or 
disproportionately in bad schools--if you had that, would there still be 
an argument for any kind of affirmative action admissions policies to 
various colleges and universities or any kind of affirmative action 
problems when it comes to Government contracting because there are so 
few African-Americans in certain kinds of businesses? I think that's the 
    I want to let you go on and call on some more people, but I think 
that's really the nub of the affirmative action debate. If you get rid 
of the--politically and substantively you'll help more people and build 
more unity by having an economic basis for social policy now.

[Mr. Liebarth introduced University of Akron pre-med student Anna 
Arroyo, who said that as a light-skinned Puerto Rican, she was often 
perceived as white, but then treated differently after disclosing her 
race. She concluded that people should realize the range of diversity 
among Hispanic-Americans, discard preconceived notions about racial 
characteristics, and accept others for who they are.]

    The President. Let me ask you a question. Do you believe that most 
non-Hispanics understand the real difference between Puerto Ricans and 
Mexican-Americans, for example?

[Ms. Arroyo responded that people generally did not understand that each 
Hispanic country had its own unique culture. Mr. Liebarth then 
introduced University of Akron student Jason Kessler, who complained 
about some religions teaching that poor is bad, thus placing a stigma on 
poor people.]

    The President. Let me push this a little more. They don't really do 
that--and what they really act like is that if you're poor it's your own 
fault, right?

[[Page 1700]]

    Mr. Kessler. In a way. And it's like a sign that God is putting 
something bad on you. At least--maybe this is just an isolated incident, 
but I have come in contact with this--that this is a sign from God that 
because you're poor, you are going to hell.

[Mr. Liebarth introduced family violence program coordinator Vanesa 
Cordero, who noted that America was no longer just black and white but a 
cultural mix including Hispanic-Americans. She stated that blacks and 
Hispanics were treated differently in court than whites, and having an 
advocate made a difference, particularly for non-English speakers.]

    The President. Wait, wait, wait. You mean, if they have an advocate, 
they do better?
    Ms. Cordero. Yes, they do.
    The President. But are they treated differently in what the judges 
do to them by race, or are they just treated differently in terms of how 
they're treated in the court setting?

[Ms. Cordero said that in her experience, the system was often harder on 
Hispanic juveniles than on whites.]

    The President. But you do think that Hispanic kids have a harder 
time in the court system.

[Ms. Cordero responded that her son was discriminated against because he 
was Hispanic and said that she also felt discrimination before she 
worked her way up from welfare to being a professional with a college 

    The President. Let me just say very briefly, one of the things that 
I like about the Chicago school experience--you heard me mention the 
Chicago school experiment--is they used to be known for one thing only: 
They had a teachers' strike every year whether they needed one or not. 
At the beginning of every school year, there was always a teachers' 
strike, and there was a picture of the Governor's school-age child 
crawling around on the floor, playing games in the Governor's office 
while the teachers' strike went on.
    Now, what they're trying to do is to change--I think maybe the most 
important thing they're trying to do is to change the expectations, 
school by school, so that they have the same high expectations of all 
children without regard to their racial or ethnic group. If they get 
that done, I predict they'll change the performance results as well. But 
that's--anyway, I just wanted to support you for what you did.

[Noting that the last part of the discussion was to focus on looking 
forward, Mr. Liebarth introduced Samir Gibara, chairman and chief 
executive officer, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. Mr. Gibara indicated 
that a diverse workplace population pursuing common business goals and 
objectives and sharing success or failure would create bonds that went 
beyond racial tensions; stated that diversity provided a competitive 
advantage for expansion to other countries; and listed his company's 
values: integrity and honesty, a diverse work force, and training and 

    The President. Let me just follow up. I believe myself that what you 
just said is not only true but is the answer to a lot of the next steps. 
That is, just as you heard all these young people say they thought that 
there was less discrimination among young people, partly because they 
all go to school together, the more people we have working together, 
succeeding together, doing something constructive together, helping 
their own families together, the less problems we're going to have. I 
don't think there is any question about that.
    Let me ask you, before we run out of time--and I'll call on you next 
because you've been having your hand up--but I want you to think about 
this, and I want you to be blunt and brief--blunt and brief. What do you 
think is the most important thing we should be doing about this issue 
today? Whether you think I should do it, or you should do it, or 
somebody else should do it--I'll try to call on as many people as I can, 
as quickly as I can. Raise your hand, the most important thing. You go 

[At this point, participants offered suggestions, including confronting 
family members who make racist comments and addressing the Hispanic high 
school dropout rate.]

    The President. We're going to run out of time. We don't have time to 
talk about this, but I want all of you to think about it, especially the 
Hispanics here. For the last 30 years, Hispanics had higher work force 
participation rates than African-Americans, and often left school to go 
to work to support the family. It was a real cultural thing. Now 
African-American high school graduation rates are almost equal to 
whites; they're almost statistically indistinguishable. But the high 
school dropout rate among

[[Page 1701]]

Hispanics is still very high. Apparently, for good cultural reasons, 
they think they've got to get out and help the family and all, but it's 
a disaster in the modern economy. We need to figure out what to do about 
    But what's the most important thing to do? Go ahead. Let's go back 
to the main question. Go ahead.

[Other participants suggested establishing education opportunity zones, 
taking the risk of an honest dialog, avoiding racial jokes and slurs, 
and including the underclass in the racial dialog.]

    The President. So what's the most important thing we can do for the 
    Participant. Well, that's what I was hoping to get from you. That 
was my question I was going to ask. [Laughter]
    The President. I'll tell you what I think. What we're trying to do 
is to reestablish vibrant living communities where really poor people 
live. We're trying to mix housing now between middle class and poor 
people in the neighborhoods. We're trying to give special tax incentives 
for people who invest to put jobs back there. We're trying to make bank 
loans more available, and we're trying to overhaul the schools.
    I think you've got to put life back together. This is an economic 
problem, and it does not exclusively affect minorities, so it is not a 
race-based problem although minorities are disproportionately affected 
by the large underclass in America. It's very hard to keep a country 
together if 20 percent of the people, no matter how hard they work, are 
still going to fall further and further behind.
    Go ahead.

[A participant suggested culturally specific programs to overcome the 
perceptions of white superiority and black inferiority.]

    The President. Before we run out of time, is there any Asian-
American who wants to be heard? Go ahead.

[Participant David Flores stressed the importance of education, moral 
values, and the family.]

    The President. Very briefly--since I have been President, my 
Education Secretary, Secretary Riley, who is here with us today, has 
done a lot of work to try to support schools that introduce character 
education programs into the curriculum. Do you think that's a good 
thing? I gather what you say is you not only think it's a good thing, 
but you think that the absence of prejudice is one of the virtues we 
ought to be trying to promote on a uniform basis throughout the country, 
and it ought to be part of the school curriculum.
    Mr. Flores. Yes, exactly.
    The President. You agree with that.

[Mr. Flores agreed but pointed out that money was limited and school 
buildings were old.]

    The President. Briefly--I tried to pass a school construction 
initiative, and we'll come back to that in some forum. But the other 
thing I wanted to say is there was money appropriated by the Congress in 
two different bills this year to give the school districts for after-
school programs, partly because the vast majority of juvenile crime is 
committed between 3 o'clock in the afternoon and 7 o'clock at night. And 
young people need something positive to do, and this could be a part of 
what could be done.
    So all of you who are here from school districts, look at what the 
Congress did. I just signed two bills with two different pots of money 
to help the schools stay open after hours so you could do positive 
things and get young people involved in constructive activities.

[An Asian-American student stated that schools should promote cultural 
diversity, because often families could not, and advocated more 
roundtable discussions. Mr. Liebarth then asked the President to 
summarize the discussion.]

    The President. My summary is going to be, I'll hear from two more 
people. Go ahead. [Laughter] And the lady with the gloves, I like your 
gloves. Go ahead.

[Other participants suggested fostering leadership among multiracial 
youth and including multicultural education as part of the history 
curriculum. Mayor Donald Plusquellic of Akron then thanked the President 
for his example in holding the meeting.]

    The President. I believe that education is a big part of this. And I 
believe that the economics is a big part of this. And I've spent most of 
my public life--more than 20 years--working on those two things. But let 
me also tell you, there are a lot of highly intelligent people with a 
lot of money who still have bigoted hearts or who at least are 
insensitive to it. This is

