FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
Now on to our Bloggers' Roundtable. The Internet is buzzing about a new poll about the racial attitudes of black and white voters. We'll find out what our bloggers think of the results. Plus, what makes a person legally black? And does America still need affirmative action? With us freelance journalist Danielle Belton. She runs the blogs "Black Snob" and "The Secret Council of American Negroes." Plus Michael Fauntroy, assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University. He blogs at MichaelFauntroy.com. And writer Amani Channel who blogs at "My Urban Report." Hey folks.
Dr. MICHAEL FAUNTROY (Assistant Professor of Public Policy, George Mason University): Hello
Mr. AMANI CHANNEL (Blogger, "My Urban Report"): Hello.
Ms. DANIELLE BELTON (Blogger, "Black Snob" and "The Secret Council of American Negros"): Hi.
CHIDEYA: So let's start out with this whole race relations poll. A new Washington Post/ABC News poll found that nearly half of all Americans say race relations in the country are in bad shape. Three in 10 acknowledged feelings of racial prejudice and the other seven were lying. I'm just kidding on that last part. Fifty-three percent of white Americans say race relations are good. Sixty percent of black Americans say relations between whites and blacks are not so good or poor. So Michael, nine out of 10 whites said they will comfortable with a black president, but they admit they harbor some racial bias. So what's going on here?
Dr. FAUNTROY: A whole lot of conflict. You know, for nine out of 10 say they would be fine with it, but yet three out of 10 say there is some feelings that they are harboring strikes me as a bit of a conflict. I think this is all - this is all a good thing that we have in these discussions. You know, I think that the situation with race relations right now has not been honestly discussed, and this presidential campaign is forcing us, at least in fits and starts, to have some reasonable dialogue about it. But at least in that regard I think it's a good thing.
CHIDEYA: Danielle, the majority of black Americans think that Obama has the potential to really transform racial politics. Whites were less likely to believe that race relations will get better if Obama wins. So why do you think there's that difference of opinion?
Ms. BELTON: I think there's a disconnect because with African-Americans for a long time it was so unthinkable that a black person would be president. Barack Obama has shown that things have changed enough where you see a black man able to win states, able to win over voters. And seeing white voters support an African-American candidate was really an eye-opener, I would say, for a lot of African-Americans. But the reality is, I think everyone is so excited and so hopeful that it kind of overwhelms some of the actual facts on the ground and it is likely that race relations still have some work to do even if Barack Obama is elected president.
CHIDEYA: Now Amani, one of our other regular bloggers, Roundtablers, Carmen Van Kerckhove, suggested on her blog Racialiscious that some folks are afflicted by color blindness, meaning they insist they just don't notice race, and claim they just don't care whether people are black, brown, green or purple, and I'm quoting her here. So do you think, first of all do you think color blindness even exists, or, you know, is that part of how people are starting to process things?
Mr. CHANNEL: I think it'd be great if people could see things with color blindness, but I think that when we look at how we're conditioned, when we look at how we relate symbols and I'm talking about how we will all sort of create symbols to make assumptions about people, I think everyone has some sort of stereotype or some type of bias about something if not about people in general. And these are the generalizations that sort of help us process things. When you see a red stop sign, you know that means stop. And sometimes, you know, when people think of black they might think of negative just because of everything we've seen in the media and other things.
So - but the question, I think the bigger question is, how do we take those biases in our relationships with others? Am I going to, you know, establish relations with people outside of my comfortable cultural circle, despite something that I may have heard or something that my friend or counterpart may have said about someone else that may have been disparaging? Because that happens in life. So it's really moving beyond what stereotypes or what biases we may have, and of course trying to act in a color blind way is probably the more realistic way of looking at it.
Dr. FAUNTROY: Farai?
Dr. FAUNTROY: I want to jump in quickly on that. You know, I think the notion of color blindness to my way of thinking is problematic. The reality is, human nature is that we see people based on our experiences and history and what not. For me, what I'd like to see is more of a focus on respect for differences as opposed to try to make everybody the same. This sort of Stephen Colbert I don't see race thing just sort of drives me crazy. Because the reality is, some of the people who are saying that - not all, but some of the people are saying that - aren't being honest with themselves and aren't being honest with the world.
