'We Are One Nation, One Family, Indivisible'

From Associated Press

The following are excerpts from President Clinton's speech on race relations Monday at the University of Texas at Austin:

. . . My fellow Americans, I want to begin by telling you that I am hopeful about America. . . . I can see in the eyes of these students, and in the spirit of this moment, we will do the right thing.

In recent weeks, every one of us has been made aware of a simple truth: White Americans and black Americans often see the same world in drastically different ways, ways that go beyond and beneath the Simpson trial and its aftermath, which brought these perceptions so starkly into the open.

The rift we see before us that is tearing at the heart of America exists in spite of the remarkable progress black Americans have made in the last generation, since Martin Luther King swept America up in his dream and President [Lyndon B.] Johnson spoke so powerfully for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy in demanding that Congress guarantee full voting rights to blacks.

The rift between blacks and whites exists still in a very special way in America, in spite of the fact that we have become much more racially and ethnically diverse. . . .

A House Divided

The reasons for this divide are many. Some are rooted in the awful history and stubborn persistence of racism. Some are rooted in the different ways we experience the threats of modern life to personal security, family values and strong communities. Some are rooted in the fact that we still haven't learned to talk frankly, to listen carefully and to work together across racial lines.

Almost 30 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King took his last march with sanitation workers in Memphis. They marched for dignity, equality and economic justice. Many carried placards that read simply, "I am a man." The throngs of men marching in Washington today, almost all of them, are doing so for the same stated reason.

But there is a profound difference between this march today and those of 30 years ago. Thirty years ago the marchers were demanding that dignity and opportunity they were due because, in the face of terrible discrimination, they had worked hard, raised their children, paid their taxes, obeyed the laws and fought our wars.

Well, today's march is also about pride and dignity and respect--but after a generation of deepening social problems that disproportionately impact black Americans.

It is also about black men taking renewed responsibility for themselves, their families and their communities. It's about saying "no" to crime and drugs and violence. It's about standing up for atonement and reconciliation. It's about insisting that others do the same and offering to help them.

It's about the frank admission that unless black men shoulder their load, no one else can help them or their brothers, their sisters and their children escape the hard, bleak lives that too many of them still face.

Of course, some of those in the march do have a history that is far from its message of atonement and reconciliation. One million men are right to be standing up for personal responsibility, but 1 million men do not make right one man's message of malice and division. No good house was ever built on a bad foundation. Nothing good ever came of hate.

Better Future

So let us pray today that all who march and all who speak will stand for atonement, for reconciliation, for responsibility. Let us pray that those who have spoken for hatred and division in the past will turn away from that past and give voice to the true message of those ordinary Americans who march.

If that happens . . . the men and the women who are there with them will be marching into better lives for themselves and their families, and they could be marching into a better future for America.

Today, we face a choice. One way leads to further separation and bitterness and more lost futures. The other way--the path of courage and wisdom--leads to unity, to reconciliation, to a rich opportunity for all Americans to make the most of the lives God gave them.

This moment in which the racial divide is so clearly out in the open need not be a setback for us. It presents us with a great opportunity, and we dare not let it pass us by.

In the past, when we've had the courage to face the truth about our failure to live up to our own best ideals, we've grown stronger, moved forward and restored proud American optimism. At such turning points, America moved to preserve the Union and abolish slavery, to embrace women's suffrage, to guarantee basic legal rights to America without regard to race. . . . At each of these moments, we looked in the national mirror and were brave enough to say, "This is not who we are. We're better than that."

Abraham Lincoln reminded us that a house divided against itself cannot stand.

When divisions have threatened to bring our house down, somehow we have always moved together to shore it up. My fellow Americans, our house is the greatest democracy in all human history. And with all its racial and ethnic diversity, it has beaten the odds of human history. But we know that divisions remain and we still have work to do.

The two worlds we see now each contain both truth and distortion. Both black and white Americans must face this, for honesty is the only gateway to the many acts of reconciliation that will unite our worlds at last into one America.

White America must understand and acknowledge the roots of black pain. It began with unequal treatment first in law and later in fact. African Americans indeed have lived too long with a justice system that in too many cases has been and continues to be less than just. The record of abuses extends from lynchings and trumped-up charges to false arrests and police brutality. The tragedies of Emmett Till and Rodney King are bloody markers on the very same road.

Still today, too many of our police officers play by the rules of the "bad old days." It is beyond wrong when law-abiding black parents have to tell their law-abiding children to fear the police whose salaries are paid by their own taxes.

And blacks are right to think something is terribly wrong when African American men are many times more likely to be victims of homicide than any other group in this country, when there are more African American men in our correction system than in our colleges, when almost one in three African American men in their 20s are either in jail, on parole, or otherwise under the supervision of the criminal justice system. . . .

And there is still unacceptable economic disparity between blacks and whites.

Misconceptions

It is so fashionable to talk today about African Americans as if they had been some sort of protected class. Many whites think blacks are getting more than their fair share in terms of jobs and promotions. That is not true. That is not true.

The truth is that African Americans still make on average about 60% of what white people do and more than half of African American children live in poverty. And at the very time our young Americans need access to college more than ever before, black college enrollment is dropping in America.

On the other hand, blacks must understand and acknowledge the roots of white fear in America.

There is a legitimate fear of the violence that is too prevalent in our urban areas. And often by experience--or at least what people see on the news at night--violence for those white people too often has a black face.

