Excerpts from President William J. Clinton's,
Between Hope and History: Meeting America's Challenges for the 21st Century

...A critical part of creating a better America is creating stronger communities where America's diversity is respected, even celebrated. This has been a constant challenge for America. It was a century ago when a huge wave of immigrants suffered subtle and not-so-subtle discrimination. Today, America is more diverse than ever. It is amazing to consider that while 197 nations were represented at the Atlanta Olympics, there are people of 150 different racial and ethnic groups in America's largest county! How can we accommodate all the diversity in America and preserve a strong national citizenship? We must begin with the essential proposition that Americans are not bound together by race, religion, or any other single distinguishing trait, but by common allegiance to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, and common embrace of both the privileges and the obligations of citizenship.

I took Latin in high school in Hot Springs, Arkansas, with a wonderful teacher, Mrs. Elizabeth Buck. And as much as I hated learning Latin declensions, it helped me later to understand something important about what America's motto, E Pluribus Unum, really means. The Latin in that phrase doesn't mean that we are one. It means that we are striving to become one; it's what Lincoln called our "unfinished work."

Our history is full of examples of how hard it has been to create communities that live up to the challenge of our motto. We have had class divisions. We have waged battles against ourselves and wars of conquest against others. We have had religious and ethnic conflicts. We have held prejudices against each wave of immigrants, even though "we" ourselves were often children of immigrants. And, of course, we have struggled with racial conflict from the beginning.

We continue to wrestle with some of these issues today. Racial tensions still divide us. Disagreements over religious expression, especially in school, still flare. And immigration once again is an issue of public debate.

When I was a kid growing up in segregated Arkansas, I rode the city bus to school. It cost a nickel. My friends and I liked to sit at the back of the bus. When the bus was crowded, it was pointed out to us that black folks were supposed to sit in the back of the bus. I didn't know any better. Discrimination doesn't come naturally; it has to be taught.

Martin Luther King, Jr., said that men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don't know each other. They don't each other because they can't communicate with each other. They can't communicate with each other because they're separated from each other. The sad lesson of our experience is that sometimes we can be standing next to one another and still be separated, miles and miles away in our minds.

If we are going to build enduring communities, we have to close that distance. We have to continue to heal the racial divisions that still tear our nation. We cannot rest until there are no more hate crimes, until there is no more racial violence, and until we have moved beyond those far more subtle but still pervasive racial divisions that keep us from becoming strong communities pulling together as one nation under God. Until we do that, we will not have fulfilled the promise that is America.

We have to be honest about where we are in this struggle. The job of ending discrimination in this country is not over. In Hope, Arkansas, the streets in the black neighborhood near where my grandfather had his store were the only ones in town that weren't paved. The movie house was segregated. Thirty years ago it was rare to see women or people of color as police officers or firefighters or doctors or lawyers or college professors or even, believe it or not, sports figures.

The reason that's changing today isn't random historical drift. After all, the Supreme Court rejected the notion that we could ever be separate but equal and Democrats and Republicans alike passed laws against discrimination and created affirmative action programs to redress centuries of wrongs for minorities and women.

Affirmative action was intended to give everybody a fair chance, but it hasn't worked smoothly and fairly. Today there are those who are determined to put an end to affirmative action, as if the purposes for which it was created have been achieved. They have not. Until they are, we need to mend affirmative action, most certainly, but not end it.

That is exactly what we are trying to do: end abuses, prohibit quotas, subject affirmative action to strict review, oppose any benefits to those who aren't qualified, but make that extra effort to see that everyone has not a guarantee, but a chance.

We are all stronger when everyone has an opportunity to work and serve to the full extent of his or her ability. We can see that clearly in the remarkable record established in our military by minorities and by women who have been made eligible, since I became President, to serve in more than 250,000 new positions. And the public interest has certainly been advanced by the record number of minorities and women appointed to the Cabinet, other important Executive positions, and federal judgeships. We are all better off for their contributions.

We must realize that all Americans, whatever their racial or ethnic origin, share the same old-fashioned values, work hard, care for their families, pay their taxes, and obey the law. We must remember that all Americans are exposed to the problems of crime, drugs, domestic abuse, and teen pregnancy. And we all have a stake in solving these problems together. As Dr. King said, "We must learn to live together as brothers, or we will perish as fools."...

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