The Paula Gordon Show
Ending Racism In America

The 'problem' in America is not 'race,' according to Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson. We've made enormous strides on 'race' in the past 30 years, even though there's more to do. The problem in America is poverty. And that's a national disgrace.

Patterson is an historical sociologist and Professor at Harvard University.╩╩After a lifetime studying slavery, freedom and ethnic inequality worldwide, Patterson concludes that the challenge in America is no longer 'race,' Three-fourths of America's 33 million African-Americans have dramatically improved their lives since the early '70's, even accounting for the realities of stagnation.

Patterson demonstrates the mainstream culture in America is as much African-American as European-American. ╩ He has evidence that ordinary people of all ethnicities are committed to integration. And that they're optimistic. He urges us not to be led astray by those who insist race is polarizing America. It's just not true," he proclaims.

Poverty, not race, is America's shame, he shows. And poverty affects Euro-Americans as brutally as it does Afro-Americans. Do the arithmetic, Patterson challenges. When two people both work two minimum wage jobs, at the end of the week their family's income is still below the poverty line. He calls this a reservation wage, not a living wage. And it's getting worse, not better, in the richest nation in the world.

While declaring poverty our national shame, Patterson provides a range of examples of the real progress we've made living together in a multi-ethnic society. Why don't we know what a good job we've done on the 'race' front? Because a host of national leaders -- liberal and conservative, white and black -- stand to gain from a stereotype of a racially polarized society. Social scientists are as guilty of this as the media, politicians and 'race leaders,' according to Patterson.

Instead of succumbing to gloom and despair over so-called intractable problems, Patterson calls people of all ethnicities to build on the actual progress we've made, living together. He has a time-limited plan to continue affirmative action until everyone has access to social capital. He has suggestions for creating a culture where teenage childbearing no longer is "cool." And he calls for an economy where poverty no longer isolates anyone. That will take national solutions based on national changes in our economy.

Patterson believes that saying 'race is the issue' gives people an 'out.' "We are so busy talking about 'race' that we no longer view our very real economic challenges in structural terms. That's what it took to pull ourselves out of the Great Depression."

Keep a climate of optimism, urges Patterson. Base that optimism on the real progress we've made creating a global culture. If we give in to the defeatists and pessimists, we play into the hands of those who would keep us separate. And separate is never equal.

Orlando Patterson

. . . is an historical sociologist and Professor at Harvard University. He won the 1991 National Book Award for Freedom in the Making of Western Culture, appears regularly in The New York Times, Newsweek, and The New Republic. He also served as special adviser for social policy and development to Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley during the 1970's, was on the faculty at the London School of Economics, and has published three novels. His latest work is The Ordeal of Integration, the first of a trilogy, published by Civitas/Counterpoint, distributed by Publishers Group West.

Excerpts3:10 secs

Conversation 1

In the past 25 or 30 years, American race relations have been steadily improving, in spite of problems which remains, Orlando Patterson tells Paula Gordon and Bill Russell. Patterson describes the modern phenomenon of the underclass, which popular perception confuses with 'race.' He describes why today's sense that we have a crisis between European-Americans and African-Americans is simply not true and gives reasons why powerful people perpetuate this misinformation.

Conversation 2

Patterson distinguishes between the many ways the word 'race' is used and describes far-reaching effects of this confusion. He suggests we think of people in "ethnic groups" to clarify the jumble of perceptions. He tells how it would remove stigmas from groups and keep intact important differences between them.╩╩He acknowledges problems which people have in America and distinguishes which ones arise from economics and which from ethnicity, noting how some leaders profit from a continued misunderstanding about 'racial' issues. ╩He distinguishes internal problems -- broken families, destroyed communities, low educational attainment -- from external ones -- poor people unable to make a living wage because of the structure of today's economy.

Conversation 3

The concept of freedom is vital in America and, increasingly, to all people. Professor Patterson gives a brief summary of freedom's origins and applies freedom to economics.

As late as the 1960's, Americans addressed poverty as a structural issue requiring national attention and a national solution. Now Patterson shows we confuse 'race' with poverty, solving our 'racial' problems, but not addressing the inequalities brought on by poverty. ╩He distinguishes between hurtful personal affronts and systematic exclusion from social capital. He offers solutions for redressing the imbalances that leads to social isolation.

Conversation 4

Professor Patterson demonstrates how the global culture Americans are creating is as African-American as it is European-American. He provides evidence that ordinary individual Americans of all ethnic groups -- especially African-Americans -- are committed to integration and are generally optimistic about the future of interactions among different ethnic groups. He gives reasons why pessimism is advantageous to some leaders. He takes to task academics, the media and civic and political leaders for perpetuating pessimism while at the same time neglecting the very real economic problems we do face.

Conversation 5

Facing problems of insensitive interaction among individuals is not the same as challenging economic conditions in African-American middle and lower classes, says Patterson. He suggests the Golden Rule for the former and offers a prescription which includes affirmative action-with-a-twist for the latter, making a powerful analogy between the break up of AT&T and affirmative action.╩He has suggestions for "Acts of Man" which parallel "Acts of God," and for government action on immigration. ╩He offers an ingenious solution to the plague of teenage pregnancies within African-American lower class communities.

Conversation 6

Chicago's Gautreaux program is one of Patterson's examples of success in African-Americans and European-Americans living together across class lines. He describes how "exogamy" has worked for every immigrant group in America except for African-Americans. And he demonstrates that separate is always and inherently unequal. He gives an optimist outlook for people who resist the defeatism of self-proclaimed leaders.

Acknowledgements those who came before, creating the gains on which we all must build, those who continue America's journey toward equality.

On April 11, May 2 and May 9, we will present programs which explore the history and the future of African-Americans in America; how that future is our shared future.

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