September 2, 2011


Reconciling race in the 'new' America

There is only one race — the human race — says Edward James Olmos, and it must serve as a unifying thread.

The award-winning actor, director and activist participated in a panel, "The 2010 U.S. Census and the New America," held Wednesday, Aug. 31, at the Carter Center. The provocative discussion kicked off CNN Dialogues, a series of community forums featuring prominent figures, sponsored by CNN, Emory's James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.

The 2000 census was the first time that Americans could check more than one box indicating their racial identity. Moderator Wolf Blitzer, CNN's lead political anchor, asked the respondents if we have finally moved into a "post-racial" society.

Goodrich C. White Professor of Liberal Arts Dana White acknowledged that while the census categories are useful from a tracking perspective, "it's too much either-or."   

"I would love to see a race-free America but we're not there yet," added Kris Marsh, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Maryland at College Park. "What I'd like is a race-fair America."

Panelists explored the changing racial attitudes resulting from the election of President Barack Obama. Yul Kwon, the first Asian American to win the reality show "Survivor" in 2006, cited a waning energy, especially among younger members of the electorate, when Obama's vision for economic growth could not be fully realized.

"People were hoping that Obama would not just transcend race but transcend partisan politics," he said.

While we are all children of immigrants, Olmos noted that people of color continue to be marginalized in history books, their contributions largely overshadowed.

"If it wasn't for Martin Luther King Jr., there wouldn't be one person of color who we say thank you to as a nation," he said.

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