[[Page 1702]]

more than education and economics. That's why we're here. That's why I 
asked the two ministers to talk more than once--because I believe that--
I agree with you.
    You know, it's easy--people get preoccupied with their own problems. 
But when this is over, you guys got to keep doing this. And the people 
at these other 100 sites have got to keep doing this. This is not a 
day's battle. We have to change the way we live in America and the way 
we relate to each other because of the global economy, because of the 
workplace, and because of the people that are in our own neighborhoods. 
We can't possibly answer all this.
    This sort of thing needs to become a normal part of daily life in 
every community in America that crosses political and racial and ethnic 
and religious and every other lines. The society is too complex, too 
diverse, and it's changing too fast for anybody to be able to sit off in 
a corner and give everybody else a bunch of rules about how we're going 
to do things. This is what we have to do in America. We have to change 
the way we govern ourselves, literally, at the grassroots level, to do 
    I'm convinced if you have more of this--I'm convinced if we had 4 
hours, I could sit here and listen to you all, and I'd never get tired 
of it, and we would go on and on, and then you'd want to do more. And 
that ought to tell you something. Everybody has still got their hand up. 
That ought to tell you something. We should be doing this in America on 
a systematic, disciplined basis, community by community. That's the way 
we ought to run our lives.
    So, one more. Go ahead. Quick. Everybody's got to be quick. Go 

[Participants suggested following the Golden Rule and educating someone 
else about one's own culture and heritage.]

    The President. Our moderator will either have a heart attack or cut 
me off in a minute here. [Laughter] Be quick, everybody.

[Participants advocated teaching love, respect, and manners in the home, 
and basic workplace attitudes of reliability, teamwork, communication, 
and willingness to continue learning.]

    The President. I guess what I would--I'd like to go back to what he 
said, though. I think you've got to help us do that. There is a huge 
labor shortage today of people in the technical skills. We could do a 
lot--if you think there's an economic basis to racial differences in 
America today, there ought to be a national effort to train people who 
are poor and who are isolated to take these jobs. This is maddening to 
me. Even though the unemployment rate is 4.7 percent, there are hundreds 
of thousands of jobs going begging in America today that would 
immediately make people middle class people.
    Go ahead.

[Fannie Brown, director, Coming Together Project, said the answer was in 
the pain of talking about differences and giving each side the 
opportunity to present their viewpoint. Other participants then 
explained how their home environment prepared them to be tolerant and 
understanding adults.]

    The President. Let me say, I'm very sympathetic with what all of you 
have said about your home environment. It had a big impact on me. So--I 
mean, I had a grandfather with a sixth-grade education who was a poor 
white Southerner who believed in integration. I don't know why. But he 
did, and he had a big impact on me. So I agree with that.
    But I want to say again, when you look to the future, you must--and 
we do all that--you must find a way to organize--that's why I like this 
Coming Together Project--you must find a way to organize a continuing 
mechanism where people of good will can come together and deal with 
    Let me just give you an example. We talked about old people, young 
people--Denver is plagued--you've probably seen--with these horrible 
recent killings by skinheads of people because of their race. Now, 
Denver is a city that's only 12 percent black, that's got a black mayor. 
It is not a racist city. It's a remarkable thing. But even there they 
have this problem. Now, they've got to figure out how they're going to 
deal with this--and not just go prosecute the people that committed the 
crime but what's going on in the community, how are they going to deal 
with it, and how are they going to come together.
    I'm exhilarated by what I see from all of you today, but you have to 
make a commitment in some form or fashion to continue this in a 
disciplined way, because something will come up, things will continue to 
come up, and this is an ongoing effort. It's not just a one-shot deal. 

[[Page 1703]]

[A participant raised the issue of social segregation, saying that 
people should not be comfortable about only associating with members of 
their own race. Another participant said he hoped for progress to the 
point that his grandchildren would not relate to the term ``hate 

    The President. And what's the most important thing we can do about 
    Participant. I think that we have to make it possible for all 
individuals, whatever race, to be part of our neighborhoods and know 
them as human beings.

[Marion Ruebel, president, University of Akron, emphasized that 
universities have an obligation to open minds and teach students 
teamwork, respect, civility, justice, and tolerance, in addition to 
high-tech skills.]

