Clinton asks U.S. to end racism In Texas speech, he condemns bigotry of both races


WASHINGTON -- President Clinton, used the occasion of yesterday's Million Man March to call on whites -- and blacks -- to "clean our house of racism."

He did so, however, far from the huge Washington rally.

Before a friendly audience at the University of Texas at Austin, Mr. Clinton praised the message of the march -- and the marchers -- while criticizing its keynote speaker, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

Mr. Clinton also offered some stark observations about racial perceptions in the United States.

"White America must understand and acknowledge the roots of black pain," he said. "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.

"On the other hand," the president added, "blacks must understand and acknowledge the roots of white fear in America. It isn't racist for a parent to pull his or her child close when walking through a high-crime neighborhood."

Mr. Clinton has spoken out on this subject before, in a highly acclaimed 1993 speech at the church where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached his last sermon. There, the president warned that black-on-black crime was threatening civil rights gains.

The president said he feared that if Dr. King were alive today, he would might say, "I fought to stop white people from being so filled with hate that they would wreak violence on black people. I did not fight for the right of black people to murder other black people with reckless abandon."

Rather than remain in Washington yesterday, Mr. Clinton stuck to a schedule that had him flying from Connecticut to Texas and on to California for a series of fund-raisers.

His speech in Austin was originally going to be on another subject, aides said, but the president, dismayed by the racially polarized reaction to the O. J. Simpson verdict -- believed yesterday was the day to speak out.

Yet Mr. Clinton's appearing to have abandoned the big stage to Minister Farrakhan troubled some Democrats.

"They did have a big fund-raiser, and you have to give Clinton credit for sticking with his schedule," said Jim Duffy, a Democratic campaign consultant who works mostly in the South. "But it almost looks like he got run out of his own town. If you want to look at it from the standpoint of power politics, Farrakhan ruled the day."

Another delicate question for the White House was how Mr. Clinton would deal with Mr. Farrakhan.

Mr. Clinton needs black support to be re-elected; yet Mr. Farrakhan has a history of making anti-Semitic, anti-gay and anti-white slurs.

The way the president dealt with this dilemma was to employ the same spirit of symmetry he used throughout the speech:

Without mentioning names, he put Mr. Farrakhan on the same level as former Los Angeles police Detective Mark Fuhrman -- and used both men as examples of the damage that can be caused by racism and hate speech.

Mr. Clinton challenged whites to express outrage over the "racist rhetoric" espoused on tape by Detective Fuhrman -- and to express it loud enough for their black neighbors to hear.

Regarding Mr. Farrakhan, the president said he "honored" the marchers themselves, but that "no good house was ever built on a bad foundation . . ."

"One million men are right to be standing up for personal responsibility," Mr. Clinton added, "but 1 million men do not make right one man's message of malice and division."

Political professionals of both parties praised Mr. Clinton for this stance -- if not for his decision to keep 1,000 miles between himself and the march.

But as word of the president's speech filtered through the leadership of the march, not everyone was pleased.

"The president was in the most backward state in the union, Texas, talking to 250 people," Rock Newman, the manager of prize fighter Riddick Bowe told the crowd, "while the Rev. Louis Farrakhan was in Washington, D.C., talking to a million and a half people."

Mr. Farrakhan himself appeared to show restraint when responding to the president.

He praised the president's address as a "great speech," noting approvingly that the president had spoken well of the marchers and added, "I must hasten to tell you Mr. President that I am not a malicious person."

But the Nation of Islam leader suggested that he, and not Mr. Clinton, had gotten to the heart of the matter in their respective speeches.

"The president spoke today, and he wanted to heal the great divide," Mr. Farrakhan said. "I respectfully suggest that [he] did not dig deep enough at the malady."

Later, Mr. Farrakhan said the "root" of the evil in America today was slavery, and that all of the injustices of the past still have not been brought fully into the light.

But Mr. Clinton seemed to be saying it was time for Americans of all races to put aside old grievances and move forward together.

"Abraham Lincoln reminded us that: 'A house divided against itself cannot stand,' " Mr. Clinton said. "At every moment when our divisions have threatened to bring the house down, we have moved together to shore it up."

The president suggested that this is one one of those times. He spoke of a "rift that we see before us that is tearing at the heart of America." The nation, the president says, faces a crossroads. One is the road to further separation and bitterness; the other to unity and reconciliation.

"When a child is gunned down on a street in the Bronx, no matter what our race, he is our American child," Mr. Clinton said. "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."

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad