In September, the Advisory Board to the President's Initiative on Race submitted their report, "One America in the 21st Century: Forging a New Future", to President Clinton. In order to gather data for it, the Advisory Board held hundreds of meetings with thousands of people in every region of the country. Wherever they went, the Board discovered many Americans want honest and constructive racial dialogue, but most people are uncomfortable talking about the emotionally charged issue of race, or have flawed knowledge or unexamined racial attitudes. According to the Board, "these attitudes persist because we are still affected by the myths, stereotypes and superstitions that are associated with our long history of racial discrimination."
President Clinton, in accepting the Board's report, underlined their finding that education through constructive dialogue is key to better understanding among the various racial groups in America: "The first thing we have to do is keep the conversation going. A real gap in perceptions still exists among the American people." And, according to the President, this gap remains a major threat to America's future. "I think we have to begin with one clear understanding: when we approach others with discrimination and distrust, when we demean them from the beginning, when we believe our power can only come from their subjugation, their weakness, or their destruction -- as human beings and as citizens, we pay a terrible price."
In order to "keep the conversation going," The Office of Civil Rights enlisted the services of the Honorable William E. Leftwich III, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Equal Opportunity at the Department of Defense, who in October and November conducted dialogues about race in America at USIA. At each event, a crowd of over 80 Agency workers, managers and supervisors looked on as 35-40 Agency employees from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds exchanged information face-to-face, shared personal stories and experiences, honestly expressed perspectives, and clarified viewpoints on the state of race relations in America today.
Response to these dialogues has been enthusiastic, and calls for continuing the effort have come from several USIA Bureaus. The Office of Civil Rights is in the process of discussing with other interested parties ways not only to "keep the conversation going," but to build on the spirit of openness and the desire to better racial interaction which these two dialogues have inspired. Suggestions and comments are welcome. The Office of Civil Rights can be reached by e-mail at OCR@usia.gov
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