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Race Dialogue Progressing Slowly

June 10, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The White House acknowledges that President Clinton’s national dialogue on race, now nearly a year old, has not become the frank exchange that some people expected.

But in an assessment Tuesday, deputy White House chief of staff Sylvia Mathews and executive director Judith Winston maintained that initiative has accomplished the main things it set out to do: Get people talking about race, and set up a base from which they can form networks on eliminating racism.

But the conversations themselves have not been very deep, they said, mainly because Americans have buried their darkest feelings about race and don’t feel comfortable expressing them.

``It is very personal and it is tough,″ Mathews said. ``In polite company, you never really want to get down to certain types of things that are hard like that.″

``There are very few people who are willing to put themselves out, particularly white people, in terms of concerns about being called racist if you ask the wrong questions, or use the wrong words,″ Winston said. ``This is just a fact of life. I suspect as we move forward there will be a higher level of comfort.″

Ward Connerly, the California regent who sparked the overturn of that state’s affirmative action programs in higher education, said the president’s dialogue has suffered more from a lack of direction than a lack of expression. Moreover, people were already talking about race before Clinton came along, he said.

``I listen to a lot of talk radio. I found that we were discussing race in a very visceral sort of way,″ Connerly said. ``We needed structure to this darned discussion. It has never gotten down to the level of the people on the streets.″

The One America initiative, launched by Clinton on June 14, 1997, will continue through the remainder of Clinton’s term, Mathews said, even though the seven-member advisory board will wrap up its work once it submits a report to the president later this year.

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