It isn't racist for a parent to pull his or her child close when walking through a high-crime neighborhood or to wish to stay away from neighborhoods where innocent children can be shot in school or standing at bus stops by thugs driving by with assault weapons or toting handguns like old West desperadoes.

It isn't racist for parents to recoil in disgust when they read about a national survey of gang members saying that two-thirds of them feel justified in shooting someone simply for showing them disrespect. It isn't racist for whites to say they don't understand why people put up with gangs on the corner or in the projects or with drugs being sold in the schools or in the open.

It's not racist for whites to assert that the culture of welfare dependency, out-of-wedlock pregnancy and absent fatherhood cannot be broken by social programs unless there is first more personal responsibility.

The great potential for this march today, beyond the black community, is that whites will come to see a larger truth: that blacks share their fears and embrace their convictions, openly assert that without changes in the black community and within individuals, real change for our society will not come.

This march could remind white people that most black people share their old-fashioned American values--for most black Americans still do work hard, care for their families, pay their taxes and obey the law, often under circumstances which are far more difficult. . . .

So we all have a stake in solving these common problems together. It is, therefore, wrong for white Americans to do what they have done too often, simply to move further away from the problems and support policies that will only make them worse.

Healthy Differences

Finally, both sides seem to fear deep down inside that they'll never quite be able to see each other as more than enemy faces, all of whom carry at least a sliver of bigotry in their hearts. Differences of opinion rooted in different experiences are healthy, indeed essential for democracies, but differences so great and so rooted in race threaten to divide the house Mr. Lincoln gave his life to save.

As Dr. King said: "We must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish as fools."

Recognizing one another's real grievances is only the first step. We must all take responsibility for ourselves, our conduct and our attitudes. America, we must clean our house of racism.

To our white citizens I say, I know most of you every day do your very best by your own lights to live a life free of discrimination.

Nevertheless, too many destructive ideas are gaining currency in our midst. The taped voice of one policeman should fill you with outrage. So I say we must clean the house of white America of racism. Americans who are in the white majority should be proud to stand up and be heard denouncing the sort of racist rhetoric we heard on that tape, so loudly and clearly denouncing it that our black fellow citizens can hear us.

White racism may be black people's burden, but it's white people's problem. We must clean our house.

To our black citizens, I honor the presence of hundreds of thousands of men in Washington today committed to atonement and to personal responsibility, and the commitment of millions of other men and women who are African Americans to this cause. I call upon you to build on this effort to share equally in the promise of America. But to do that, your house, too, must be cleaned of racism.

There are too many today, white and black, on the left and the right, on the street corners and the radio waves, who seek to sow division for their own purposes. To them I say: "No more.

We must be one. . . . "

When a child is gunned down on a street in the Bronx, no matter what our race, he is our American child. When a woman dies from a beating, no matter what our race or hers, she is our American sister. And every time drugs course through the vein of another child, it clouds the future of all our American children. Whether we like it or not, we are one nation, one family, indivisible, and for us, divorce or separation are not options.

One America

Here in 1995, on the edge of the 21st Century, we dare not tolerate the existence of two Americas. Under my watch I will do everything I can to see that as soon as possible there is only one, one America under the rule of law, one social contract committed not to winner take all, but to giving all Americans a chance to win together--one America.

Well, how do we get there? First, today I ask every governor, every mayor, every business leader, every church leader, every civic leader, every union steward, every student leader, most important, every citizen in every workplace and learning place and meeting place all across America to take personal responsibility for reaching out to people of different races, for taking time to sit down and talk through this issue, to have the courage to speak honestly and frankly, and then to have the discipline to listen quietly, with an open mind and an open heart, as others do the same.

This may seem like a simple request, but for tens of millions of Americans, this has never been a reality. They have never spoken, and they have never listened. . . .

The second thing we have to do is to defend and enhance real opportunity. I'm not talking about opportunity for black Americans or opportunity for white Americans. I'm talking about opportunity for all Americans.

Sooner or later, all our speaking, all our listening, all our caring has to lead to constructive action together for our words and our intentions to have meaning. We can do this, first, by truly rewarding work and family; in government policies, in employment policies, in community practices. . . .

Third, and perhaps most important of all, we have to give every child in this country and every adult who still needs it the opportunity to get a good education. . . .

But let us remember, the people marching in Washington today are right about one fundamental thing: At its base this issue of race is not about government or political leaders, it is about what is in the heart and minds and life of the American people. There will be no progress in the absence of real responsibility on the part of all Americans. . . .

So today, my fellow Americans, I honor the black men marching in Washington to demonstrate their commitment to themselves, their families and their communities. I honor the millions of men and women in America, the vast majority of every color who, without fanfare or recognition, do what it takes to be good fathers and good mothers, good workers and good citizens. They all deserve the thanks of America.

But when we leave here today, what are you going to do?

Let all of us who want to stand up against racism do our part to roll back the divide. Begin by seeking out people in the workplace, the classroom, the community, the neighborhood across town, the places of worship, to actually sit down and have those honest conversations I talked about; conversations where we speak openly and listen, and understand how others view this world of ours. Make no mistake about it, we can bridge this great divide. . . .

This is the ultimate test of our democracy, for today the house divided exists largely in the minds and hearts of the American people. And it must be united there in the minds and hearts of our people. . . .

With your help--with your help--that day will come a lot sooner. I will do my part, but you, my fellow citizens, must do yours.

Thank you, and God bless you.

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