Has The Conversation About Race Changed?

GUESTS:
Clarence Page, syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune
Gustavo Arellano, writes the syndicated "Ask A Mexican" column
Keli Goff, author of Party Crashing
Raymond Winbush, director of The Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University

President Obama became the country's first black president one year ago, and the term "post-racial" became a household phrase. But the conversation is far from over. What events of the past year triggered conversations about race in your life?

Copyright © 2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Jennifer Ludden in Washington. Neal Conan is away.

One year ago this week, U.S. voters elected their first black president, a milestone that moved millions. As the polls closed, and Barack Obama was declared the winner, revelers danced and wept in streets across the U.S. - even around the world. The election of a president with brown skin, an African father and an unusual name soon made the term post-racial a household phrase. But the issue of race has swirled around some very public debates over this past year, and many say the U.S. still has a long way to go.

There are as many views on race in America as there are Americans, so today we are checking back in with some of the voices we've heard from on this issue during and since the 2008 presidential campaign. We've also spoken with you over the past year, our audience, and we'd like to hear it from you again today. Mull this over for a moment. Think about what was an event this year that triggered a conversation about race that was somehow new or different for you. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org. And you can also join the conversation at our Web site. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

With me now in our studio is Clarence Page. He's a syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune. From our New York bureau, Keli Goff, political blogger for theloop21.com. Also with us from the studios of KUCI in Irvine, California, is Gustavo Arellano, staff writer for OC Weekly, where he writes the syndicated column �Ask a Mexican.� And joining us from member station WYPR in Baltimore is Raymond Winbush. He's director of the Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University. Thanks so much to all of you for being here.

Mr. CLARENCE PAGE (Syndicated Columnist, Chicago Tribune): Thank you.

Mr. GUSTAVO ARELLANO (Columnist, OC Weekly): Gracias.

Mr. RAYMOND WINBUSH (Director, The Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University): Hey, thank you.

Ms. KELI GOFF (Political Blogger, theloop21.com): Thank you.

LUDDEN: So first question to all four of you briefly, Clarence first, what was a moment in this past year that triggered a new conversation or new perspective about race in the U.S. for you?

Mr. PAGE: Well, a moment - you know, trouble being a journalist is I get a lot of moments like that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LUDDEN: You're always talking.

Mr. PAGE: I would say - you know, I would say I'm not sure what moment it was, but I began to realize that we're having the wrong conversation in terms of black and white or right and left. That we're really a two - we are two nations. Barack Obama's famous speech wasn't quite right. I call them Obama World and Palin Nation.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PAGE: They are - we kind of have really two poles, if you will, like we don't want to say right and left. But you've got Obama's world, where it's very cosmopolitan, it's urban, it's open, it's forward-looking. You've got a Palin Nation or Fox Nation, as Fox News actually uses that term to describe their community of listeners, if you will, which is conservative, more small-town America, more populist America in the traditional sense, more Jeffersonian, more Jacksonian.

Obama World is more Hamiltonian. And this is - you know, the difference is striking to me. I mean, I hear from Palin Nation: Why does Obama call himself - why does he call himself black? He's really biracial. As if this is part of some conspiracy along with others, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PAGE: And so I think, you know, our conversation has changed. We're still a divided country, but you know, when we get a big crisis, we pull together. But we shouldn't need a 9/11 every week in order to understand that we are one country.

LUDDEN: Not post there. We're pre, from the way you're talking about. Keli, what about you? You're also in the journalist business, but was there something, some surprising conversation you found yourself having from something this past year?

Ms. GOFF: Well, I think there - like Clarence, there have been a few of them because we're writers, and we have to sort of find them each and every week, if not more often. But I would say that there are actually a string of events that sort of took place close together that caught my eye and my ear because they kept popping up in conversations, not just with subjects I write about but with my friends. And that's usually a really good indicator, when you hear sort of what my family's saying down South and what my friends in New York are saying - Obama World meets Palin Nation, if you will.

And I'd say that two events were the Henry Louis Gates incident, as we'll call it, and I would say the Serena Williams incident. And the reason I would cite both of those is because�

LUDDEN: This is the tennis player.

Ms. GOFF: The tennis player who, as we all know, had some trouble losing her temper with the lineswoman. And the reason I would cite both of them together is because one of the things that I really think is going to become sort of the story of the Obama presidency in terms of race is that both of those incidents were sort of the perfect collision of race meets class, and the perception of sort of whether or not now that we have a black president, whether or not now that we have African-Americans who, like Serena Williams, are incredibly wealthy, incredibly successful, and like Henry Louis Gates, as well, whether - sort of how we define what constitutes racism, discrimination and sort of everything that happens in between. Because there were plenty of people who felt very strongly that in both instances - this is not - you know, these weren't incidents of discrimination or racism, they were simply incidents in which authority felt threatened, if you will, and felt the need to react accordingly.

And then, of course, there were plenty of other people who felt very strongly that, okay, that may be true to some degree, but let's sort of change-up these scenarios, and were these people not black, would the situations have played out the same?

I actually think that's going to become really the defining issue of this yin and yang, where people are saying it's not all about race anymore, and people saying it may not all be about race, but just because we have a black president doesn't mean nothing's about race.

LUDDEN: Right. Gustavo Arellano, what about you this past year? New conversation or new perspective on race?

