[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[January 12, 1998]
[Pages 41-47]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks in an Outreach Meeting on the President's Initiative on Race
January 12, 1998

    The President. Well, welcome. I'm glad to see all of you, and I 
thank you for coming in, some of you from a very great distance. I will 
be very brief. We're about 6 months into this effort, and I think we've 
gotten quite a bit done, and we've certainly generated a fair amount of 
controversy. And we're hoping for a good next 6 months. We've got a very 
ambitious schedule laid out. But we thought it would be quite helpful to 
bring a group in and just listen to you talk about where you think we 
are with the issue, what you think still needs to be done, what this 
Advisory Board and our project can and cannot reasonably expect to do 
within this year. And maybe we can talk about some of the things that we 
expect to be in the budget and some other issues.
    But I'll say more as we go along through the meeting, but I'd rather 
take the maximum amount of time to be listening to you. And maybe we 
could just start with Wade.
    Wade Henderson. Thank you, Mr. President.
    The President. Nice tie.

[Wade Henderson, executive director, Leadership Conference on Civil 
Rights, thanked the President for his initiative, noted that a challenge 
to affirmative action may appear on the November ballot in the State of 
Washington, and asked for the President's leadership to oppose it. He 
then urged a commitment to vigorous enforcement of existing civil rights 
laws, including a Federal zero-tolerance policy on discrimination and 
increased funding; suggested that the President direct the attention of 
business leaders toward addressing the growing gap in terms of the 
benefits of the Nation's robust economy between the haves and the have-
nots; and suggested the creation of incentives to attract bright, 
committed, dedicated professionals to the teaching profession in order 
to ensure that more high-quality instruction is made available in both 
inner-city and rural school systems.]

    The President. I agree with that. Let me say on the first, on the 
discrimination, just very, very briefly, we're working on that. We have 
a good budget and a good plan. And I think we ought to go hard toward 
the people who say they are against discrimination but they oppose 
affirmative action in the Republican majority, and say, ``Well, if you 
are, why won't you fund the EEOC? Give us the tools to do the job.''
    On the economy, we'll have a very aggressive set of proposals that 
go right at what you're suggesting and also in education. Of course, 
we've already suggested that we--and have offered a program of loan 
forgiveness for people who will go into educationally underperforming 
school districts to teach. But we have some other things to offer in 
that regard.

[[Page 42]]

    I think all these are important because we have to find ways to 
unify the American people around this agenda in ways that actually 
change the future outcomes for people. And so I appreciate that. I think 
that's very good.
    Who wants to go next? Go ahead.

[Alfred Rotondaro, executive director, 
National Italian-American Foundation, stated that it would be a tragedy 
if the work of the racial commission stops this year and suggested it 
should enlist the Nation's opinion leaders, including white ethnic 
organizations, in an effort to continue the fight against social 
injustice and racism. He also stated that the problem involved elements 
of class and stressed the importance of changing the attitudes of urban 
minority children toward academic excellence. Nan Rich, president, National Council of Jewish Women, stated that 
her suggestions should be advanced in the context of public-private-
nonprofit partnerships. She then emphasized increasing economic 
opportunity for women and minority groups and corporate training to 
increase cultural diversity awareness. She also suggested that early 
childhood programs focus on diversity. Mayor Joseph Serna, Jr., of Sacramento, CA, stated that California faced 
the dilemma of scapegoating immigrants and cited California's 
Proposition 187 and Proposition 209 as wedge issues which divide people 
along racial lines. He suggested encouraging citizenship in the Latino 
and Asian communities and directing the Immigration and Naturalization 
Service to move more quickly in the process of naturalization.]

    The President. You know, when I came here, it was taking an 
unconscionably long time for people to get through the system, and we 
tried to accelerate it. And the Congress had such a negative reaction to 
it, the Republican majority did, they tried to investigate the whole INS 
because we took the position that you shouldn't have to wait years and 
years and years, after you had already been here 5 years, to have the 
Government decide whether you could become a citizen or not. I still 
think that's the right thing to do. I think it's entirely too 
bureaucratic, and I think we should do better.
    Karen Narasaki. Mr. President, I'm very 
glad to hear you say that, because the backlog persists. It's already 2 
million individuals, and it's 2 years long. That's how many would-be 
citizens we would have----
    The President. But we were taking it down--to be fair--until we were 
viciously and unfairly attacked for making the law work the way it's 
supposed to.

[Ms. Narasaki, executive director, National 
Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium, thanked the President for 
including more funding for food stamps in the budget, saying it would 
help the most vulnerable in society. She also thanked him for appointing 
Acting Assistant Attorney General Bill Lann Lee and thereby putting a 
face on the affirmative action debate. She urged the President to help 
narrow the race discussion by homing in on such topics as bilingual 
education and affirmative action. She advocated challenging religious 
leaders, including the Christian Coalition, and the entertainment and 
housing industries to participate in the discussion. Representative John 
Lewis of Georgia stated that the President should 
address the question of race in his State of the Union Address, making 
it a moral issue, and that he should not back off on the affirmative 
action debate. Stewart Kwoh, president and 
executive director, Asia Pacific American Legal Center of Southern 
California, said that the appointment of Acting Assistant Attorney 
General Lee built the best multiracial coalition in decades. He then 
suggested the President request direct action from local leaders to 
improve race relations, as well as incorporating race relations 
improvement into Federal programs at the local level, such as 

    The President. That's interesting because I've been just--sort of in 
support of what you said, we have--one of the most clearly successful 
things we've done, even though it's not--we don't have it on prime-time 
television in ads or anything, because we don't have that kind of money, 
but we put up this Internet homepage with promising practices in 
communities around the country. And substantial numbers of people have 
tapped into it to see what's being done someplace else, and can they 
apply it in their own community, and is there some way to build on it? 
It's been very, very impressive.
    The other thing you said about recruiting leadership I think is--the 
one thing that we did was we wrote several thousand young people and 
asked them to take some initiative, and hundreds of them wrote us back 
with very specific things, saying what they were going to do. So that's 
some indication that if we identify a given

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list of people, whether they're mayors, city council people, county 
officials, you name it, and ask them to do something specific, that 
they'll do that.

[Hugh B. Price, president and chief executive 
officer, National Urban League, underscored the need to close the gap 
between young people who are achieving in school and those who aren't, 
advocated an almost warlike mobilization on that issue, and urged 
attention to those inner-city neighborhoods still unaffected by downtown 
revitalization efforts. He also raised the issue of police interaction 
with civilians, including attitudes of minorities toward police 
authority as well as problems in police practices.]

    The President. The profiling, I think, is a serious problem. We've 
talked a lot about it. I think I've seen--the three most glaring 
examples that I've seen since I've been President are the repeated 
examples black Americans have given of being stopped by police for no 
apparent reason--we had a black journalists group in here not very long 
ago, and every African-American male in the room had been stopped within 
the last few years for no apparent reason; the stopping of Hispanics for 
no apparent reason near the border--as part of drug--and the immediate 
assumption, after the Oklahoma City bombing, that some Arab-American had 
been involved. You know that I was able to sort of put a puncture in 
that within 24 hours, but it was--when I cautioned the American people 
not to do that. But we just--it's still a part of how we related to each 
other that we have to deal with.
    Eleanor, go ahead. I'm sorry.

[Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton of the 
District of Columbia praised the President for confronting race without 
a crisis situation, noting that there was more communication across 
racial lines during the era of the civil rights movement than today and 
that people comfortable in their separate racial niches tended to 
reinforce their own views. She emphasized the importance of filling the 
chairmanship of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as 
adequately funding it. She also said that the State of the Union Address 
should present a call for action to the Nation and a call for Congress 
to avoid making affirmative action a wedge issue, and suggested that the 
President have a private conversation with Speaker of the House Newt 
Gingrich. Roger Wilkins, professor of history 
and American culture, George Mason University, thanked the President and 
described a similar meeting with President Lyndon B. Johnson, noting 
that John Hope Franklin had not been present because he was in jail.]

