MICHEL MARTIN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Michel Martin in Washington. Neal Conan is away. The facts, such as they are known, are these. A young woman was hired as an exotic dancer in an off-campus party hosted by some members of the Duke lacrosse team. At some point, the woman says she was assaulted by three people at the party.
Two arrests have been made and the prosecutor suggests the investigation is ongoing. The defendants vigorously contest the charges. Everybody involved is a student, the woman at North Carolina Central University, the young men at Duke. The woman is black. The accused are white. And that is all that anybody agrees on.
The incident has been the subject of countless news reports. It has sparked letters to the editor, many of them angry and tinged with racial overtones aimed at one side or the other. It has sparked attempts to open a dialogue between black and white, as well as between residents of the community of Durham and Duke University.
Clearly the incident has brought into the open issues of race, class and gender, as well as issues of town versus gown. But Durham is not the first and may not be the last American city to experience protests, vigils and uprisings following a racially or ethnically divisive event. The Los Angeles riots in 1992, triggered by the beating of black motorist Rodney King. The riots in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn in 1991 after a Jewish driver stuck and killed a black boy. In the subsequent rioting, a Hassidic Jew was allegedly stabbed and killed by a black man. The riots in Benton Harbor, Michigan, in 2003 following the death of a black motorcyclist as he was being chased by white police officers.
The question is what happens next? What happens after the tensions die down, the cameras leave and the neighbors are left to pick up the pieces? How do they put the community back together again? Do they? That's what we want to talk about today. We'll hear from three communities who are dealing with or have dealt with such an incident.
Later, as President Bush meets with the Chinese president in Washington, can China play a more active role in stopping the genocide in Darfur? But first, how communities try to heal race relations following a divisive event. We'd like to hear from you. Has your community experienced a racially polarizing incident? What was helpful in repairing the breach? We'd particularly like to hear from community leaders who were directly involved. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is email@example.com.
And let's start in North Carolina where Reverend James Smith joins us. He is president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Durham and Vicinity and is with us from the studios of North Carolina public radio WUNC in Durham. Welcome, thank you for joining us.
Reverend JAMES SMITH (Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Durham and Vicinity): Thank you. It's good to be here.
MARTIN: Now, it, this may be an odd question, but sometimes one has the sense that there's something boiling under the surface in a community. Do you know what I mean? Sometimes when something happens, people say to themselves, you know, later, I kind of felt like something was going to happen, but sometimes these incidents come as a complete surprise, kind of like a bolt out of the blue, and I was wondering what your reaction was when you, when the incident occurred and when it became kind of something that engaged the community.
Had you, did you feel sort of shocked by the intensity of feeling or was it something that you thought, yeah, well, I could see where something like this could happen? What was your reaction?
Rev. SMITH: The reaction was interesting. I suspect when I first heard it, it was more of a shock, but after you get to talk with individuals, then you can see how perhaps it was, may have been destined to happen. As I listen to people talk who live in the area, who witnessed to all of the partying and everything that was going on, arrests that have been previously made, disorderly conducts that was going on, that you can sense that sooner or later, maybe, something would have probably happened, but I was not familiar with that personally, so when I first heard it, it was really a shock.
MARTIN: What would, how would you have described race relations in Durham before this incident occurred?
Rev. SMITH: I would describe race relations as being good. I'd, I can't recall of anything that I would say was bordered on something that I thought was not good. Durham is really a very mixed community. We have all kinds of people and quite a few blacks. We have Hispanics. We have whites. It's culturally mixed with Research Triangle Park being here. So you have privileged wealth, you know, and obviously, we have some who live below the poverty line, so it's a real mixture, diverse, I would say, community.
MARTIN: Do, isn't this, is this incident generally viewed as a racial incident in Durham right now, and did you see it that way?
Rev. SMITH: I personally don't see it that way. I think at this point it's more of an issue of seeing that justice is going to prevail. Now, obviously, race would be in the mix of it, mainly because you have a white, white males and a black female. So obviously race would come into play.
But I think more folk, more people are focused on will justice prevail, will it be fair, will it be transparent, will we see a situation where there is no cover-up, you know, nothing is being pulled over the rug, and if that perception is there, then I think we'll be okay. But if somehow it's perceived to be just the opposite, then I think, you know, that's where we may run into some problems.