Mr. ARELLANO: The great conversation, of course, was the nomination and eventual confirmation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina or, you know, Latino to be nominated for the Supreme Court. And the conversation that I saw that, in a way, infuriated me, and I did discuss it in my column was this - the whole controversy over the wise Latina, the big controversy over that.

And what I saw - especially coming from the right or the people who do not like Barack Obama or what he represents - was people insisting, like, this must be the new era of Obama, one where we identify ourselves specifically by our race, by our nationality.

LUDDEN: You're thinking of like, Latina - Latina names like Latina - how dare we?

Mr. ARELLANO: I know, exactly, how dare we? And so just this idea that, well, if you're a minority, then you can't possibly unbiased. You can't possibly be objective, and you have to have this world view that goes directly from the prism of your ethnicity or your race, and of course that's foolish.

Judge Sonia Sotomayor is going to prove that that's just a foolish conversation. But I think that's something that happened only - that's happening now because of President Barack Obama and because of all the fears that people have of what is it to have a black man in the White House? What is it to finally have minorities - you know, what happens when the roosters - the chickens come home to roost finally?

I always think, especially when it comes to immigration - when it comes to Latinos and immigration, this idea that the United States is finally - it's finally becoming more multiracial. I do think that maybe some of the older elements think that - a sort of guilt that, since they - since obviously since we've discriminated against minorities for so long that obviously the minorities, now that they're in charge, they're also going to start discriminating against white people. And I think that's an absolutely ridiculous argument, but that's something that's starting to bubble up from the lower crevices of our society.

LUDDEN: Ray Winbush, what about you?

Mr. WINBUSH: Well, I had a rather mundane experience that happened about a week after Obama's election. And I got into a taxi in New York, and people were still in this kind of euphoric state. And this white cab driver turned around, you know, rather matter-of-factly and said well, now that you guys have the country, what are you going to do with it?

Mr. ARELLANO: Yeah, exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WINBUSH: So I asked him, you know, I started deconstructing the language. I said: Who are you guys? I thought we all had the country, and what did you guys do with it? And it was a fairly heated discussion, and I was surprised because it was kind of like a drive-by racial moment that I had to, you know, talk about quickly in the length of time it took to get from Lower Manhattan to, you know, Midtown. And that to me epitomized how people feel the racial divide: It's your country or my country. And this our-country stuff is more - you know, it depends on who you talk to.

LUDDEN: You know, I want to ask you, Keli Goff, you wrote a provocative piece this fall kind of looking at all these incidents - the public incidents that have sparked this ongoing debate. It was - your piece was called "Why I'm Grateful for Joe Wilson and the Fury of Racists." Why were you grateful?

Ms. GOFF: Well because - the piece was inspired by a conversation I had with my mother, who I talk quite a bit about, I've noticed, in some of my pieces because she grew up in the segregated South, in Oklahoma cotton country. And we got into this conversation about her sharing some of the fears expressed by Nancy Pelosi, that perhaps we are headed into, you know, a period of violence in our country.

I don't know if you'll recall when Nancy Pelosi said that at a press conference and began to tear up because things were getting so heated. And my mother and I had this conversation about the fact that, you know, through - we started thinking about the fact that throughout history, whenever our country has been on the brink of significant change - and not just change, but progress - there has been violence in this country, there has been outrage.

You look at Reconstruction. That's when, you know, we had the unfortunate period in our country where lynchings were actually at their peak. You look at the civil rights movement, and that's when we had, you know, four little girls killed by a bomb and countless churches burned. And we had so many martyrs that we lost, from Medgar Evers to Martin Luther King, Jr.

And so there is something that sort of struck me about the fact that when someone gets so angry that they feel the need to put in writing -call someone of color a banana-eating jungle monkey, you know, which is the type of language that I don't think even David Duke would have been so silly as to put in writing, and yet when someone feels so angry they need to do that, when someone feels so angry they need to rip up a poster of Rosa Parks, when someone feels so angry that they need to call a member of Congress the N-word and put it in writing, that says to me that that's someone who's angry - not just angry but afraid that they're losing their country.

LUDDEN: Right. Well, so you see a bit of optimism there.

Ms. GOFF: Especially in my generation because every study shows that not only do people not agree with their parents using that type of language, but they support things like interracial relationships at 95 percent.

LUDDEN: Right. Right.

Ms. GOFF: That's what gives me optimism and makes me sort of grateful, in a tongue-in-cheek way, that people are this angry.

LUDDEN: Well, Clarence Page, briefly, the Gallup poll recently showed that optimism about resolving black-white tension has actually dropped from 67 percent a year ago to 56 percent today, and you say you're relieved about that. Why?

Mr. PAGE: Yeah, because it's way up from where it was after the O.J. Simpson verdict back in 1995, when it fell to about 29 percent. This was, you know, Americans in that annual Gallup poll that said they believed that our racial problem will someday be resolve or be solved.

It was very low in the mid-'90s there. It shot up to a record high - they've been doing this since 1963 - last year, as Barack Obama was being elected, to the high 60s or 67 percent. Now, it's settled down to about 55 percent, 54, the same level it was in 1963. But we can see we made progress since '63. I think Americans' standards have gone up.