    Mr. Liebarth. Mr. President, we're being asked for your closing 
remarks on this program now. [Laughter]
    The President. I don't have any--my closing remarks are, this is the 
beginning, not the end. My closing remarks are that--there ought to be a 
strategy to deal with the economic underclass; there ought to be a 
middle class strategy, too, that embraces people across different races. 
We have left open the question of affirmative action.
    Just curiously, how many of you believe we should continue some sort 
of affirmative action policy with regard to admissions to colleges and 
universities? [Applause] Okay, how many of you don't believe we should? 
What about out here? [Applause]
    Ms. Thernstrom. Change it to preferences. Racial preferences is 
different than affirmative action.
    The President. That's right--racial preferences are. It's a loaded 
    Ms. Thernstrom. Americans believe in affirmative action. They don't 
believe in preferences.
    The President. 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.
    Ms. Thernstrom. I do not think that it is racial preferences that 
made Colin Powell----
    The President. He thinks he was helped by it.
    Ms. Thernstrom. ----the overwhelming majority of Americans want 
American citizens to be treated as individuals. And we've heard the 
voice here of----
    The President. Should we abolish the Army's affirmative action 
program, yes or no?
    Ms. Thernstrom. We should--the Army does one thing very, very right; 
it prepares kids--it takes kids before the Army, and it prepares them to 
compete equally. That's what you're talking about when you're talking 
about American education.
    Let us have real equality of education. These preferences disguise 
the problem. The real problem is the racial skills gap, and we ignore it 
when we----
    The President. Well, then the real problem may be the criteria for 
why we admit people to college, too--how we do it.
    One more here and then Congressman Sawyer.

[A participant stated that there was an opportunity gap, not a racial 
skills gap, and encouraged people to be aware of racism in their 
communities and to help those hurt by it.]

    The President. I agree with that, but let me--to be fair to 
Abigail--now, let me explain. Now, wait a minute. I think it's 
important--I'm going to call on Congressman Sawyer, but I think you all 
need to understand about this, because this affirmative action debate, 
you know, that's all the press wants to write about anyway. They'll 
probably ignore the fact that we did the rest of this here, which was--
and the rest of this is the important part that we did here.
    But let me explain what the difference is. The military affirmative 
action program does try to get results by race. But it simultaneously 
prepares people. So that if--what they try to do is they have these 
education and training programs, and then they hope when you go from 
lieutenant to captain that there will be a group of the captain pool, of 
potential captains, that reflect the racial composition of the lower 
rank as well. But they do prepare people.
    The problem is that you have different schools. When you go from 
high school to college, the college doesn't have control over the 
seniors in high school to do that. If they did that, you could have 
exactly the same program and we wouldn't have this anxiety. Instead we 
have a system where we assume that the only reliable predictor of 
success in college is how

[[Page 1704]]

you did on the SAT or how you did on the grades. So the trick is, since 
I think our schools would be much poorer if there were no racial 
diversity--look around here at the schools here--the trick is to find a 
way of doing this that people believe is merit-based and that--so they 
don't think someone is getting something they're not entitled to and, 
not only that, knocking somebody out of a spot to which they are 
    But I think it's very important. A lot of people haven't analyzed 
this--no one criticizes--very few people criticize the Army program. 
It's given us the highest quality Army in the world. The only real 
differences between the Army program and college admissions is that 
you're in continuously in the Army program, whereas you go from a high 
school that may or may not be adequate into college with the affirmative 
action program. We need to really think this through as a country. And 
that's why I dropped the bomb at the end, because we can't possibly 
resolve it today anyway.
    Congressman, do you want to go? And then we'll quit.

[Representative Thomas Sawyer thanked the President for participating in 
the discussion and stated that the initiative was an important start to 
the process of improving race relations in the country.]

    The President. Thank you.
    I would like to--I'd like to thank our scholars, David and Abigail 
and Beverly. I would like to thank the students who spoke in the 
beginning and all the people on the panel.
    To me this is a simple issue that has all kinds of complex 
manifestations. But the simple issue is, we live in a country that is 
the longest lasting democracy in human history, founded on the 
elementary proposition that we are created equal by God. That's what the 
Constitution says. And we have never lived that way perfectly, but the 
whole history of America is in large measure the story of our attempt to 
give a more perfect meaning to the thing we started with, the 
Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
    And now we have been given this enormous new world to live in with 
these enormous opportunities, in which, as you heard our business 
executive say, we do not have a person to waste. We're given a world 
that is much more interesting and exciting if we know and relate to 
people of different racial and other backgrounds. And it's up to us to 
decide what to do with it.
    Our country has never really dealt with the race issue before except 
in an atmosphere of crisis and conflict and riots in the cities. So a 
lot of people, I will say again, think I am nuts to be doing this. You 
know, what's the end, what's the point? The point is, making a more 
perfect Union. The point is, proving we can have one America. The point 
is, it will be a lot more interesting, a lot more fun, and far more 
noble if we do it right.
    Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at approximately 12:10 p.m. in the E.J. Thomas 
Performing Arts Hall at the University of Akron. In his remarks, he 
referred to Mayor Wellington E. Webb of Denver, CO; and Gen. Colin L. 
Powell, USA (Ret.), former Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff.