Roundtable: School Race Divides, No Gore 2008

Topics: The U.S. Supreme Court will rule on a key dispute over school desegregation and races divided by neighborhoods; former Vice President Al Gore says he won't run for the White House in 2008; and the Pentagon edits a new version of the U.S. Army handbook to remove a ban on "humiliation and degredation" of prisoners. Guests: John McWhorter, Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow in Public Policy; Roland Martin, executive editor of The Chicago Defender; and author Yvonne Bynoe.

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ED GORDON, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon. On today's Roundtable, Al Gore says no to another presidential bid, and the Pentagon's changing language.

Joining us today to discuss these topics and more are John McWhorter. John's a Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow in Public Policy. He joins us from our New York bureau. In our Chicago bureau, Roland Martin, Executive Editor of The Chicago Defender. And from our NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., Yvonne Bynoe, author of the book Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip-Hop Culture.

All right, folks. What we want to get into first, though, is what the Supreme Court agreed to, in terms of what they will look into, and that is to decide whether or not public schools can consider skin color in students' assignments. This, of course, reopens the affirmative action debate, one which many people, based on the new configuration of the court, Roland Martin, we're looking to -we should note that this takes a look, and it will be far more sweeping, at public schools, the system in and of itself, rather than just universities, as was the case three years ago.

Mr. ROLAND MARTIN (Executive Editor, The Chicago Defender): Well, frankly, what it's going to do is cause us to actually recognize that we have re-segregated our schools. The fact of the matter is our school systems nationwide are based upon neighborhoods. Neighborhoods are based upon income, and income is generally based upon race. And so it is going to cause a considerable conversation; and I think, frankly, it should because, again, we always - we want to talk about this equal system, in terms of where we have a diverse population, but as long as you base it upon neighborhoods, you're not going to have that kind of population and expect there to be even more conversation, in terms of how we fund schools basing it on property taxes, again, which is based upon the value of homes, which is based upon income, and invariably base upon race.

GORDON: Yvonne, the justices will hear appeals from a Seattle parents' group and a Kentucky woman who are arguing that race restricts improperly - or restrictions, I should say, improperly penalizes white students.

Ms. YVONNE BYNOE (Author, Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip-Hop Culture): Well, I, I think...

GORDON: This kind of reverse discrimination, if you will.

Ms. BYNOE: Sure. I think that what Roland said certainly is true. The schools reflect residential patterns. I guess where I'm having the problem is I'm not sure that a good education for a black student is predicated on him or her sitting next to a white student. I think that we should be far more concerned with having qualified teachers, proper facilities where the children can go and learn, and a curriculum that is geared toward them actually being prepared for the 21st century. So, certainly, we should be concerned about those matters, I think, more so than worrying about, you know, specific ratios of white, Asian, and Latino in a particular classroom or school.

Mr. JOHN MCWHORTER (Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute): You know what's especially worrying - and I agree with that completely - is that we're taught to think about this word segregation, but there are very different kinds of segregation, and there are different historical conditions. And the fact is that studies have now shown more than once that, in terms of the acting white problem where smart black kids get teased for thinking they're white, that's something that happens much more in integrated schools than in all black schools.

And so when we think about this issue, part of the conversation also has to be, first of all, how many excellent and very poor black schools there were in the past and not that distant past; and how even today, if you look around, you find that there are a lot of all black or all brown schools that are making the best of the worst. And so hopefully our system can create more of those, as well as the rather fragile experiment of putting people together and creating cognitive dissonance, such as whites feeling that they're discriminated against and also more black kids being teased for thinking they are part of the other group, which is considered the oppressor because they're all together in the same building.

Prof. MARTIN: But, Ed, this is not a matter of well, can a black kid learn next to a white kid? Let's just go ahead and call it what it is. When you got the white kids present, the resources are present. Let's just go ahead and be honest about this. When you don't have - when you have a situation where you have 90, 95 percent black schools, you do not have necessarily the corporate support in terms of the ancillary things such as computers, such as, you know, adopting schools - things along those lines. Let's be honest...

GORDON: Roland, that's true but...

Mr. MARTIN: ...about that. I mean, look - excuse me?