MARTIN: Now when you say people want to see justice prevail, what do they mean by that? What do you mean by that?
Rev. SMITH: Well, when I say justice prevail, and want I think people mean when they justice prevail, whatever way this turns, if they perceive that it's been fairly done, that there's been no cover-up, that there, it's been very transparency is there, and that they can feel comfortable that the system has truly worked, then I think we can get beyond it whatever the outcome is. But if there is a sense that there is no fairness, that a cover-up is being, that folks are hiding something, that there's a feeling that something is going on that the community does not know about, then we're faced with a different situation.
MARTIN: We'd like to remind our callers that they can join the conversation at 800-989-8255 or 800-989-TALK.
Reverend Smith, do you feel, I was struck by many of the letters to the editor of the paper down there. I don't know if you've been reading them, too, but the letters that I saw expressed a lot of anger. You know, you talked about concern on the part of the community that an investigation be thorough, that it be transparent, that people feel that, you know, that the system was supposed to work.
But the letters that I was reading were very much from people who were expressing the view that these players had been railroaded, that there had been too much pretrial publicity, that their reputations had already been ruined in the absence of facts, and they were sort of very angry about that. And I'm just wondering, those seem two very different points of view about the same event and about how much discussion is appropriate, and I'm wondering how are you gonna bridge those points of views.
Rev. SMITH: Well, I, honestly, I don't know, but I'm still saying that I think if it's, we're in a process now. We're going through, you have indictments, you have men who have been accused. Whether they're guilty or not guilty, I don't know, a victim here. We don't know what the evidence is and so what I'm just saying is, I think people are close to both sides. You know, maybe expressing some feelings but I think it's those who, the leaders in the community, especially the ministers and the group that I have, I think what our position has to be if we want to see this thing move in a positive direction, is to openly talk about fairness process, openly talk about justice, openly talk about not any cover-up, not anything being pulled over anybody's head.
There's some transparency that we can really feel good about the system. I think that's the most important thing. Obviously, folks who are close to the situation are going to have their feelings, you know, just like if it was my best friend or, on either side, whether it was the lady or whether it was the man. I think, you know, that you will be hearing that. And I think that's some of what you are getting. There are a lot of folk here who are very close to Duke and anything that happens regarding Duke, you're going to see some defense comes up. Same thing for North Carolina Central.
But I think those of us who are looking at it from a perspective of trying to stay in the center, trying to keep this community together, will speak in a different tone.
MARTIN: I understand there's going to be a community meeting tonight and this is one of a number that have taken place and you've been involved in a number of them. What is this meeting for? What do you hope to come out of it?
Rev. SMITH: Well, I hope tonight, this evening rather, that what we can get out of this meeting is allow people the opportunity to express themselves because that's part of what's going on, too. If this anger is being suppressed, then we're really in for some serious problems. But if people have the opportunity to express it and we can talk about the issues. One of the things that I want to do primarily from the minister's standpoint is talk about, you know, the community going prayer, that we exercise patience, and that we allow the process to work.
Because it's going to be a time-consuming matter. It's not going to be something that's going to be overnight. This matter may be going on for the next year. Emotions, all these kinds of things are going to be happening.
But we've got to exercise patience, we've got to allow the process to work, and that's what we've got to focus on. And to let people, give people the chance to vent, you know, give them the chance to talk about their frustration. You know, things about Duke they don't like, things about Central they don't like, things about the victim they don't like, things about the Lacrosse team they don't like. Okay, express it.
But I think it's important that it is expressed because if we continue to have the built-up anger, we are really going to have some serious problems in the long run.
MARTIN: Thank you, Reverend. Reverend James Smith is President of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Durham and Vicinity. He joined us from the studios of North Carolina Public Radio WUNC in Durham. Thank you sir. Thank you, you've been very generous.
Rev. SMITH: Thank you very much. Thank you.
MARTIN: And we're talking about bringing communities together after polarizing events. Can neighborhoods heal? And we're taking your calls at 800-989-TALK. You can send us e-mail, the address is firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Michel Martin. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Michel Martin in Washington.