    The President. That's why he looks so 
young; he had all those resting days. [Laughter]

[Mr. Wilkins stated that the conversation was 
important and that the effort should not end in a year. He urged the 
President to use his office as a teaching lectern to remind the Nation 
of its history of denying opportunity to blacks. He also suggested 
establishing a Presidential medal to honor teachers, making teachers' 
pay a major issue, and focusing on joblessness as a detriment to good 

    The President. Let me say, one of the--just a couple of things real 
quick. Is it--one of the big entertainment organizations sponsors every 
year a big event honoring teachers. Is it Disney? Disney. Maybe we 
should see if we should do something with them.
    On this unemployment, one of you mentioned this earlier--I think it 
was Hugh that mentioned it--but we announced today, it was in the paper, 
that we're going to spend a ton of money to try to focus on just 
training people to take jobs in technology companies. And the reason--
how that happened was I read two things at the same time several weeks 
    I get--a month after the unemployment rates comes out, the people 
who do the unemployment rates give you the State-by-State for that 
month, so like every month you're getting this month's national 
unemployment rate and last month's State-by-State. So I don't have the 
December State-by-States, but I do have it for November. In November, 
two States, North Dakota and one other--Nebraska, I think--had 1.9 
percent unemployment. Now, that is essentially negative unemployment 
because any economist will tell you there's somewhere between 2 and 3 
percent of the people walking around all the time. I mean, they're 
moving; they're getting married; they change States; they do something; 
something is always happening to a couple percent of the people that are 
just--in the way we measure unemployment.
    And Washington, DC, had 7.8, or whatever it was. And at the same 
time--this was this month. Anyway, the month before when this

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happened, the same day I pick up this article in the Washington Post 
which says that in all these suburban counties around Washington, DC, 
there's this huge shortage of high-technology workers. Well, if 
Washington, DC, had an unemployment rate of 2 percent instead of nearly 
8 percent, we'd have about a quarter of the problems we've got here, 
maybe a tenth.
    And so it occurred to me that a lot of--but a lot of these jobs in 
high-technology areas do not require 4-year college degrees. They do 
require technology training; they do require advanced skills over what 
you would get just coming out of high school. But they do not require a 
4-year college degree. So what this announcement in the paper is about--
it's Alexis Herman and some others, we've been working on this--we're 
trying to figure out whether, not just in DC but anywhere around the 
country where you've got this suburban ring of job demand and a high 
unemployment core, whether we can go in there and do profiles on people 
and see who is capable of getting these skills. And we're going to try 
and do it in some of the less urbanized areas, too. One of the 
problems--a lot of our Native Americans without jobs, without good jobs, 
live in highly dispersed areas where it's not as easy to get there.
    But anyway, if this works--that is, if 4 months from now we can show 
you that we did ``X'' amount of training and the people that formerly 
would have gone into minimum wage jobs are now going into jobs that pay 
above-average wages, where they actually get retirement and health 
insurance and other things, because they got this--it will rather 
dramatically change the nature of job training and the whole strategy 
that the Federal Government has generally followed.
    So, anyway--but I appreciate what you're saying about it.
    Bob, you were next, I think.

[Representative Robert T. Matsui commended 
the President for the diversity within his administration. He stated 
that affirmative action was a critical issue because its elimination 
would have a profound negative impact on the Nation. He also stressed 
the need to address inner-city poverty by involving the private sector 
in long-term planning, as well as technology and empowerment zone 

    The President. Thank you. Go ahead.

[Asifa Quraishi, president, Karamahi Muslim 
Women Lawyers for Human Rights, described the diversity within the 
American Muslim community and its problem of harassment as a response to 
international political events. She stated that the American public must 
separate those events from individual minority citizens and see American 
Muslims as being American citizens first.]

    The President. You know, when I was--I made a big point to try to 
make that exact same point, interestingly enough, when I spoke in the 
Jordanian Parliament when we went to sign the peace agreement between 
Israel and Jordan, and how the United States had no quarrel with Islam. 
And it was amazing the impact it had when I went back to the place where 
I was--I didn't stay in this hotel, but I went back to this hotel and 
this public crowd there. It was amazing the impact that it had on the 
young people that were there. And then I got to Jerusalem, and I had an 
Arab Palestinian employee in one of the hotels where I was--came up to 
me and mentioned it to me. So even abroad it's a big deal.
    And here at home, there was a very kind of troubling story here in 
our local press in the last week about a Muslim school that had 50 
students, and they were trying to expand it, and they were looking for a 
new home. And people in the various places where they were looking were 
afraid that this would be funded by people who would be preaching 
terrorism and all that.
    And I think it's exceedingly important that we disassociate 
religious conviction, and particularly being of Middle Eastern or South 
Asian heritage, from some iron connection to all the problems we're 
having there. And we're going to have to work on it more because the 
Muslim population is growing so substantially in this country.

[Raul Yzaguirre, president, National Council 
of La Raza, suggested using the Advisory Board as a teaching tool for 
the long term to help the Nation build a national identity based on 
respect for all its constituent groups, including victims of conquest 
and colonialism. John Echohawk, executive 
director, Native American Rights Fund, advocated an effort to teach the 
American public about the legal and political status of tribal 
governments in the Federal system and their role in combating such 

[[Page 45]]

as unemployment and low educational attainment in the Native American 

    The President. Let me just say very briefly on this one subject, I 
think it's also quite important--and we've been working at this steadily 
for 5 years, and I thank Senator Daschle, 
particularly--I want to thank him because he knows a lot about these 
issues. But the Native American tribes have a--I don't want to tie the 
analogy too tight, but they have experienced in the last several decades 
a situation in dealing with the United States that is not unlike that 
experienced by the District of Columbia.
    I always tell people, the problem that DC's had--one problem that DC 
has is sort of the ``not quite'' place. It's not quite independent, and 
it's not quite dependent. It's not quite a State, but it's not quite a 
city that we treat like a city. It's sort of ``not quite.'' And we've 
had a policy that, if it had an honest label--an honest label--toward 
Native American tribes, would be something like sovereign dependence, or 
dependent sovereignty.
    And what I have tried to do is not only to recognize the sovereignty 
of the tribes when it came to national resource and environmental issues 
and even issues where I maybe didn't always agree because it wasn't my 
place to decide--some of the gaming issues and other things that the law 
gives it to the tribes to decide. I think there is this whole other sort 
of superstructure of the way the Federal Government dealt with Native 
Americans relating mostly to their economic needs and their educational 
needs, which in my view was not focused enough toward economic and 
educational and health care and other empowerment issues, where I think 
we could--we'll never have the right sort of sovereignty relationship 
until the tools for success are there.
    And I really--we've worked at this for 5 years. We haven't quite got 
it down yet exactly right, but I think we're making a lot of progress. 
And I appreciate the help you've given us.
    Tom, and John--go ahead, John.

[Historian John Hope Franklin, Chairman, 
President's Advisory Board on Race, noted that affirmative action 
favoring whites operated in the Nation for a much longer time than that 
favoring minorities. He also suggested that the President strongly 
publicize actions and events relating to the race initiative because 
that had not attracted much media attention thus far.]

    The President. Thank you very much. I also want to thank you for the 
extraordinary amount of time and energy you've put into this. It's been 
humbling to the rest of us.