Mr. MCWHORTER: It's true. It's true, but it's changing more and more. We can't think of that as the permanent condition of society. And when you think about the KIPP academies and a lot of the wonderful experiments that successful charter schools are doing - and I'm talking about black schools, and they do manage to find computers...

Mr. MARTIN: But I'm not talking about charter schools. I'm talking about the reality is...

GORDON: All right. Well, let me do this. Let me do this. Yvonne, this is what brings it back to an interesting point, and that is what we're seeing out of Nebraska with Ernie Chambers talking about re-segregating schools in terms of trying to get - rather than sitting next to a white - back to the notion, if you will, of separate but equal. As long as we have what you have, we're okay.

Mr. MARTIN: No, that's not what he's doing.

Ms. BYNOE: Well, I'm not, I'm not - I think the question was to me. I'm not particularly interested in that situation either. I think that where it's possible that we should encourage integration, but I think that in certain communities it's just not feasible. I mean, you have certain areas where black people just don't live, so what are you going to do? Are we going to go back to bussing and some of these other issues? I think the main criteria that we really need to look at, if we're interested in educating black students, is the resources. We need to have those conversations about how we can better get resources to black communities, be they low-income, middle-class, or whatever. But, again, I really do not go with that idea that I have to have my child sitting next to a white person for them to get a quality education.

GORDON: Right. Let's look...

Ms. BYNOE: You have to move away from that.

GORDON: Let's look at this two ways, and Roland, you say that's not what he's doing. But if I use your language, let's cut to the bottom line, that really is what it's about, equal money for, you know, per student. But here's the interesting point. With this court and with the make up, if it is to be believed, you're going to start to see these changes; and this really has larger ramifications on affirmative action, not just within the school systems, but as a roadmap for affirmative action in general.

Mr. MARTIN: Well, first of all, I mean, we could have - we expected this. I mean, we knew when Reagan came in and the first Bush and this Bush, you were going to have a more conservative Supreme Court, a more conservative federal judiciary, so that was expected, and so the reality is we were looking for that. What you're also finding, though, was happening on the state level, you were seeing states having to grapple with the property tax system, in terms of having inequity of funding; because, again, you have very expensive areas, a lot of places where they say, look they're spending $10,000, $12,000 per child, whereas many inner city schools are spending $4,000 to $5,000 per child, and people are saying, oh, but this an equal education.

Mr. MCWHORTER: But the thing is...

Mr. MCWHORTER: And so this is going to revive that debate, as well, as to how do we fund schooling. Black folks are saying, look, I just want my child to be educated properly; but as long as you have a system where you have a largely expensive area spending that amount of money and less money over here, you're going to have inequities. You can't call it equal and fair funding for education.

GORDON: All right. John, real quick for me...

Mr. MARTIN: Here in New Jersey, over the past 10 years, it's gotten to the point that funding in the (unintelligible) school district is actually often less than in the troubled districts. And what we found is that when you put in the extra money, unfortunately, it has very little result. I'm not saying that the money wasn't how the problem was created, but very sadly, the solution here is not just to even out the property taxes; it won't help the kids.

GORDON: All right. Well, as the court gets closer to looking at it, we'll obviously continue to watch and see what happens.

Over the weekend, we heard that Al Gore, Democratic nominee for the White House in 2000, says that he, in fact, will not run for the presidential race in 2008, saying that he can best use his time educating people about global warming.

There had been question - particularly surrounding the movie that Mr. Gore is pushing now - that perhaps he was gearing up again for this kind of contentious run for the White House. Certainly, we'll see that in 2008, with Democrats and Republicans sniping at each other.

Does this, in fact, clear that way for Hillary Clinton, who to date seems to be the frontrunner for the Democratic Party? We know it's early. We know we have a couple of years to go, but at this point she is; and some people said that Al Gore was really the only Democrat that would have stood in her way, Yvonne.

Ms. BYNOE: Well, I don't think that Al Gore or anybody is going to stand in Hillary Clinton's way, if she's going to run. But I guess I just buck conventional wisdom. I don't think she's going to run. I think the issue with Al Gore is that, unfortunately, for all the good that he had to say, he did not connect with the voters in '88 - in 1988 or - I'm sorry, in his first run or in 2000. But more important, I just think he was tired. I don't think that he was somebody who should have been put forward again. I think that, if the Democrats are going to have any clear shot, they're going to have to get some fresh ideas; and unfortunately for Gore, that also meant a fresh candidate. So I think using that rationale, that leaves Clinton out, and that leaves Gore out, as well. We need to find someone else new.

