January 15, 2009, 12:00 - 2:00 PM - Hudson Institute, Washington, D.C. Headquarters
Transcript Now Available - Click Here! (PDF format, 30 pages, 208 KB)
Also Available: Excerpts (PDF format, 2 pages)
A complete, edited transcript is now available of the January 15 panel discussion, cosponsored by Hudson Institute's Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal and the Center for Neighhorhood Enterprise, entitled
A Post-Racial America?
Thursday, January 15, 2009 - 12:00 to 2:00 p.m.
Raspberry, Soaries, Schambra, Norton, Woodson
"It's been said that the ascendancy of Barack Obama signals the beginning of a 'post-racial' America. I wish. What we have witnessed, I think, is something less profound but still hugely significant. Obama's election means that in America, including at the highest levels of our politics, race is no longer an automatic deal-breaker. That's a major step forward in the thinking of white America." So begins a November 11 piece by retired Washington Post columnist WILLIAM RASPBERRY entitled "A Path Beyond Grievance." (Click here to read the piece on the Post's web site.)
Whether or not America has entered a "post-racial" era and what that might mean was the topic of a panel discussion on Thursday, January 15, co-hosted by Hudson Institute's Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal and the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise (CNE). The panel featured RASPBERRY and three other long-standing writers, neighborhood activists, and community leaders who have been eloquent spokesmen both for the nation’s obligation to address its racial divisions and for the positive steps that minority communities can take on their own behalf: the Reverend DeForest Blake “BUSTER” SOARIES, Jr., attorney EDWARD W. NORTON, and CNE founder and president ROBERT WOODSON, Sr. The Bradley Center’s WILLIAM SCHAMBRA moderated the discussion.
Program and Panel
ROBERT WOODSON, Center for Neighborhood Enterprise
Has America entered a post-racial era? “I don’t think so,” reiterated former syndicated columnist William Raspberry. “But the assertion I welcome with wide open arms, because I think our thoughts are always ahead of our ability to deliver on those thoughts.”
Rev. DeForest “Buster” Soaries, Jr., of the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens (Somerset, NJ), added, “When hip hop music became more popular in the suburbs than it was in the cities, you could have called that a post-racial development. …Today, my children who are nineteen have more in common with their Caucasian and Hispanic and Asian counterparts in ways that defy the notion of race as we understand it. And so, the post-racial phenomenon didn’t really start with Obama.”
Center for Neighborhood Enterprise president Robert Woodson, Sr., had this to say: “Race is used …both as a spear and as a shield. It’s used a spear to compel corporations and foundations and government to provide money in the name of poor blacks, but then it’s used as a shield to protect them against any charges of corruption and incompetence. Having Obama in place will hopefully remove this shield.”
Washington DC-based attorney Edward Norton observed, “…We need to ask how we come to solutions as opposed to asking how we deal with claims based on historic wrongs.” Buster Soaries added, “I think the issue of accountability within the race, and moral consistency, is as critical a notion to post-racialism as anything else.”
William Raspberry drew the 2007 events in Jena, Louisiana into the discussion: “...The most powerful problems confronting black America are internal and demand internal solutions. There are still some external issues, but they’re not the predominant ones, and we can’t keep forgetting that, so when a Jena, Louisiana, happens, we all get in busses and cars and planes and go running down there as if, if we can settle Jena, we will have made some enormous progress. Why? Because Jena looks a little bit like Montgomery and Rosa Parks. We’ve got these little templates, and we keep trying to create 1960s templates in 2008 and 2009. And it doesn’t fly anymore.”
He continued, “…Part of it is a failure of analysis. We simply haven’t done the proper analysis of what it will take to do the next work that has to be done. This is what I’m hopeful will come out of the Obama presidency.”
Raspberry also commented on the Republican Party and the African-American vote, looking ahead: “There is a strong conservative streak in black America and especially in poor black America. If you want to hear the conservative position on abortion, on same-sex marriage, on a lot of these hot-button issues, go to an inner-city Baptist church. In terms of personal responsibility, you get the old grandmothers talking as conservatively as Newt! But don’t ask them to buy in philosophically to a movement that in its recent mode was calculated to disavow you.”
Finally, audience member Etta King, a student at Brandeis Univeristy, spoke as a young white person motivated by Obama: “How do we empower communities to fix themselves, and what is my role and my peers’ role in that?” Youths in all communities are making bad decisions that can destroy their lives, Woodson pointed out. “There is a desperate search for meaning in the lives of young people.” He suggested that if she “approach them with the attitude that you expect something from them as much as you have something to give to them, then you’ll be an effective change agent.” Moderator Bill Schambra added that for young college graduates, “There is that temptation to think that because you are a professional, you know better. And I think that the essence of the message here is that you don’t know better. The folks in the neighborhoods you’re dealing with, the folks in the community, should be the first judges of what they need and how they should go about that.”
The event transcript was prepared from an audio recording and edited by Krista Shaffer. To request further information on this event or the Bradley Center, please contact Krista Shaffer at (202) 974-2424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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