October 16, 1995
Web posted at: 2:15 p.m. EDT
AUSTIN, Texas (CNN) -- While thousands of African-American men marched on Washington, President Clinton issued his own challenge to both white and black Americans.
In a powerful speech touching on such cultural hot points as the O.J. Simpson trial, America's legacy of slavery, welfare reform and Monday's Million Man March, Clinton urged all Americans to "clean your house of racism."
"In recent weeks," said Clinton, speaking at the University of Texas at Austin, (170K AIFF sound or 170K WAV sound) "we've all been made aware of a simple truth. White and black Americans often see the world in dramatically different ways."
Clinton said differing reactions to the Simpson verdict had served to highlight far deeper divisions, rifts that are "tearing at the heart of America." But they had also helped provide a window for communication and reconciliation.
"Today we face a choice," he said. "One way leads to further separation and bitterness and more lost futures. The other way, the path of courage and wisdom, leads to unity, reconciliation, and a rich opportunity for all to make the most of the lives God has given them."
Clinton issued a poignant reminder of the history of blacks in America, one that stretches from lynchings and trumped-up charges to Rodney King's beating at the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department. (168K AIFF sound or 168K WAV sound)
"White racism may be black people's burden, but it is white people's problem," charged the president. In a reference to former Los Angeles Police Department detective Mark Fuhrman, he said, "The taped voice of one policeman should fill you with outrage. So I say to you: clean your house of racism." (250K AIFF sound or 250K WAV sound)
Noting the traditional economic disparity between the races and current efforts to end affirmative action, he said, "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." He pointed out that black Americans still earn, on the average, only 60 percent of what whites earn. Moreover, he said, more than half of African-American children grow up in poverty.
While acknowledging the roots of black pain and anger, the president also gave voice to white concerns. "Blacks must understand the roots of white fear," Clinton insisted. "It isn't racist for a white parent to hold his child close in a high crime neighborhood."
And he urged the black community to take responsibility for its problems, and for people of color, too, to cleanse their minds of ugly racism: "Again, I say, clean your house."
Clinton hailed the men participating in Monday's Million Man March, but offered thinly veiled criticism of the events' organizer, Louis Farrakhan, known for anti-Semitic remarks.
"One million men are right to be standing up for personal responsibility," he said. "But one million men do not make right one man's message of malice and division."
In a powerful speech that sometimes resembled a parental lecture, Clinton ended with a call for a united America.
"Whether we like it or not," he said, "we are one nation, one family, indivisible. For us, divorce or separation are not options."
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