Accusations that a young black woman was assaulted by white students near Duke University has divided the campus and the Durham community. Today, we're talking about what happens after tensions recede and reporters leave. How does a split community heal? You're invited to join the discussion. Has your community faced a divisive racial or ethnic event? How did local leaders repair the breach? Give us a call at 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is email@example.com.
And we're going to go to Cincinnati, Ohio, and Brett. Brett, what's on your mind?
BRETT (Caller): Well, we had a series of riots in April of 2001 around the shooting of an unarmed black person by the Cincinnati Police. And we recently celebrated the fifth year anniversary and sort of the renaissance of the downtown area following those events and all of the divisive things that took place afterwards.
MARTIN: And how do you feel about things five years later? I'm assuming you were in the city at the time that the incident occurred, right? And the riots and so forth?
BRETT: Yes, I've lived there, I've lived there my entire life and really, really what happened initially and I think I've seen this in the news with the issues going on in Durham, where there are a lot of people that came in from outside the city, from both sides of the issue, who were very divisive. And they really worked to divide the city, really I think for reasons of their own political gain.
And then after those people left, it was sort of the community's business to pick up the pieces. And it wasn't until those people were out of the pictures and, you know, the community really started to seek out the members of the community that would be unifiers as opposed to dividers, and began to work with those people, that the situation, you know, got better over time.
MARTIN: How do you think things are now? And what do you think was most helpful in achieving whatever reconciliation you think has been achieved? What would you say?
BRETT: I think things are better than they were, you know, in 2001. And I think the single biggest thing has been sort of the middle citizens that were not on either side of the issue have really risen up and thrown out a lot of the elected officials and people who were divisive. And they said, you know, we really don't want people in power, in positions of power within our community and within our city who are going to be divisive and not try to work, you know, across the aisle, so to speak.
MARTIN: Do you mind if I ask you, did that whole episode have an effect on you individually? I mean, was it transforming for you in any way?
BRETT: Yes, actually it was because there were a lot of riots that followed. And I was driving back to my university one night during the riots and my car was actually assaulted by a group of people. I'm white, they were black, and you know, it was really transforming for me because I have lived there my entire life and never had anything like that happen to me before.
MARTIN: But I could see where that could make you pretty scared and angry.
BRETT: Well, it made me scared but I also think, you know, we have to, everybody has to try to contain their anger in a situation like that because anger is something that's fleeting and you know, people can do something in one angry moment that sticks around with them for, you know, the rest of their lives. And they catch some of these people that, you know, killed and things during the riots.
MARTIN: Well Brett, thank you so much for calling.
BRETT: Thank you.
MARTIN: And let's go now to a community that captured national headlines nearly three years ago. In the summer of 2003, a black motorcyclist crashed and died during a police chase in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Two nights of racially charged rioting followed and more than two dozen homes were set on fire. Fortunately, many of those had long been vacant.
Our next guest, Reverend James Atterberry was appointed by Michigan's governor to co-chair a task force to investigate what caused the riots and to offer solutions to address the underlying problems. He's also the pastor of the Brotherhood Church of God in Christ in Benton Harbor. Reverend Atterberry joins us from studios on the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing.
Welcome, Reverend Atterberry.
Reverend JAMES ATTERBERRY (Brotherhood Church of God in Christ): Thank you.
MARTIN: Now, I wanted to start with the same question I asked of Reverend Smith, was that, in some places these kinds of things come like a bolt out of the blue. In some places, something like this happens and people say, you know, I just had the feeling that this place was primed for something. And which of those come closer to your recollection of how things were in Benton Harbor before this particular incident?
Rev. ATTERBERRY: Well, I think a little bit of both of what you just described was, was part of what happened. We saw a community for years that was deteriorating and not having the opportunities and the, I think, the privilege to really change and better itself, that eventually it was going to explode.
And I think as time continued to move forward, we began to see a lot of young people especially, in a community where there's no recreation, there's no summer outlet for them to, you know, spend their energy, began to be frustrated about their community, frustrated about no opportunities, frustrated that it seemed that there was no one to listen to, or listen to their, their problems. It kind of exploded three years ago and there was a method to their madness. They burnt down vacant houses, somewhat just destroyed things that was already deteriorating to try to get people to listen to them.
MARTIN: Yeah, why do you think, yeah, I was going to ask you, what do you think the message was there, sort of going after vacant properties that were already on the run-down?