CHIDEYA: You know, I want to actually ask you guys about - we have a whole bunch of race topics. I mean we always talk about race, but there are just so many things coming out that are really trying to concretize what's going on today. So there's also a poll by the Pew Research Center that found that more than half of blacks say the country should make, quote "every effort to improve the position of blacks and minorities, even it means giving preferential treatment." At the same time, half of whites believe the U.S. has gone too far in pushing this kind of situation in the country. So I guess, let me start with you, Amani, how do you feel about affirmative action, which some people see as preferential treatment, some people see as, you know, just good politics, some people see as evil. Do you think that at this point affirmative action is necessary?
Mr. CHANNEL: I think that steps need to be taken to improve diversity within both the corporate environment and also educational situations. But I think what we need to be thinking about is affirmative education. How do we level the playing field, get education to these kids who are coming up, get them thinking about how to be entrepreneurs, so that when they get to that level, when they are looking for a job they will be well qualified? Because I don't think necessarily preferential treatment - if I'm a black candidate going up a against a white person and I might not have the qualifications that they have , that I would necessarily feel like I should be hired for that position. However, if I'm equally if not more qualified, then I think that some steps should be taken to give me consideration and the opportunity to take a certain job. But this is a conversation that's going to be had, that's going to continue to be had about affirmative action. Obviously the playing field is not equal. The question is, how do corporations, how do society help even the playing field for African-Americans?
CHIDEYA: Does anyone, do any of you believe that you benefited from affirmative action?
Ms. BELTON: I would argue that in my life I have. Specifically when talking about my parents. My father, when he went to college he studied in engineering, and one of the first jobs he got, the job that he kept for the rest of his life was with McDonnell Douglas. And he was able to get employed there. And he's convinced that one of the reasons that caused people to at least accept him, or at least see him as a viable person to do his job, was because of affirmative action. The only thing that was frustrating for him was when he got there and he saw a lot of times that - you know, he was an architectural engineer. You know, he designed boxes for a while. And he would see other people that basically didn't have a college education, you know, hadn't gone through the four-year degree, yet they had the same job that he had and got paid more.
So that's the kind of, you know, situation he was dealing with. My family directly benefited from that affirmative action that helped my dad get that job, because, you know, my father went from coming from a very poor family, you know, to being middle-class basically, so - and that directly benefited me.
CHIDEYA: Michael, Senator Obama has said that he believes affirmative action should be based, at least in part, on the issue of socioeconomics and that kids like his, who are growing up in families of means, but who are also black, should not be the ones who get affirmative action. Do you think that affirmative action might morph into something that really deals more with socioeconomics than race?
Mr. FAUNTROY: I think affirmative action has always been evolving and will continue to evolve. Part of it is political, the conservative attack on affirmative action. And so to change the way we look at it, we've found new ways to try to make it work and some ways we can look at diversity in that regard. You know, there may be something to his point, but I would just say that there are, you know, 2.4 million people incarcerated in the United States right now, which is on a per-capita basis the world leader. And 46 percent of them are African-American. And so, you know, if you take it out or lessen it for people of means, you still have a vast majority of African-Americans who arguably could still be included in some type of affirmative action program or plan. So what Senator Obama's talking about is fine and all, but it just impacts a very small number of people.
CHIDEYA: Alright. Moving on yet again, to yet another racial topic. There was a report in E.U.R., which is a popular website and listserve, and they asked, what makes a person legally black? So at one point in time, there was a rule called the "one drop rule," which said that if you had even one drop of black blood, you were black. And of course that helped maintain and sustain the color line. But there's not really a consensus at this point over what is legally black. There's also debate over what role mixed-race issues play. You know, Barack Obama calls himself a black man of mixed heritage. Tiger Woods calls himself Cablanasian (ph). A lot of people who are mixed-race just call themselves black. So, you know, Danielle, what is black in the age of, you know, biraciality?
