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"Six Precepts on Race in Pre-Millennium America,"

by Clarence Lusane January/February 1998 issue of Poverty & Race

In "Godfather III," when he discovered that the Pope's life was being threatened, Michael Corleone lamented that it was probably too late to save him. I am tempted to feel the same way about Clinton's Race Initiative. I am not sure that it can be saved — or even should be. Good intentions notwithstanding, it is drowning in a sea of political interests and recently became even less buoyant with the inclusion of graduates from the race-is-no-problem school such as Linda Chavez, Ward Connerly and Abigail Thernstrom. Indeed, if the logic is to include the widest possible views on race, why not invite your local Grand Imperial Wizard?

Rather than present a list of demands or genuine grievances, already exceptionally documented, let me humbly offer six precepts on race that may help us all in how we conceptualize the issues and tasks facing the Race Initiative and, more importantly, all of us concerned with these questions.

1. Replace the so-called "war on drugs" with a "war on racism" in every sense of the term. Recall the troops, shift the funding and close the door on policies that have only filled the nation's courts, jails and prisons and only incidentally addressed substance abuse and drug trafficking problems. Instead, launch the war on racism with equal vigor. Similar to the campaigns against teenage pregnancy, drunk driving and smoking, create a broad popular, corporate, public and community-involved campaign that overwhelms by its sheet size and hubris. Come up with slogans ("Just Say Diversity"), ad campaigns, singing children, insertions into television scripts, pictures of victims and other strategies that collectively paint a picture of racial inequality and discrimination as public safety concerns, and send the message thai something can be done. A somewhal similar campaign was done in Canada against racism and was generally well received.

2. Don't create a series of gatherings that resemble meetings of whai political scientist Jocelyn Sargent calls "Racists Anonymous." It has beer torturous to watch the Race Initiative in action because one feels like a fly on a wall at a meeting of recovering addicts - While those gatherings certainly have their place, persona] therapy has little value in a national discourse on race. Honest and useful dialogue begins with a common base of knowledge and understandings thai the Initiative has not and did not seek to develop.

3. Du Bois' problem, Myrdal's dilemma and the Kerner Commission's multiple nations persist. They do so. however, under new circumstances and within profoundly different political, cultural, social and economic contexts. I would argue that there is a need for a new, comprehensive multi-year study involving the nation's best researchers that would consolidate the current research along with new arenas of race questions to be addressed. Developing a new and progressive paradigm on race will minimally require a summation, critique and evisceration of present notions about race. Race relations in the United States have to framed by global processes. Economic and, to a lesser degree, politically motivated immigration will continue to replenish, expand and reconstruct the colored populations of the United States.

4. It is less important to cite the statistics on racial disparities, generally known and felt by most, than to discourse on the changing character of racial categories in the United States. At every level, what Michael Omi and Howard Winant term "racialization" is occurring. What and who we thought of as black is transforming as the black community bifurcates and trifurcates along class lines while dividing further as immigrants/citizens from Africa and the Caribbean form separate communities with different political urgencies, economic philosophies and cultural distinctiveness. In similar ways, the Asian American and Latino communities are experiencing similar restructuring. "Blackness" and "Latinoness" are further challenged by the hybridization of race and ethnicity created by a conscious and growing black Latino population. The crisis of white identity has burst out of academic journals and increasingly onto the nation's front pages. Native Americans — who were shamefully and inexcusably left without representation on the Race Initiative's Advisory Board that was clearly constructed for its symbolic diversity — remain the most oppressed and forgotten of the nation's social groups.

5. Throw money (lots of it) at the problems. Do not buy the hype, generally advocated by those of wealth and means, that money will not solve problems. Quite the contrary. Schoolchildren needs books, the ill need medicines, the homeless need homes. Addressing issues that involve the poor of color, from job training to jobs, from adequate preventive health care to a more equitable education system, are not cost-free endeavors. Yes, tax the rich, cut military spending, end corporate welfare and stop bailing out transnational bankers, industrialists and speculators.

6. Critique the media. Much of how people conceive of race, both domestically and globally, is shaped by stereotypes projected in the entertainment and news media. Challenging these tropes of race would go a long way in the development of perspectives of inclusiveness, fairness and openness.

Clarence Lusane is on the faculty of American University's School of International Service and author of the book Race in the Global Era: African Americans at the Millennium (South End Press).
 
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