LUDDEN: All right, a year after an historic election, we're looking at how the conversation about race in this country has changed and how it's not. We are going to hear from you when we come back. You can call us at 800-989-8255. You can also email us. The address is talk@npr.org. I'm Jennifer Ludden. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

LUDDEN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Jennifer Ludden in Washington. This hour, we're continuing the conversation about race we've been having in this show for two years, during an historic election that saw the first black candidate and now first black president.

We want to know what the view is like from here, a year after President Obama's victory. How has the conversation on race changed? I'm talking with Clarence Page, syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune, as well as Keli Goff, political blogger for theloop21.com. Also with us is Gustavo Arellano, a staff writer for OC Weekly, he writes the syndicated column �Ask a Mexican,� and Raymond Winbush, director of the Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University.

And we're also hearing from you. Dwayne(ph) in South Florida has written: Eric Holder's nation of cowards comment got me into a conversation with a co-worker that changed the atmosphere for me at work permanently.

Now Larry(ph), Larry in Sacramento, you worked on the Prop 8 campaign out there. Tell us about a moment you had. Larry.

LARRY (Caller): Hello. I found your conversation really interesting. I know in California, last year for me, the night of the election, to sit and listen to commentators talk about how this an historic day in America, how we've made so much progress when me and countless others lost rights in California, to me the disconnect there was so overwhelming, and I think really fueled a lot of the reaction that you saw in terms of protests in the streets immediately after.

LUDDEN: Did you feel - did that come as a surprise to you when the vote come in, or did you feel that - you were out canvassing, right? Did you have a sense?

LARRY: Yes, I definitely was. And there were - there definitely were some divisions there. And I think some very interesting conversations happened when some of the follow-up and research after voting trends came out, and initially, there was some news that African-Americans very disproportionally supported Prop 8 in comparison to other racial groups in California. And that trend has been reflected in almost every other state that's had the equal measures or initiatives or propositions, and so that disconnect is still there. And so even now, listening to you talk about this historic event, how America's, you know, turned a new tide, how there's all this tension, a state still to this day has not passed marriage equality. And there's been very interesting conversations there, especially, you know, a president that doesn't support full marriage equality. And for me to sit and listen to how much America's progressed and how there's this distinct lack of racial tension is important, but it's not the whole story. And the struggle for civil rights is much larger than race. And we've become so comfortable talking about race.

We are not so comfortable talking about other issues like class or sexual orientation. And so for me, it's still very challenging to even listen to this program and for you guys to talk about how this is a really important, historical moment, and it is. But it also is a time when rights are getting taken away from people and that a group that was very celebratory, you know, appropriately, to see, you know, to see one of their own in the White House is exciting. But at the same time, that same group disproportionately doesn't - has not necessarily been engaged enough or isn't at a place yet where they support equality for all people, and so I think that�

Ms. GOFF: Can I respond to that, or is he going to keep going?

LUDDEN: Sure, Keli Goff.

Ms. GOFF: Okay, great. I was going to say first of all, I think that - not I think. When you go back, and you look at the numbers, African-American voters were not the primary problem with Prop 8. It was older voters.

Mr. WINBUSH: Yes.

Ms. GOFF: And that's problem number one I have with how that question was framed because it shows a complete lack of context, which has been repeated through time and time again in terms of the story.

LARRY: I'm sorry, but�

Ms. GOFF: Number two, when you look at Maine, African-Americans are less than one percent of the population in the state of Maine, and the marriage-equality issue lost there, too.

What I would say, and I've had this conversation with many friends and supporters on this issue of marriage equality, is first of all, playing the blame game is not a way to win allies. And second of all, I think that one of the unfortunate things about this conversation - and it happens with African-Americans, it happens with women, it happens with gays and lesbians - is people get too focused on trying to out-complain each other about which problems they all have that they end up not working together. And I think that's been a huge problem in terms of the marriage-equality issue.

When you look at every statistic in this country, whether it's health care, whether it's life span, whether it's employment, whether it's police brutality, black men still sit at the bottom on every single one of those statistics. So I would respectfully disagree when someone says that we're really comfortable talking about race, and we've advanced because Barack Obama is president, which is great, but I would say that there are plenty of problems that African-Americans still need to work on in their own communities.

And that's not to lessen the concerns of the gay community. But I talk to plenty of African-Americans who are worried about things like their sons getting shot when they get pulled over by a police officer because that's still happening - the Oscar Grant case and many of others - and people are a bit focused on that. And it makes it hard for someone when they hear it's my fault that this person doesn't have the right to get married, which may be a secondary concern to the person who's worried about their kid getting shot. And like I said, statistically to blame African-Americans for these losses is just simply not statistically accurate.

LARRY: Excuse me, you know, respectfully, I never blamed anyone, and�

Ms. GOFF: That's how the question sounded, sorry.

LARRY: According to all racial groups, African-Americans still voted in much higher numbers against Prop 8�

Ms. GOFF: Proportionally we're 12 percent of the population. We're 12 percent of the population.

LUDDEN: All right. Well, I don't�

Ms. GOFF: And to blame us for that is just factually wrong, and that's�

LUDDEN: I don't think we're going to solve this here, but Larry, you make a good point, and we thank you for your call.