Rev. ATTERBERRY: Well, we also saw, and I was listening to another person on the radio just a few minutes ago kind of describing some of the problems we, same problems we have had. We also saw a city, commissioners, leaders did, a lot of fighting, division, and they didn't seem to have the connection with the people. And I think what they were trying to do was get them to listen to them. Listen to a community that, hey, your leaders, you people that have power, you need to make some decisions and do some things that can better our city.
MARTIN: And you were already in the community when this happened, but then you also were the co-chair of the governor's task force. Did you find that a useful experience and what did that task force learn?
Rev. ATTERBERRY: Yeah, well, leading up to that, I also ran a street ministry program for about 10 years, involved in a lot of working with street people and individuals who kind of didn't have any hope. And so when this happened, I guess my name came, one of the names that was a person that was involved in trying to bring things together. And so I was asked to become part of this task force to help, you know, give input and ideas that can move the city forward.
MARTIN: Well, what were some of your ideas? What were some of the recommendations? And have any of them been accomplished?
Rev. ATTERBERRY: That's a good question. We still got a long ways to go. We had several immediate things that we needed to do. One was to try to give our young people some type of outlet, some type of recreation opportunities, and since that time, and also some job opportunities. Since that time, we've created what you call Youth Job Market in, that operates in the summertime when kids get out of school. So we employ somewhere about three or 400 kids each year since that time. Also --
MARTIN: And that had not happened before? There was nothing like that before?
Rev. ATTERBERRY: No. No, that, for years, years ago they did have that kind of program, but they cut that out maybe, I don't know, 10 years ago. So we, we brought that back to the table which has certainly made a big difference. These kids now can do some work during the summer months and spend some time doing something positive. We also brought churches as well as the educational component together to open some of their recreation programs, gymnasium and other things in the city to give kids something to do. And so we, we got some little things going and in the future are looking to build a recreation center.
MARTIN: Where do these resources come from, sir? Did they come from inside the community or did they come from outside? Or around the state or national organizations? Where did the resources to do these things come from?
Rev. ATTERBERRY: Most of the resources come from collaborations of organizations that really already have had or have monies for different things and they maximize those dollars by, you know, a piece here, piece here, piece there. Bringing the money together, you know, and work together to help fund some of these programs.
One of the problems we saw early on was that there was a lot of programs but people wasn't working together. And you can't do very much as one organization. You can do a whole lot more if everybody works together. And so we found bringing them together, everybody's sitting there at the table saying, hey, you know, I can do this. I can do that. And we've found ourselves being able to fund some very critical programs to help the city.
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
But you're saying that a lot of those resources were already kind of available, but they just weren't coordinated in a meaningful way?
Rev. ATTERBERRY: Yes. Yes. Yes. There's millions of dollars have come through that community and really have not made much impact. That was some of the frustration of some of the community activists. Have seen millions of dollars come through, however, but it was not allocated properly to really make difference or make a difference in the city.
We have found that it's a lot of places where these organizations come through and have money but, you know, they don't really be creative enough to use that money to make things happen.
MARTIN: How do you feel about, does that, I mean, obviously, you're about getting the work done, so I'm guessing you don't spend a lot of time debating that with yourself. But is there a part of you that feels awkward about that, that these incidents, as, you know, frightening and as searing as they are in a way kind of got people to organize themselves in a way that they had not before them. Does that make you feel strange in a way that, that actually something, in a way, positive came out of it. People got themselves together in a way that they had not previously and I'm just wondering how that feels.
Rev. ATTERBERRY: Yeah, well, you certainly have mixed emotions when it comes to these type situations. I mean, you know, we didn't want to see a riot or unrest, but again, it was going to happen.
If you don't do something about a sore, it'll get worse. One of the things, and I love the governor so much in our community, state of Michigan, recognized, and I use, as she used this phrase, recognized the pain which was part of Michigan. And she, her theme is that we all won and that where there's a pain, that we need to all focus on that pain to heal it.
And so, what we had was a pain there in Benton Harbor. We had a problem. And nobody, for years, had really took interest in trying to do anything. And to me, that's a message to the whole country. When there's a problem and wherever, if it's not addressed in time, that sore will affect the whole body. And it's going to create real big problems.
MARTIN: Thank you so much for being with us, and good luck to you.