GORDON: You think she won't run. Yvonne, I'm curious why you think that. Do you think that she believes that she is too polarizing? Or do you think she believes that a female, even today, cannot win?

Ms. BYNOE: Well, again, this is my opinion. It certainly is bucking the convention, but I think she carries too much baggage. I think that, number one, if she runs again, we're going to hear all that, you know, Monica Lewinsky, all that stuff that happened with Clinton. I think that she's going to have to deal with her husband's legacy as well as her own individual…

Mr. MARTIN: The healthcare issue.

Ms. BYNOE: …ah, yeah, her health - the healthcare debacle. And plus, her own personality flaws, if you will. And I think, on top of that, there is going to be the woman issue - that may not be overtly there, but it'll be underneath the surface. So I think that she, you know, would be far better suited - if she's smart, will just stay in the Senate and consolidate her energy and her power there, as opposed to getting into some kind of contest that, in the end, she probably would not win.

Mr. MCWHORTER: (Unintelligible), Yvonne.

GORDON: That's certainly polarizing, but one of the things that they talk about with Mr. and Mrs. Clinton is their ability to kind of take a look at the roadmap, if you will, and the importance of political legacy. Important, say their friends, to both of them. This certainly would be an historic run, with her perhaps being the most viable female candidate ever to run for this high office. Roland Martin, do you really believe that this baggage, so to speak, will stand in her way? And secondly, do you really believe that healthcare is going to be the albatross that some say it will? I don't, I think that's a political albatross. I don't think most people care about that anymore.

Mr. MARTIN: No, no. Look, it's different if she ran for office right after coming, ran for president after coming out of the White House. People are going to say, what did you do operating as a U.S. Senator for the last six years? When 2008 comes around she would have been a U.S. Senator for 8 years. And so that is a reality. She's already locked up most of the fundraisers. She's already got people onboard. She's running. Let's not just step out - she is running for president.

The reality is Al Gore was a bore when he ran. If he could not win, with the vice president's office, with all of that that goes with it - then again, he probably did win but Bush was appointed. But again, the reality, he's not going to win. And so, I don't think the Democrats are going to go back to that well of Al Gore. And they certainly don't need to go back to that wimp, John Kerry, because he has no chance of winning as well.

Mr. MCWHORTER: You know the nice thing, though, about Al Gore, is at least he'll have an issue. Because obviously, the Democrats need to run on something other than not being Republicans and not being the Bush administration. And Gore seems to have come up with something that does seem to have a certain queue in the culture right now. People on many sides of the spectrum can agree with him in some way. Maybe he's learned something. And that would be better than the Democrats saying, we really need to find an issue, but not really having one - in which case it's rather clear that they won't find one. So Gore kind of makes me happy, because Hillary couldn't win. I think that's rather clear. And now Gore isn't an ex-vice president…

Mr. MARTIN: She couldn't win what?

Mr. MCWHORTER: …in the formal, recent sense, and so - she couldn't win an election. She's too polarized.

Mr. MARTIN: Okay. Okay.

Mr. MCWHORTER: She, the Democrats would lose. Gore has a better chance, now.

Mr. MARTIN: I'll tell you what, though, I…

GORDON: Do you think she could win the Democratic nomination, though, John?

Mr. MCWHORTER: I think she could win the nomination and then not become president, yes.

GORDON: All right.

Mr. MARTIN: Well, I disagree with that. I disagree with that because I'm telling you…

GORDON: You don't think she could win the nomination?

Mr. MARTIN: No, no, no. I think she could win the nomination and I think she can win the presidency. And what you're going to find is here, if Republicans - I'm going to say, if Republicans rally and truly believe that she is the worst candidate in the world, well then you don't oppose her this much. You don't fight her this much. They understand the appeal of the Clintons, they understand you're dealing with somebody who's extremely smart, very talented, and again, she's operating as a United States Senator. They understand that. If they think its easy street, they should be saying, oh yes, Hillary, certainly run. Please run, because we think we can beat you. No, they understand her power. They understand that she has the ability to galvanize voters and they know it's going to be a problem.