And I have an email here that is about blacks and whites and marriage. Let's see here, Jamie(ph) from St. Paul writes this: The issue that brought race into the conversation between my husband and I - he is, incidentally, part of that Palin Nation, while I'm firmly in the Obama-Nation camp, but we somehow married in July - was the Louisiana justice of the peace that refused to marry the biracial couple. We were both appalled, having just gone through calling judges ourselves to marry in Minnesota. How can this happen in this day and age?

Mr. PAGE: We can all get along, though, see?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PAGE: They got married, didn't they? That's why I have hope.

LUDDEN: Raymond Winbush?

Mr. WINBUSH: Yeah, this is Ray Winbush. You know, I'm going to be somewhat of a dissenter here in saying that I don't think we have made racial progress in the sense of - I mean, it's great that we've got a black president. It's great to see a black first family. But what is also very bad is for us to hear some of the issues that are very difficult to talk about: the increase of death threats against the president.

I think that - look, you know, the old metaphor about piercing a boil, that I think that has occurred under Obama's administration, that people are feeling freer now to talk about race in some of the most ugly ways.

I think some national talk-show hosts that I will not name but who recently tried to get part ownership of a football team in St. Louis�

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WINBUSH: I think that when - they're blowing racial dog whistles to the crazies that are out there. They're - and these people are responding to this. I mean, it was shown in some of these town-hall meetings this summer when people were carrying AK-47s and weapons - loaded, I might add�

Mr. PAGE: And one of them was black, by the way.

Mr. WINBUSH: Misquoting Jefferson and stuff. So I think there's been an extremely - I think there is a euphoria, and I'm glad about that. I encourage that, but there's also this darker element that has always been at the bedrock of race discussion in this country. And I think that's why�

LUDDEN: Well, Clarence Page, do you want to take any issue with that because you've written that racism�

Mr. PAGE: Yes, yes. No, I�.

LUDDEN: �it's not eliminated - has been driven underground.

Mr. PAGE: No, I was going to raise a question. Ray, why do you feel like that shows there's no progress? I mean - I'm sorry, go ahead.

Mr. WINBUSH: Very quickly, like when Eric Holder last February said that we were a nation of cowards, the firestorm that erupted after that, or Jimmy Carter's statement that they thought - that he thought that some of what occurred with Barack Obama was the fact that he was an African-American male in the presidency, I think that the firestorm that - we don't know how to talk about race. And to me, that's the problem.

Mr. PAGE: That's true. But you know, I said that 10 years ago, when I wrote a book on race saying we don't know how to talk about it. And I think - I mean, I agree with you fully, as far as what you've observed, but I feel optimistic because I feel like, okay, we're just hearing what people have been thinking all along, anyway, you know?

Mr. WINBUSH: You're - okay, it's just - again, we're on the same page on that, I agree.

Mr. PAGE: It's out here on the surface, you know. I mean, people - I mentioned, by the way, one of the guys who carried an AK - it wasn't, an AK. It was an AR-15, as I recall, actually, to - I happen to be a military veteran, as he is, and he's a brother. He's black. He's the Arizona guy who believes that, you know, we all ought to be able to carry guns, and Obama is threatening his guns.

These are not strictly racial issues, but we do need to talk about them. We need to talk about how - in fact, you know, it's kind of interesting. Since Obama won, I - Dr. King used to say that he really liberated white people because of the - you know, from the burden of Jim Crow segregation. Obama has liberated many white people from the burden of political correctness. They no longer�

Mr. WINBUSH: Absolutely.

Mr. ARELLANO: I don't think not.

Mr. PAGE: �feel and - you're absolutely right that Rush Limbaugh and the other folks on talk radio are more open. And I do want to hear what the �Ask a Mexican� columnist has to say about this.

Mr. ARELLANO: Yeah. Yeah. Because I'm pretty honest, here.

Mr. PAGE: But I think that there's a lot more candor right now and that, you know, this is why I call it Palination. We're just seeing it more openly defined now.

Mr. ARELLANO: Yeah. Gustavo Arellano here. If you've seen the rhetoric, the rhetoric has always been there. We're talking here, I guess, specifically about African-Americans. But talking about Latinos, especially about talking about the question of amnesty and immigration reform, that has been the mantra of talk radio, at least in the Southwest, now increasingly across the country for the past 15 years, and with more increasing fury in the past three or four years. When you had the failed immigration reform package that President Bush and Senator John McCain were trying to pass in 2007, the glee that people took on the radio, saying there's no longer going to be a Mexican invasion. We're no longer going to have press one for English and two for Spanish. It was disgusting�

Mr. PAGE: Right.

Mr. ARELLANO: �and it's actually - it's - in a way, it hasn't gone underground. It's always been boiling underneath. And I think once President Obama starts - as he said, next year, maybe 2011, he starts talking about immigration reform. You're going to see things even nastier than before. There was that case, I think�

Mr. WINBUSH: That's right.

Mr. ARELLANO: �in the Dallas suburb where you had a police officer arrest a woman because she didn't know how to speak English, even though she was just driving, didn't break any other, you know, any other driving laws.

LUDDEN: Okay.

Mr. ARELLANO: You've seen deaths of other - you know, beating, deaths in - over in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. The rhetoric is there and it's been ugly, specifically against Latinos.