Reverend James Atterberry is the pastor of the Brotherhood Church of God in Christ. He co-chaired the governor's task force following the riots in Benton Harbor and joined us today from the studios on the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan.
Thank you so much, sir.
Rev. ATTERBERRY: Thank you.
MARTIN: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
We go to the Midwest now to St. Paul, Minnesota. A year and a half ago, an immigrant from the East Asian Hmong community shot and killed six white hunters in Wisconsin. Racial overtones hung over the incident. At the time of the attack, the shooter said he was called racial epithets and was fired upon first before he returned fire.
A jury found him guilty of the six murders and he is now serving a life sentence.
Our next guest, Ilene Her, is the Executive Director of the Council on Asian-Pacific Minnesotans. She's with us from the studios of Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul. Welcome.
Ms. ILENE HER (Council on Asian-Pacific Minnesotans): Good afternoon.
MARTIN: Ilene, how did you get involved in this? You are in Minnesota and not Wisconsin, so how did you get involved?
Ms. HER: Sure. Chai Vang, the shooter in this case, is a resident of St. Paul, Minnesota and my agency is a state agency and we work with the community on policy and advocacy issue. And so, we've been working with the community around issues of race and race relation for the last couple of years, and when this issue came up, I've been listening to the program, and to me, it was not a surprise that we had such a hard issue with regards to racism around this particular case.
MARTIN: Why was that? You think, why wasn't it a surprise?
Ms. HER: Sure. About two years ago, Minnesota was going to receive about 5000 Hmong refugees from the Thailand, from Nawat in Thailand, and when the new refugees were going to come into Minnesota, already the sentiment was, oh, no. We don't want anymore refugees. We don't want anymore immigrants. We don't want them.
And so then a couple months later, we had the Chai Vang incident and that's just sort of added more fuel to the fire.
MARTIN: So, if you would just describe for me how you think relations before, between the Hmong and the residents of Wisconsin and Minnesota before the incident? You know, how do you think that was going? You were saying that there was this initial skepticism, resentment, anxiety. Was that still the attitude at the time of the incident?
Ms. HER: I would say, yes. Definitely. In that, you know, particularly St. Paul has the highest concentration of Hmong in any city and so pretty much the white residents here see the Hmong but don't have a lot of understanding of why the Hmong came to the United States, what are they doing here, why, or why are they here.
So, there's a lot of questions about that. And so, when you're being in more Hmong, about 5000 more to this population of maybe 35,000, that's a significant increase. And so why should Minnesota have responsibility to take in these new refugees from another country? Why can't we just deal with the ones that are here?
And so there was already that sentiment already. And when the shooting case happened, it just, I think, fed into the fear of some people that these Hmong refugees are going to do no good. They're not going to add, they're not going to contribute to our community. They're only going to take away. They're even actually going to harm us and hurt us.
MARTIN: Let's go to a caller in, forgive me. I'm not, I'm not sure I'm pronouncing this right. It's Eau Claire? Eau Claire, Wisconsin?
KANG (Caller): Yes.
MARTIN: And Kang. What's your question or comment?
KANG: Yeah. I am 27 years old and I've grown up in the northern Wisconsin region. I've lived here, basically, all of my life. To me, race relations between the Hmong and the Caucasian community have always been sort of on the skids. And when something like the Chai Vang case bubbles up, then the, all of the emotions that have been pent up, they sort of come out.
But then as soon as all of those initial emotions sort of die down, no one really makes any effort to resolve any of the outstanding issues between the Hmong and the Caucasian community. They sort of get swept under the rug. And I see that more in Wisconsin than in Minnesota. But in any case, what happens is every few years, something will happen to spark more racial tension, but neither the Hmong leaders nor the Caucasian leaders make any real effort to resolve any of these issues.
MARTIN: Kang, thank you so much for your call.
KANG: Thank you.
MARTIN: We need to take a short break, and when we come back, we'll continue our discussion, repairing racial tensions. Author and political scientist Andrew Hacker joins us next.
I'm Michel Martin. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Can you bring neighbors together after polarizing events in the community? And I'm talking with Ilene Her. She's the Executive Director of the Council on Asian-Pacific Minnesotans. She joins us from the studios of Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul.
