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Frank Discussion Highlights Town Meeting On Race

AKRON, Ohio (AllPolitics, Dec. 3) -- The White House held its first town meeting on race at the University of Akron today where President Bill Clinton went face-to-face with 65 community leaders and students on the racial problems facing the nation.

Clinton stressed the importance of open, frank discussions on the issue of race. "I think it is very important that we understand that this is something that we have to keep dealing with honestly and openly. There are many people today with whom I have great sympathy who say, well, the president shouldn't be talking about race out of context," the president said.

"I don't want anybody for a moment minimizing the importance of this sort of dialogue," Clinton continued. "I think it's important to see this is something we need to keep dealing with."

The president got what he wanted: blunt exchanges on the state of race relations. There were many tales to tell among the audience: A bi-racial student told of his difficult in getting a check cashed at a bank. Another white student admitted a poorly dressed black man on the streets makes him "scared."

Clinton responded to the revelation by saying, "I think that was a pretty gutsy thing to say ... but we have to get those things out on the table."

But critics say that the problem with the president's race initiative has been getting some of the more controversial ideas aired. His advisory board on race relations has declined to hear conservative input on affirmative action.

One opponent of affirmative action did take the floor today. Author Abigail Thernstrom said, "Despair has become very fashionable," but that in reality, "America is outgrowing their racial past."

"Those of us who are optimistic and those who are against racial preferences are not naive," she said. "We don't think America has become colorblind, that racism has disappeared. Only fools believe that."

Clinton also offered some policy initiatives to back up all the talk, including an education proposal that promises hundreds of millions of dollars for school districts with high minority populations that raise academic standards, promote teachers based on merit and introduce educational alternatives like charter schools.

The president is also talking about extending the race initiative, kicked off six months ago and intended to last for a year.

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Wednesday Dec. 3, 1997

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