Ms. BELTON: Well, now my theory, and this has always been, that you can call yourself whatever you want, but this is America, and basically you are what you look like. And there's not a lot you can do about that. So in the case of Tiger Woods, he is a multi-ethnic person. He does have a lot of different ethnicities in him. When people look at Tiger Woods, they see a black man. And a lot of times, I don't think people got that, that's what Barack Obama was talking about. He has mixed heritage, but it's almost pointless to a certain extent to argue with people, you know, I'm biracial, my mother's white. Because people just go, OK, that's nice, black man.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. BELTON: You know, that's all they see. Black man there.
Mr. FAUNTROY: No question.
Ms. BELTON: It's like Halle Berry. You know, they see a black woman. It doesn't matter that her mother's white. And it goes on and on and on. There's so many biracial people who have a black parent who just choose to go ahead and align themselves with being black because in America, you are what you look like. And if you look brown, and if you have black features, you're black.
CHIDEYA: Well you know, actually I was talking to a famous black biracial person who always calls himself black. Not Barack Obama. And he said, you know, Tiger Woods, if people were going down the street and spearing black people in the back with a pitchfork...
Mr. FAUNTROY: He would get speared.
CHIDEYA: Throwing them in a truck, I would take Tiger Woods, and I would pull him in the alley.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHIDEYA: Because, you know, he needs to get off the street.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHIDEYA: Amani, you know, at this point in time, is there - I mean, is there any point, though? I mean, another question is that after several layers of intermixing, if someone for example has a black great-grandparent, is that person black even if they don't look black at all?
Mr. CHANNEL: Well, that's a good question to have. I mean, there's so many levels to this discussion. I mean, this is even a question that I have to answer to this day. For whatever reason, I have some Native American or even some think Eastern Indian facial features. So I get asked the question all the time, are you black? Well I'm, you know, chocolate complexion and I was raised in east Palo Alto, California, which is an urban area in the bay area, and so I was raised culturally black. You know, it's how we define ourselves, it's the way you walk, it's what kind of music you listen to. It can be a cultural experience.
So just to base it upon what's in your blood or what's - how you look or the way you talk, I mean it's really not fair. I mean, you know, there's even the degree of if you don't speak a certain, you know, slang talk, that maybe people consider - black people consider you white because you don't act a certain way. So there's so many different levels to this. But yes, I'm sure there are a lot of white people who have drops of black blood in them, who look very white, that they'd be surprised to find out about their lineage. So are they black?
I mean, are you looking at it on a DNA level, which is very specific, or are you looking at it as your cultural experience, who you identify with, who's within your social circles? And it's a conversation that obviously is going to continue, especially in the wake of this 2008 election cycle. And it's a conversation that needs to be had, because there are black folks who have issues against dark-skinned folks, who might have issues against light-skinned folks. I mean, you know, I have associates and friends of mine who are light-skinned, and they battle issues of trying to, yes, I'm black, you know. So I don' know, I mean we just need to have more conversations like this, though, to further the thought on this.
CHIDEYA: Well you know what, guys, I have to break it off. We don't have any more time. Clearly a hot topic.
Mr. CHANNEL: Oh no, I'm sorry.
CHIDEYA: No, perfect. Thanks a lot, guys.
Mr. CHANNEL: Thank you.
Ms. BELTON: Thank you.
Mr. FAUNTROY: No problem. Thanks for having me.
CHIDEYA: We've been talking with writer Amani Channel, who blogs at "My Urban Report." He was at Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta. Danielle Belton runs the blogs "Black Snob" and "The Secret Council of American Negros." She was at KWMU in Saint Louis, Missouri. And Michael Fauntroy, assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University. He blogs at MichaelFauntroy.com, and was at our headquarters in Washington, D.C. You can find links to their blogs and ours at nprnewsandnotes.org. You can also go and speak your mind online. To find out how, go to our blog, nprnewsandviews.org, and click on Speak Your Mind.
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.