Ms. Her, what happened in the communities after the shooting occurred? You know, we've, you've been listening to the program and some of these folks organized community meetings where people could, you know, kind of vent their frustrations. Did that happen, and was that helpful?
Ms. HER: Yes. The community came together very quickly to discuss this issue because, like the gentleman caller said, this just brought to surface some of the things that have been happening. So, we provided opportunities for the community to come, to talk, to share. And then we did some training around hate crimes, how to identify that, how to report that.
But we heard from so many hunters who had similar stories in which they were victims of racism within the woods. And then we found ways for them to communicate with the DNR, Department of Natural Resources, so that they would be documented. Because before that, law enforcement was, we never heard that Hmong had issues in the woods. We never heard that they were victims of racism. And it was because there was just not an opportunity for the stories to be told.
So, we did a lot of story telling. Telling what happened to you, so that people felt that their stories could be heard, their pain could be shared. And a lot of the community, particularly the Hmong community, could sympathize and empathize with Chai Vang's experience as he told it. That he was a victim of racial epithets being called, you know, that you don't belong here. So, they could identify with that experience.
And then they had some sympathy for Chai Vang which put the Hmong at a disadvantage because then non-Hmong people were, why are you sympathizing with a murderer? So that led to some of the, I think, the misunderstandings within the two, say, white community and the non-white community around this issue. So, we weren't defending a murderer, but we were just defending some of his experience and saying, yes, it did happen. We've experienced racism ourselves and how people deal with that is really up to people.
MARTIN: We're down to our last few seconds, but I do want to ask you how you think things are going today, because our last caller before the break was of the opinion that there really, in his view, he saw very little leadership on either side. He saw very little leadership on the Hmong side and on the majority community side in kind of bridging these gaps and I'd like to ask your assessment of that question.
Ms. HER: Sure. I would have to agree with him a little bit. I think leadership on the Hmong side, I think we came forward, but we really have little resources. Unlike the Michigan situation, I don't think institutionally, leadership-wise, from the governor, from the mayor, there wasn't a lot of money resources put at the table to say, let's have these discussions. Let's heal. Let's do projects in which we share and talk with one another.
MARTIN: Thank you so much for joining us.
Ms. HER: Thank you.
MARTIN: Ilene Her is Executive Director of the Council on Asian-Pacific Minnesotans and she joined us from the studios of Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul.
And joining us now to hopefully put some of these individual conflicts into some context is Andrew Hacker. He's a professor at Queens College in New York City and the author of TWO NATIONS: BLACK AND WHITE, SEPARATE, HOSTILE AND UNEQUAL. Welcome, Professor, to TALK OF THE NATION.
Mr. ANDREW HACKER (Queens College, New York): Oh, good afternoon.
MARTIN: Now, you've been listening to my previous guests and you're someone who has written frequently about race relations in this country. Why do you think these incidents become so explosive so quickly? I mean, really, that, the metaphor of that kind of match to the tinderbox seems apt here. In a way that, if sometimes, in some communities, as you heard, sometimes people say, you know what, this is not a surprise at all. But in some places, they say, I am shocked at this. Why do you think that is?
Mr. HACKER: I think what these incidents do is bring to the surface some deeply held sentiments among both black and white people, which you know, aren't always voiced. But when the incident arises, out come a lot of feelings that we really haven't heard very often. And this was true with the O.J. Simpson case, it was true with Rodney King, and it's true with what's going on in Duke, in Durham, today.
MARTIN: Is there something that you think we could learn from these incidents? I mean, it just, in a way, do you ever have the feeling that we're just watching the same play with different characters? Move around the country, it's like kind of a traveling road show of anger and grief.
Mr. HACKER: Well you know, when I started to write my book on the races in America, a friend said to me, oh, you're going to be writing about black people and their problems. And I said no, America has two principle races, white people and blacks. And I spent probably more than half the time in the book talking about white Americans.
And I think the, what we're facing up to with the Duke situation is that white Americans really don't understand, or want to understand, what's bothering black Americans. Why this incident with the Lacrosse players, whatever form it took, why it, this really angers black Americans. Gets them excited, gets them emotionally intense. And here we come to the real issue, which is white America really doesn't understand black America. It doesn't want to.
MARTIN: Well what can you do about that?
