June 20, 2015

Today Hillary Clinton delivered a powerful call for Americans to stand up and really work at the race issues that bedevil this country.

Speaking to the US Conference of Mayors, Clinton was blunt, and her remarks were not limited to evil acts of white supremacists.

But today, I stand before you because I know and you know there is a deeper challenge we face.

I had the great privilege of representing America around the world. I was so proud to share our example, our diversity, our openness, our devotion to human rights and freedom. These qualities have drawn generations of immigrants to our shores, and they inspire people still. I have seen it with my own eyes.

And yet, bodies are once again being carried out of a black church.

Once again, racist rhetoric has metastasized into racist violence.

Now, it's tempting, it is tempting to dismiss a tragedy like this as an isolated incident, to believe that in today's America, bigotry is largely behind us, that institutionalized racism no longer exists.

But despite our best efforts and our highest hopes, America's long struggle with race is far from finished.

I know this is a difficult topic to talk about. I know that so many of us hoped by electing our first black president, we had turned the page on this chapter in our history.

I know there are truths we don't like to say out loud or discuss with our children. But we have to. That's the only way we can possibly move forward together.

Race remains a deep fault line in America. Millions of people of color still experience racism in their everyday lives.

Here are some facts.

In America today, blacks are nearly three times as likely as whites to be denied a mortgage.

In 2013, the median -- the median wealth of black families was around $11,000. For white families, it was more than $134,000.

Nearly half of all black families have lived in poor neighborhoods for at least two generations, compared to just 7 percent of white families.

African American men are far more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes, and sentenced to longer prison terms than white men, 10 percent longer for the same crimes in the federal system.

In America today, our schools are more segregated than they were in the 1960s.

How can any of that be true? How can it be true that black children are 500 percent more likely to die from asthma than white kids? Five hundred percent!

More than a half century after Dr. King marched and Rosa Parks sat and John Lewis bled, after the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act and so much else, how can any of these things be true? But they are.

And our problem is not all kooks and Klansman. It's also in the cruel joke that goes unchallenged. It's in the off-hand comments about not wanting "those people" in the neighborhood.

Let's be honest: For a lot of well-meaning, open-minded white people, the sight of a young black man in a hoodie still evokes a twinge of fear. And news reports about poverty and crime and discrimination evoke sympathy, even empathy, but too rarely do they spur us to action or prompt us to question our own assumptions and privilege.

We can't hide from any of these hard truths about race and justice in America. We have to name them and own them and then change them.

You may have heard about a woman in North Carolina named Debbie Dills. She's the one who spotted Dylann Roof's car on the highway. She could have gone on about her business. She could have looked to her own safety. But that's not what she did. She called the police and then she followed that car for more than 30 miles.

As Congressman Jim Clyburn said the other day, "There may be a lot of Dylann Roofs in the world, but there are a lot of Debbie Dills too. She didn't remain silent." (Applause.)

Well, neither can we. We all have a role to play in building a more tolerant, inclusive society, what I once called "a village," where there is a place for everyone.

You know, we Americans may differ and bicker and stumble and fall, but we are at our best when we pick each other up, when we have each other's back.

Like any family, our American family is strongest when we cherish what we have in common, and fight back against those who would drive us apart.

I'm certain that we'll hear the usual flurry of clucking from the right wing media complex about how she's politicizing what happened in Charleston, and how we don't dare politicize these terrible tragedies because good Lord, people, those bodies aren't even buried in the ground yet!

That's just the right wing's way of encouraging collective attention deficits on the cancer rapidly multiplying in today's day and age. Ignore it. Whether you support Hillary Clinton or not, she has a long record of believing what she said right here, reaching all the way back to her days as Arkansas' First Lady. For that reason alone, 2016 or not, what she says should carry some weight.

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