GORDON: All right. Let us move quickly on to another topic that is clearly going to be a problem for the White House on some sides of the fence. And this cannot bode well with Abu Ghraib still with us and the investigation of the alleged civilian shootings in Iraq.

We're hearing that the Pentagon has decided to omit from new detainee policy, a key tenet of the Geneva Convention that explicitly bans humiliating and degrading treatment. That's a shift away from the strict adherence to the international human rights standards.

John McWhorter, one of the things that we're seeing too, or we're told, is that there is a lot of infighting going on, that the State Department fiercely opposes this change. So we're looking at the Pentagon, the White House, the State Department, and the Defense Department, all trying to figure out how to handle this kind of language.

Mr. MCWHORTER: Yeah, and there's even debate within the Defense Department, which is a good thing. I mean, it shows that there's something good about this country, in that when something this delicate comes up, that there is debate at the top. And so its not the government's united in this idea.

And it's a very, very challenging idea, because there's always the danger that there will be an erring on the side of natural human brutality. Then, on the other hand, there's the chance that we will err on the side of caution, and have many people who are exploiting our having included that clause - in claiming that things were inhumane, which many people would not consider.

So it's a very fine line.

GORDON: But Yvonne, here's what's interesting; the idea that the Geneva Convention rules really had been untouchable for years.

Ms. BYNOE: Sure. But I think that one of the key things that we're looking at is that this is not a conventional situation. And when the Geneva Convention was adopted in '49, I think that - I don't think that this type of situation, al-Qaida and their fellow travelers, were anticipated.

I think that the debate is a worthy one. I think some of the language, although it's not been touched, is vague. I think also, too, what we've seen from, in the past, in Afghanistan and in other places that the conventional interrogation tactics have not worked. The things that have been set into place that have, you know, cracked other detainees have not worked here.

GORDON: Yeah.

Ms. BYNOE: So the question really is, you know, if we're dealing with a different type of mentality, can you use a '49, 1949 construct to deal with a 2006 war.

GORDON: And Roland Martin, let's bring it into the real world. We should note that the Geneva Convention rules have not always been followed since 1949.

Mr. MARTIN: What? No, it hasn't always been followed. But let's have Americans ask themselves this question: do they want our inmates, our prisoners, who are - excuse me, our soldiers who become prisoners, or inmates, or POWs - treated this way? See, what we like to do in this country, we like to say, oh, you should follow the rules. But when it comes to us, oh no, no, we would love to change the rules.

And so we want to call on other countries to abide by it. We've got Saddam who's on trial right now for torture in his country, but we're saying, hey, it's okay that we torture, because, well, it's in our best interest. That's exactly what we're saying.

Mr. MCWHORTER: (Unintelligible).

Ms. BYNOE: I don't know that's what…

Mr. MCWHORTER: I don't know what you call torture. We're talking about this humiliation and degradation. And if it can be shown that those things do extract secrets from people, that help to save our hides, then it's worthy of debate. Whether we humiliate…

Mr. MARTIN: If another country does it to a U.S. Marine, do you believe that we would object?

Mr. MCWHORTER: Humiliation? I don't know if we wouldn't…

Ms. BYNOE: But also, too, what is it - but the thing is…

Mr. MARTIN: Yes we would object.

GORDON: All right, Yvonne, real quick - 15 seconds.

Ms. BYNOE: But also, too, it has vague language. I think that we'd be far better suited to get some real detail and specifics about what is allowable and what isn't. Because again, one man's torture is another man's tactic; and we have to be clear what that means.

GORDON: Yeah, well good luck with that when dealing with the Pentagon, the State Department, and the Defense Department.

Mr. MARTIN: What's good for the goose is not good for the gander.

Mr. MARTIN: Right. Precisely.

GORDON: So, okay. Yvonne, John, Roland, thanks so much. Greatly appreciate it.

Ms. BYNOE: Thank you.

Mr. MCWHORTER: Thanks, Ed.

Mr. MARTIN: Thank you.

GORDON: Next up on NEWS & NOTES, color TV - a merger between two TV networks means big changes in this fall's TV schedule. But what will it mean for the number of black faces we see in prime time?

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