[Senator Thomas A. Daschle stated that the 
Democrats in Congress need to amplify the President's leadership. He 
noted the extremely negative statistics on reservations throughout the 
Midwest, citing an 85 percent unemployment rate on reservations in North 
Dakota, as opposed to a 1.9 percent rate off reservations, as an example 
of the great need.]

    The President. Before we go I'd like to just leave you with this 
thought, just sort of food for thought to keep you churning on this. 
First, I'll make a request. I would like anything you can do to help us 
get more things that work in to the commission staff, so we can put it 
on the Internet and get it out, let people see that there are--people 
always write or they E-mail us and they say, ``What can we do?'' We'd 
like to say, here's something that's working somewhere; why don't you do 
it? That's important. Anything you can do to help us recruit any kind of 
new leadership to enlist in this cause, we'd like to have your help on 
    But anyway, let me finish. Here's the thing I'd like to leave you 
with, just sort of as food for thought, to continue this discussion and 
try to narrow it further. And I may be unfairly summarizing someone 
else's work, so I'll try not to--I hope I'm not being unfair. Bill 
Raspberry had an interesting column the 
other day in which he said this race effort is a big deal, and there's 
three things involved in it, and maybe nobody could ever deal with all 
three things. He said, first of all, there's the feeling of racial 
prejudice, how people feel about each other. And secondly, he said, 
there is the existence of illegal discrimination that our laws prohibit. 
And thirdly, there is the existence of outcomes which are dramatically 
different by race; your life chances and education, income, employment, 
and ownership and health care, among other things, are dramatically 
different based on your race.
    He said, ``I once thought we could fight all three of them in the 
sixties because we had an enemy, the Southern white people, and 
everybody else was on the same side.'' Now, at least when it comes to--
maybe everybody feels some discrimination towards somebody else or--

[[Page 46]]

he says now the problem is if we're all responsible for all this, it's 
hard to get enough allies to work on what really counts, which is 
changing the life experiences of the people, in terms of their outcomes. 
Most leaders of any group would give anything just to end whatever the 
disparities are in education, in health care, and in employment, income, 
and ownership. And I'm sort of amplifying, but I think this is a fair 
representation of what he said.
    So he made the suggestion--he said what we need to do is get 
everybody on the same side, start out, and then see if we can work back 
to--so the logical extension--this was not in there, but the logical 
extension of the argument was if you could get everybody working on the 
same side on what to do about job outcomes, maybe you would come back 
and have a broader consensus on an affirmative action program than you 
think, or at least the people who are against it would then recognize 
their moral responsibility to put something credible in its place.
    I thought that was an interesting argument, when you deal with--if 
you just deal with the three things I mentioned. It doesn't get you out 
of the primary obligation to enforce the laws against discrimination 
adequately, but it was an interesting way to think about it. If you ask 
everybody--for example, if you ask everybody who is on both sides of 
this English-as-a-second-language issue in California to start with the 
disparate educational outcomes and work back, you might get to a 
different place.
    One of the things that always bothers me about all these litmus test 
issues--and I'm not innocent in this, so I'm not casting a stone--is 
that depending on which side of the litmus test you're on, once you 
figure out your crowd's winning, then you go on and worry about 
something else. Then when you figure out--when you realize your side's 
losing, you can't worry about anything else; but you can't have an 
honest conversation, because you're trying too hard to keep from getting 
killed in the next referendum or whatever.
    In terms of the affirmative action referendum, all I can tell you is 
that I made a couple of statements in California in 209, and maybe I 
could have done more, and I think if the thing had gone on 3 more weeks, 
it would have come out differently on 209. I'm glad I was asked to be a 
part of the effort against the repeal in Houston, and it succeeded; it's 
the only one that has. But the real issue is if you left it alone and no 
one ever debated it again, we've had enough experience to know that it 
is insufficient to change the disparate outcomes. So what if we started 
on trying to figure out how we could close the gaps and work back; we 
might find that we had a lot more agreement than we thought.
    Now, in the initial polling--I think this will change a lot, as the 
referendum is debated. And I confess, I have not read exactly what--the 
initial polling in California, on the English, the bilingual education 
initiative, is deeply troubling to defenders of bilingual education 
because the initial polling has 70 percent of Hispanic voters voting for 
the initiative.
    Now, what does that mean? That doesn't necessarily mean that they 
understand the implications of this initiative and they want to vote for 
it. But what it does mean is that Hispanic parents are concerned about 
whether their children stay in the programs for too long, or whether the 
programs are sufficiently effective to let them learn everything else as 
well as they need to learn.
    So instead of getting into the fight, could we at least start with 
dealing with what people's perception of the problem is, and then work 
back to the solution; then if you do that, you've got some alternative 
to put in place if you want to fight the initiative. In other words, you 
don't have to play their game; you don't have to let it be a wedge issue 
if you decide to articulate it in a way that forces everybody else to 
come talk to you about what the real issue is--which is, you want all 
these children whose first language is not English to be able to learn 
everything they need to learn, on time as much as possible, and to be 
English-proficient, if they're going to live in this country, as quickly 
as they can be.
    But there are--depending on what age you come here and what your 
situation is and what your native language is and how difficult it is 
and what the subject is, it is more or less difficult to learn certain 
things in English within certain time periods. In other words, it's a 
complicated issue. But there is a broad perception that the bilingual 
services have become, if you will, institutionalized in a way that carry 
kids with them longer than they should be and may make them too 
dependent on it.
    So why don't we analyze the facts and find out what they are, and 
then try to work back to that, instead of immediately joining the issue;

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but do it quickly enough so that the people of California have some 
chance of having an honest debate. It isn't just history that people are 
deprived of; very often they are deprived of what the facts are on the 
issues they're debating. So all they can do is go on what they think 
their basic values are and their basic instincts.
    And we get so caught up--and, believe me, I share the frustration 
that Dr. Franklin said about what the 
voters don't know. It's very hard to pierce through the public 
consciousness and to do a sustained public education campaign in the 
absence of some great conflict.
    I'll never forget, 10 days before our congressional debacle in 1994, 
a man I didn't know very well who was a pollster just spontaneously sent 
me this survey he did--or at least I wasn't working with him at the 
time--and I was shocked. He said, ``Here are 10 things that, if all the 
voters knew them, would change the outcome of this congressional 
election, which is about to be terrible for you, if they just knew''--
maybe there were eight things on the list. But anyway, there were more 
than five things that we had done that absolutely nobody knew about. So 
this is a generic problem in a society as big and complex as ours, being 
bombarded from all edges.
    But I just ask you to think about that. Suppose we did that with 
health care. Suppose we did that with education. For example, on the 
education issue, some people say, well, maybe this 10 percent solution 
that Texas adopted would work on the affirmative action. Well, the 
answer is it might well work in most States for admission to college, 
but it wouldn't do anything on the graduate school front. So what's your 
answer on graduate school?
    There are a lot of these things that I'd just like to see--I'd like 
to see more, instead of just throwing barricades over the wall at one 
another, if we could start with what the problem is and work back, I 
really believe we can make an enormous amount of progress in this 
country, because most Americans who get caught in the middle on these 
referendums, where their values are pulling them one way and you're 
trying to--and the rhetoric is pulling them one way, and you're trying 
to cram information in as quick as you can before election time comes 
and all that kind of stuff. Most Americans really don't like the fact 
that we have disparate outcomes, and most Americans think anybody that's 
working hard and needs a hand up ought to get it, to have a fair chance.
    So I think, to go back to what you said about talking to the Speaker 
on this issue, I think I'm going to try to follow this tack in dealing 
with our friends who disagree with us on so much. Let's see if we can't 
start with that and work back and see how much agreement we can make. I 
think we may do better than people think.
    Thank you. This was great.

Note: The President spoke at 5:45 p.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White 
House. The meeting was part of ``One America: The President's Initiative 
on Race.''