LUDDEN: All right, Gustavo. Let's hear from another listener. We have Doris, who is in San Antonio. Hi, there.

DORIS (Caller): Hi. I'm calling because, well, race has always been a big issue in my family since we have people, relatives from basically all colors and religions and whatnot. So - but I found that as soon as the president was elected - my children, they go to a private school, and some teachers are calling the president, like, the antichrist. And I have never ever, ever heard such vocabulary used to - against a politician or a president.

LUDDEN: Talk about heated rhetoric there.

Mr. WINBUSH: By the way�

LUDDEN: �Doris, thanks for the last call.

Mr. ARELLANO: The left called Bush Satan and the devil. So, I mean�

Mr. WINBUSH: �by the way, there are some people who believe Bush is the antichrist. There was a poll in New Jersey, of all places�

LUDDEN: Bush or Obama?

Mr. WINBUSH: I was sure about 11 - I'm sorry. Well, probably people there, too. But all we know is the a poll about Obama, about 11 percent believe Obama is the antichrist. But, you know, there's about the same percentage who believe Obama is a Muslim, as if there's something wrong it. Who believe that Obama was a secret Kenyan, you know? And, I mean, this is the kind of thing that boils�

LUDDEN: Okay.

Mr. WINBUSH: �underneath politics normally, anyway.

LUDDEN: So Keli Goff, who's been enheartened by the open�

(Soundbite of laughter)

LUDDEN: �door open debate we're having. Is this a good thing?

Ms. GOFF: Well, no. I can say - in all seriousness, I actually was going to chime in, but they were having such - I was totally following your conversation.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GOFF: It was really getting interesting there. But, in all seriousness, one of the things that I would say is an example of how this is all proof of progress and what keeps me optimistic is the fact that the Justice of the Peace resigned after the story about him not marrying the interracial couple. Ten years ago, that would not have happened. Fifteen years ago, that would not have happened. Twenty years ago, that would not have happened.

Mr. WINBUSH: True.

Ms. GOFF: I sort of draw the analogy to the fact that when I was in high school - think about this - Eileen DeGeneres said on the cover of Times magazine, yup, I'm gay. And within a year, her career was gone. I mean, it was completely gone. And today, she has a talk show where the, you know, presidential candidates and their wives are expected to stop by to reach Middle American women. And I still - so, it's not to discount the fact that there is a justice of the peace who felt proud of saying I will not marry two people of different races. But the fact that you had someone who supports Palin and their spouse who supported Obama coming together and say, eww, is a sign of progress.

And I want to say really quickly to Jennifer that one thing I had to point out here is when it comes to polling, two-thirds of people my age do not have landlines, so we are not pollable(ph), which is actually one of the reasons President Obama did better in swing states than people anticipated because he had a lot more cell phone numbers of people my age. So I would caution that reading too much into a poll of people being an unoptimistic about where race is going because people my age really are, overwhelmingly.

LUDDEN: All right. Well, Doris in San Antonio, thanks so much for your call. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Let's hear now from Bryce, who's called from Flint, Michigan. Hi, Bryce.

BRYCE (Caller): Good afternoon. How are you?

LUDDEN: Good.

BRYCE: Yeah. You hit on so many interesting points this afternoon. It's hard to know where even to begin. But, you know, I was talking to your screener, and one of the things that I have picked up on is the increased discussion about race that crosses racial lines. I know that five, 10 years ago at work, I would not expect to have had hardly any racial discussions whatsoever. And yet I do notice that I do have them now, and they are generally positive. There is an interchange.

LUDDEN: Really? Is it about - I mean, about what? Is it sparked by these crises, these national debate crises, or something else?

BRYCE: Yeah, it's about the news of the day, the AIDS issue, Sotomayor, et cetera, you know, that sparks discussions at work. And I think, you know, Barack Obama's election has something to do with that. But the other thing that I've noticed is that - I am a liberal. I am black. I like to go to conservative discussion sites to talk about the issues of the day because it's more challenging. And on those sites, it is the exact opposite, you know, kind of wherever the discussion goes. The discussion there - for instance, I, you know, sometimes label myself as African-American. They call me a racist on those, you know, sites because I identify as African-American. And it's almost like Orwellian Newspeak, you know, abrogation of race to sort of deny that it exists and therefore not have to deal with it.

LUDDEN: Well, how old - can I ask how old you are, Bryce?

BRYCE: I am in my early 50s.

LUDDEN: Okay. All right. Well, thank you so much for your call.

BRYCE: Okay.

LUDDEN: Ray Winbush, you teach urban studies, but you - so you're also around young students. I'm curious if you have a sense of - if there is this shift from the generation since this election.

Mr. WINBUSH: I think there is. I think, you know, Keli expressed it, too. I find younger people much more optimistic about race relations. But I also find young people a little bit unrealistic about race relations, too. There seems to be - and, you know, and I'm not generalizing, but many of the young people that I teach seem totally unaware of past advances and the subsequent blockages that occur with regards to race in America. They seem to be non-mindful of how there's been cyclical things occurring since, you know, black people got to this country, that are fairly predictable relative to race in America.

And that's - so I think the optimism, as I tell my students - I told them a few minutes ago, that optimism has to be tempered by a real understanding of history, a real understanding of their role in history, and a real understanding of the history of this country.

LUDDEN: All right. Coming up, we are going to continue our conversation about race in America one year after the Obama victory. I'm Jennifer Ludden. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

LUDDEN: Right now, we're looking at race in America. It's been a year since Barack Obama won an historic victory, the first African-American to win the presidency. Since then, the conversation about race continues. We're looking at how it's changed, ebbed and flowed.

My guests are Clarence Page, syndicated columnist of the Chicago Tribune, as well as Keli Goff, political blogger for theloop21.com. Also, Gustavo Arellano - he's a staff writer at - for OC Weekly, where he writes the syndicated column, �Ask a Mexican.� And Raymond Winbush, director of The Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University.

We're also talking with you about an event this year that triggered a conversation about race. Give us a call at 800-989-8255. Or email us: talk@npr.org. And join the conversation on our Web site. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Let's hear from Beto(ph) in San Antonio. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

BETO (Caller): Hi. My name is Beto, and I'm calling from San Antonio. Recently, a coworker of mine was - he's white. He was called a racist at work, and it was a pretty charged incident. Afterwards, when we were hanging out, I was telling him - I was like, you know, you're not a racist. You're not a bad person. And we started talking about how things were now that - I guess now that we have a black president.

I think his fear was that now that we have a black president, there was going to be a hypersensitive atmosphere, as far as if you didn't if you didn't say anything that was politically correct, and I know it's a bad word to use, but - well, basically, what I told him was, was that just because we have a black president doesn't mean that certain things are going to go out the window. I mean, Obama still has to worry about the Monroe Doctrine, which is very antiquated, but he's - there are lot of policies of the past presidents that he has to protect.

So just because we have a president of ethnicity does not necessarily mean that we're going to go from one spectrum to left. Things aren't going to get radical. There are interests that he has to protect, that he has - that are important to this country.

LUDDEN: All right. Well, Beto, thanks for calling.

Mr. PAGE: Well, indeed. This is Clarence Page, by the way. The fear of a black president was that he might or she might wreak revenge for all the abuses that the blacks have put up with over the years. I mean, these are the kind of myths that surround politics of this nature.

But, no, this is so much a part of America's ethnic evolution. Every new rising ethnic group in the history of this country has run up against the same kind of barriers as their group became empowered and once they got into power. Others attacked them anyway they could. And one way to attack somebody is to pull their strings over something really obvious, like their ethnicity, their religion, their gender, something of this nature. So a lot of this, I think, is an airing out of a lot of pent-up baggage that we've been carrying culturally in this country for a long time.

LUDDEN: Gustavo Arellano, I want to ask you, you know, as we said, race is more than just black and white. And we've certainly mentioned the big flap around the Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and her nomination. You know, would that all have played out differently, you do think, if there was not a black president? And how are Latinos feeling now on your end?

Mr. ARELLANO: Well, the one interesting thing that I remember from the election was during the primaries for the Democratic Party, there was this myth propagated by the media with no facts whatsoever, saying that Latinos would never vote for a black man, of course. And this was being said by the mainstream media, by - this was a lie perpetuated by no less than the Hillary Clinton campaign. And then you had the right wing picking up on that and saying, you see, that's why we - you know, Latinos are naturally racists because that's just how race is - you know, African, Afro-Mexicans are looked down upon in Mexico, and race is just even worse in Latin America. So it became this huge conversation that just created myths and myths upon myths upon myths, all specifically used to denigrate Latinos. And, of course, when the election happened, guess what? Two-thirds of Latinos voted for Barack Obama.

Of course they did, because he was the better president and he was the one that was more attuned to what happened, you know, to the concerns of all Americans, not just Latinos. But he was the one who was speaking a better talk on immigration reform. So as to your question then, I -these conversations, they still would have happened without President Obama. The conversation about Latinos might - about immigration reform has been happening now for what, a good 10 years, ever since�

LUDDEN: If President Bush had nominated, you know, someone like, Sonia, as a Republican, Sonia Sotomayor? Do you think�

Mr. ARELLANO: Well, (unintelligible)�

LUDDEN: �the debate would played out like that?

Mr. ARELLANO: Yeah. Let's not forget, he nominated the first Latino to be attorney general, Alberto Gonzales. He was the first - and look, you know, look what a great job�

LUDDEN: But we don't have wise Latino men T-shirts.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARELLANO: Yeah. Exactly, because Gonzales was somebody that was, you know, was brought up by the Bush administration. But even - nevertheless though, President Bush, once he started, he - let's not forget. President Bush was quite moderate on this idea of amnesty, and he would - he even went out and said illegal immigrants are not bad people. They have families. They bring family values. And because of that, he was ridiculed by the right wing. He - his conservative base really - he lost his conservative base mostly because of that, and the same thing with John McCain.

John McCain, who actually had experienced there on - in Arizona. He had a very - I don't even want to call it tolerant. I don't want to call it tolerant. It's more of the liberal position on amnesty.

LUDDEN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ARELLANO: And because of that, he didn't have as much of the conservative support as say, somebody like Palin might have or as somebody like, you know - gosh, Joe Wilson. Joe Wilson, he�

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARELLANO: �shouts out this, you know, you lie or some nasty remark, and all of the sudden he becomes this conservative icon. So whether you had Barack Obama or a Democrat in the White House or not, at least specifically with Latinos, I really don't think the conversation would have changed.

LUDDEN: Hmm. Let's get to one more call in here. We've got Jennifer in Charlottesville, Virginia. Hi, there.

JENNIFER (Caller): Hi. Hi. I'm calling because I'm a teacher in a rural area. And something that I've noticed that happened, because I believe -because of the election, clearly because of the election is - teachers and education have been forced to confront issues where a students may have been placed or may have had issues that I think, that clearly I think were related to race or culture. They had to - there were times when I was able to bring up the - a difference that I think that students were getting from teachers based on the way their - based on their race, based on the way they were perceived from their teacher.

LUDDEN: What do you mean?

JENNIFER: Well, I can think of a specific case where I - where there was a student whose family - whose lifestyle was very different from most of the teachers in the classroom. I'm a special ed teacher, and most of the teachers that I'm talking about are - the teachers I'm referring to are white Gen Ed teachers, which is typical of what you see in schools. Anyway, so my student was doing some things that were unacceptable to this - to the teacher, and the teacher, you know, had - her cultural values are being challenged by things that were not important to the students, that were not - you know, they used - liked to say, what the heck, for example. And this is very offensive to her.

But - and so what her - what she wanted to happen was she essentially wanted the student out of her classroom. And I think that because, you know, just having a black president and being able to talk about this, I think what happened was we needed to - instead of her being able to just say, to simply say that this was a student, I think we were able to have conversations about race that I don't know if we would have been able to have before instead of just hearing oh, well, I would've treated any student that way. I think having a black president allowed us to be able to talk about that, you know, about issues and things like that. There are many issues, but it gave us more room to talk about it, more wiggle room.

LUDDEN: Go ahead. Well, Jennifer, thanks for calling. Keli Goff, I'm curious what you see looking ahead. Now, we're just one year out, but, you know, you�ve written about generational differences among African-Americans on race and Obama. What do you see looking ahead?

Ms. GOFF: Well, I don't really see those generational differences necessarily going away. I mean, just - I should mention this, actually. I contributed an essay to a new book out called, �Race and Barack Obama's A More Perfect Union.� And it was 13 writers giving their take on the president's famous so-called race speech in Philadelphia. And we did a panel discussion at Schoenberg, and it was very, very clear - not just from our essays, but from the conversation - that some of the older writers had a very different viewpoint on where race is headed in this country.

I'm trying to think of a more diplomatic way to say the - my basic bottom line in terms of where I think things are headed. I think, that in about 30, 40 years, when certain people are no longer here�

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GOFF: �a lot of this conversation will change for the better. And�

BRYCE: I agree with you, Keli, as one of those people.

Ms. GOFF: Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRYCE: You know?

Ms. GOFF: And I'm sorry, because it sounds like such a morose thing to say.

BRYCE: It does, but you know, you know, sometimes, you got to sweep out the geezers. I told my son, I'm just happy to be here. This�

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRYCE: �in this century right now. But their attitudes are very different among younger people. And I say they're better than our attitudes.

LUDDEN: Well, but we certainly hear from some callers on this show who are not too young, who have�

BRYCE: Oh, there's always enlightened exceptions. You know, I mean, you know, I'm proud to be boomer. I think, you know, the �60s was a great decade that advanced this country. Some of my friends like Pat Buchanan thinks the �50s were just a much better time. And thank goodness that most people, most young people don't think the '50s were better than the �60s.

LUDDEN: Well, let me ask you this, Ray Winbush, you - you know, we've heard so much during the campaign that eon ago, though, about how Obama was not black enough. And that just seems to have completely disappeared. I mean, is there something we're talking about now that you think is just going to be so irrelevant soon? Maybe while Clarence is still around.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WINBUSH: Well, I hope so. You know�

Mr. PAGE: Better move fast.

Mr. WINBUSH: �it seems that - yeah, very�

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WINBUSH: It seems that, you know, that back in the late �60s, early �70s, we have this same conversation. A lot of us said, well, you know, in 30 years, this stuff will all be, you know, a new dialogue. So Keli, I hope you're right. I hope you're right.

Ms. GOFF: Thirty years from now, you've got a black president. And I have to say, the polling shows people my age, almost 100 percent have no problems with interracial relationships. The numbers are very - are different with their parents, and much different with our grandparents. Those numbers are not there. Sorry, go ahead.

Mr. PAGE: Yeah�

Ms. GOFF: I'm sorry.

Mr. PAGE: No, no, no, no. Point well taken. And, you know, and I hope that's the case. You know, maybe perhaps the research that I do - I worry about the Bill Sparkmans, the census worker that was hanged and -found hanged in Kentucky with the word fed on his body. Or, you know - or Stephen Johns, the guy that was killed at the Holocaust Museum in D.C. a few months ago that - I hope those type of incidents, not only interracial marriages increase, but I hope those type of violence, violent incidents decrease.

And again, this country has a way of apparently juggling both of those things fairly perfectly and, you know, and creating confusion about exactly what's going on.

LUDDEN: Well, we've got a thought-provoking question here from Theron(ph) in Salt Lake City, who wrote in with this question for you all.

