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"Where is the Declaration of War?,"

by Bill Ong Hing November/December 1998 issue of Poverty & Race

Where is the DECLARATION OF WAR? We all agree that racism in evil forms continues in the United States. We all agree that racism is wholly and completely unacceptable. Then where is the sense of urgency over this issue? Where is the sense of outrage and indignation? Where is the massive mobilization over the issue? Where is the commitment of millions of dollars to shock the conscience of America on this issue? Where is the DECLARATION OF WAR?

As reports go, the Advisory Board's Report to the President is a good one. The report recognizes the complexities of the issues and the need for multi-faceted approaches to the subject. The Advisory Board knows that we need a combination of leadership, legislation, media work and focus on the young to begin to influence the actions as well as the attitudes of Americans when it comes to issues of race and bettering race relations. The report does a fine job in pointing out the common history of legal, social and economic subordination suffered by American Indians and Alaska Natives, African Americans, Latinos, Asian Pacific Americans and white immigrants. It contains an excellent reminder to readers about the changing diversity of America and the fact that any discussion of race today is inadequate if limited to a discussion about blacks and whites. The Advisory Board and its staff deserve high praise for providing this important foundation for action.

However, the call to action on the issues of racism and race relations must go far beyond the polite letter to be sent from the President to the National Governors Association and other local leaders. The call to action must go far beyond the mild suggestion of a "media campaign that has the capacity to effectively disseminate factual information and inspire creative expression." In June, James Byrd, Jr., a black man in Texas, was chained to the back of a pickup and dragged to death by three white men. That tragedy sparked outrage for a while; but once again that outrage has subsided to polite talk, over passage of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Time and time again, the Advisory Board heard about incidents of this nature, but it too has succumbed to polite talk on these issues. The problem with polite talk on these issues is that it lets the vast majority of the nation off the hook. The problem with polite talk, especially about hate crimes, is that it fails to get across to the nation the fact that hate crimes are only the tip of the iceberg. The nation ends up taking these incidents lightly, thinking that those types of incidents are the prime and only target, when in fact the prime target should be the foundation of institutionalized racism that has created an environment that enables subtle and unconscious racism and emboldens perpetrators of hate crimes. Yet all forms of racism are evil and must be vigilantly addressed.

Thus, we need more than a polite "call to action." We need a DECLARATION OF WAR! The declaration of war on the evils of racism and inter-group tensions must be loud and constant. Just as the administration poured millions of dollars into its campaign against drugs through high-profile, shock-the-conscience types of television ads initiated this past summer, something just as attention-grabbing, but much more consistent, has to begin now. Just as organizations and businesses have their motivational mission and vision statements, of which good leaders constantly remind their workers, we need a clear vision or mission statement on these issues that will serve as the moral equivalent of the Declaration of Independence into the next millennium. We must be driven, not politely, because we are beyond politeness on the evils of hate and prejudice that our leaders and Advisory Board members acknowledge are not "American values." Of course, be creative and imaginative in approaches. Call for new laws, enforcement of old laws, smart coalition building, civility, respect and approaches to addressing actions and private attitudes, but make that call LOUD AND CLEAR and remind us OVER AND OVER! Make it part of the national psyche, not just part of the national agenda.

Let us not wait for more hate-motivated beatings and shootings. Let us not wait for more church burnings and house bombings. Let us not wait for more lynching. Let us not wait for another race riot. We must wake up America now! After we wake up, then we can begin to learn how to say "good morning" to one another.

Bill Ong Hing is Visiting Professor of Law, U. C. Davis, and Executive Director of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

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