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  Clinton Advised to Drop Race Plan

By Sonya Ross
Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, July 8, 1998; 2:10 a.m. EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Clinton's race advisory board is suggesting that he seek a ``thoughtful alternative'' to the notion of creating a colorblind society, so he can more effectively fight the stereotypes that keep racism alive.

In a letter to Clinton, board chairman John Hope Franklin wrote that stereotypes remain because Americans cling to the idea that it is best to try to ignore race. That forces people to bury -- and harbor -- beliefs they form from stereotypes heard at school, in the media and from family members.

In turn, the stereotypes creep into decisions people make within institutions, such as universities or government.

``If one ignores or eliminates consideration of race, there is no way to deal with the manifestations of racial bias or prejudice,'' Franklin wrote. ``Given that research has demonstrated that the best way to reduce racial stereotyping is to be conscious about racial differences, it is important to present a thoughtful alternative to the 'colorblind society' concept.''

The board recommended, among other things, that Clinton hold a meeting with top-ranking ``executives, practitioners and scholars'' in the news media to take on the media's role in perpetuating racial stereotypes.

``The primary purpose of the meeting would not be to assign blame,'' Franklin wrote. ``You might discuss the possibility of media organizations developing mechanisms to monitor their own progress in diminishing the occurrence of racial stereotypes.''

Members of the media, along with authors and analysts, were among the eight panelists taking part in Clinton's third town hall discussion of race today. The session was being taped to air Thursday on PBS' NewsHour With Jim Lehrer. It was not known Tuesday whether stereotypes would be addressed during the session.

In the June 16 letter, obtained by The Associated Press, Franklin called Clinton's attention to three messages on stereotypes that were presented to the advisory board during a public meeting in Denver last March. One of them declared that the aspiration for a colorblind society ``is an impediment to reducing racial stereotyping'' because it discourages any emphasis on race.

Judith Winston, executive director of Clinton's race initiative, said Tuesday that the letter summarized information gathered by the board and did not represent a final recommendation to the president.

``We do agree that, as a nation, we're not yet at the point where we can be colorblind, but I think it's fair to say we all aspire to become a colorblind society,'' she said.

The White House was noncommittal. ``A primary goal of the president's race initiative has been to celebrate our diversity while fighting racial stereotyping,'' said White House spokesman Barry Toiv. ``The president will continue to do that through the race initiative and beyond.''

Larry Davis, psychology professor at Washington University in St. Louis, said the board was correct to suggest that the president move away from the ``colorblind'' idea. He suggested that Clinton chip away at stereotypes by consistently presenting examples of people of various races who belie them.

``There is no sense in pretending we are colorblind when we are not,'' Davis said. ``It's benign neglect of people who are different. What whites by and large don't recognize is the neglect over time works out to what appears to be bias.''

The board also urged Clinton to hold a major event on stereotypes, deliver a speech that reflects a clear understanding of the issue or discuss stereotypes in ``a fireside chat with a few thoughtful Americans.'' They advised against bogging down discussion of stereotypes with other race-tinged issues such as education, poverty or immigration.

The board's findings are being compiled into a final report to Clinton, expected in September. The president will use those recommendations to write his own report on the status of race relations in America and explain his vision for a future in which no racial group will be a majority of the U.S. population. That report is due at the end of the year.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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