He says, it seems racism is just one form of prejudice arising from our differences. The same problems occur between peoples of different religion, political ideology and sexual preference, among others. I voted for Obama because of his politics and level-headed demeanor, and I feel most other individuals did, as well. As for racism, do your panelists ever feel it will truly vanish, regardless of which individuals hold important positions? I'll be honest, sadly, I don't think it ever really will.

Ms. GOFF: Can I say something just really quickly in response first?

LUDDEN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. GOFF: Because I'm interested to hear how everyone else will respond to this. When I was in college, I had a professor, a brilliant professor, Angela Dillard, who's now at the University of Michigan, and she said to our class, on race - we had a class on race - that the way the numbers were going, there were people predicting that we would become a country that was a predominantly brown country, and not just because of Latin Americans, but because of intermixing.

And we would end up much like some countries in Latin America with the brown country and a permanent black underclass. And I thought she was crazy, off her rocker when she said this, you know, 10 years ago. And now, when you look at the way that things are headed, it looks like we could be going in that direction. And I think - one of the questions that none of us - at least I don't know the answer - is really how that will change the dialogue about race.

Mr. ARELLANO: Gustavo Arellano here. It's going to be - I - there's always going to be some racism in this country. I do think we have xenophobia hardwired into the American psyche. It's always been a part of it, whether you're - as Clarence said earlier, no matter what group you were, everyone took their lumps.

And there's always got to be a newcomer. There's always got to be a new group that Americans, that the more established Americans of whatever race or ethnicity for that matter, are going to ridicule, are going to use as their scapegoat.

But as we do become a browner nation, as there is more intermixing, as you do have more of that, I think what's going to happen next is kind of like, what - in Latin America - although, you know, the black underclass is - in Mexico, of course, it's more of the brown or underclass, the indigenous underclass. You're going to have more of a class differences. You're going to have - they're going to have fights between the classes. You have rich African-Americans right now that probably don't - that look down upon their poor African-American contemporaries. Same thing with Latinos. You have light-skinned Latinos looking down on brown-skinned Latinos, most of the time because there's a class difference behind that.

I think as we do become a more diverse nation, that's going - that, I think, if anything - that's the one conversation we'll never have. It's easy to talk about race.

Mr. PAGE: Xenophobia.

Mr. ARELLANO: It really is easy to talk about race. But you want to talk about class? You want to talk about disparities? Uh-uh. That's not going to happen.

LUDDEN: Let me just interrupt here to say, you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Ray Winbush?

Mr. PAGE: Oh, I'm sorry.

LUDDEN: Clarence Page.

Mr. PAGE: I just want to quickly say xenophobia is hardwired into humanity, not just Americans. It is something that psychiatrists have found this to be true. But the purpose of civilization is to get us pass those�

Mr. ARELLANO: Yeah.

Mr. PAGE: �fundamental reflexes. And we've done a remarkably good job, but - we've got more progress to go. But I think Gustavo is right. You know, I've often said that we really have a hard time talking about race in America if it helps us to avoid talking about class, and that's true.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WINBUSH: I agree.

Mr. PAGE: That's true�

Mr. ARELLANO: (unintelligible).

Mr. PAGE: �no matter what your race, I mean, within the black community, I'm always bringing up the class thing, you know? And it's like, no, no. You done stopped preaching and gone to meddling now, Page.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LUDDEN: So, let's see - that your answer then is a no.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PAGE: Oh, what was the question again?

LUDDEN: Is racism ever going to go away?

Mr. PAGE: Oh, no. It's not to go away. That's what my column was about. You know, I cited that with the great �Star Trek� episode from the guys - from the black, white planet. Everybody looked alike to us earthlings. There were half black, half white head to toe. But then it turned out, they were saying, well, can't you see the difference? They're white on the right side. We're white on the left side.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PAGE: And they were killing each other. They were wiping out their civilization over that slight difference. I mean, that's hardwired into us. That's what civilization is about getting past that and appreciating diversity. And that's what I see as the difference right now between the two Americas. One looks forward in the future with a great sense of wonder and openness, other with fear and dread. And I hope we in the media can help people get past that.

LUDDEN: Ray Winbush, I think you get the last comment here. Will racism ever go away?

Mr. WINBUSH: I'll quote Derrick Bell, the imminent legal scholar on this point. On page 12 of his great book, �Faces at the Bottom of the Well,� he said, we will never have a time in this country where we will say things such as remember when we had race back in 2009? I mean, we're just not going to get to that point. It doesn't mean that we're not going to get better about it, but racism is built into the DNA of the Western world.

LUDDEN: All right. Well, it's been a pleasure to hear from all of you. We have been joined by Raymond Winbush at Morgan State University, Keli Goff, a political blogger for theloop21.com, Gustavo Arellano, who writes for Orange County's week - OC Weekly, the column called �Ask a Mexican,� here in Studio 3A, syndicated columnist Clarence Page with the Chicago Tribune. Thank you so much, everyone.

Mr. PAGE: Thank you.

Mr. ARELLANO: Gracias.

Ms. GOFF: Thank you.

Mr. WINBUSH: Thank you.

LUDDEN: If you want to find links to Keli Goff and Clarence Page's columns on this topic, head over to npr.org. Tomorrow, it's SCIENCE FRIDAY, and Neal Conan will be back on Monday. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Jennifer Ludden in Washington.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.