Mr. HACKER: Well, we can talk about education. We can talk about seminars and workshops. But, for example, let me use for an analogy the O.J. Simpson case for a minute.
The great majority of black Americans felt that O.J. Simpson didn't do it. Really. They felt that he was being railroaded, somebody else committed the murders and it wasn't him. Now was this irrationality? Or was it that black Americans, every so often, are saying, I am so fed up by the way I'm treated in this country that I begin to see each of these incidents as typical of a broader pattern under which I live.
MARTIN: How do you, Professor, how do you think then that the presence of other racial groups in this country affects this dynamic? I mean, one of the earlier discussions we were having involved the man who was Hmong in the Midwest, and of course the demographics of the Latino population, who are not a racial group, who could belong to either racial group, but often see themselves as the other. I mean, do you see that kind of, the presence and the more, increased visibility of other races as affecting this dialogue, you know, one way or the other?
Mr. HACKER: It's an important question, Ms. Martin, and what I'd say very simply is, I know it's oversimplifying, we have two races in this country, two primal races, black and white. European origin and African origin. Hispanics are not a race. They cover a fantastic array from blond hair, blue-eyed Argentineans, you know, and so on. Asians are not a race. Asia goes everywhere from Osaka in Japan to Istanbul in Turkey. We used to have a third race called the yellow race, but then we decided to get rid of it. We just decided to put it on, you know, a top shelf and not refer to people as yellow anymore. You know, societies often do this.
So what I would say is that about 25, 30 percent of the population now is nonracial. They're happy to be nonracial, and they're sitting it out on the sidelines, and they're saying, we don't want to get involved in something like the black and white thing.
MARTIN: Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I'm still trying to get back to my sort of original question, is what can, what is helpful in these situations?
Mr. HACKER: Yes, I think it is helpful.
MARTIN: You thinking having people sit it out, in a way, is helpful?
Mr. HACKER: Well that, for example, Hispanics, Latinos, people of Chinese, Japanese, Korean origin, don't have, you know, this heavy baggage of race. And this frees them to, you know, be Americans in their own way, whereas black and white Americans are burdened with this history. You were the slave owners, we were the slaves. I know, most whites weren't slave owners.
But, and as a result, white Americans have, are so much in denial. So defensive. Oh, I've got lots of black friends, you know. And by the way, somebody once said to me, with all these white Americans talking about their black friends, there must be 300,000,000 black friends out there, you know.
Mr. HACKER: And, we just don't, we're saying, hey look, there's been so much progress. Look at Condoleezza Rice, Oprah Winfrey, Colin Powell, what are they complaining about? And if we don't know what they're complaining about, that shows how much we don't know.
MARTIN: Well, we're down to our last few seconds, so I just want to ask you just one more time. Many of these communities had community forums and things of that sort after these kinds of incidents occur. And one of things you're decrying, as I hear it from your remarks, is that an indifference. An attitude of I really don't know. I don't want to know. Everything's fine. And there are some people who think that these forums are not particularly helpful, because all it does is kind of rip the temperature up.
And so I'd ask you, where do you come out on that? Do you think that these kinds of community gatherings after an incident are helpful? And is there any other way that you would recommend that communities can have honest conversations about equality, justice and all the other sort of sensitive things that affect us after an incident like this, that could help the community move forward?
Mr. HACKER: It's a fair question. Of course I'm in favor of community gatherings. I'm in favor of people of different races getting together and talking things out. I'd offer one small piece of advice, at these gatherings, do not use the word racism or racist. Because once white people hear the word racism, their backs go up, their minds turn off and they say, that's not me. That's Ku Klux Klan people. So stop using the word racism. It's real, racism exists, but I'm afraid we're at a point where even to evoke the term is terribly counterproductive.
MARTIN: What's a better word?
Mr. HACKER: Talk around it. Talk about the fact that a million young black men are in prison. Talk about the fact that the schools that black kids go to are ones that whites wouldn't go to if you paid them a million dollars. Talk about those realities.
MARTIN: Thank you Professor Hacker.
Mr. HACKER: You're very welcome.
MARTIN: Andrew Hacker is the author of TWO NATIONS: BLACK AND WHITE, SEPARATE, HOSTILE AND UNEQUAL. He joined us from his home in New York City.
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