Rodriguez for Congress campaign
Race Relations

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[August 11, 2016]  Rodriguez Sees Dialogue on Race Relations as Essential to Progress - Race relations remains the single most divisive issue in contemporary American political life in spite of decades-long struggles to advance the cause of civil rights and provide equitable opportunity for all.

As a nation born with the imprimatur that “all men are created equal” we have long lived a contested history to advance that notion more fully, and although advances have certainly been achieved there remains unfinished work that lies before us. History has taught us that legislative action can solve many of the most egregious violations of state-sanctioned discrimination (for example, poll taxes, and Jim Crow era segregation laws), but the harder question that persists is how do we address the societal problem of bias and find the solutions that legislation alone cannot remedy?

As difficult as it may seem, we need to have a genuine and meaningful discussion about the issue of race relations in the United States. Having studied and taught African American history for nearly three decades now, I have experienced this quandary when encouraging my own students to speak openly about racial matters and begin a dialogue that might move us toward greater understanding and finding answers. The initial silences are generally quite palpable as individuals clam up when the topic is broached, but once the discussion begins a healthy conversation usually results. Key to this process is the realization that for true dialogue to take place individuals who are participating must listen as well as hear what others are saying—and this rule applies both ways. Matters of public discourse should not be measured by the volume or tone, but rather by the quality of the deliberative thought and discussion that is presented.

A national dialogue on race is really best understood as thousands of conversations on the topic that occur across the nation and engage as many as possible in the discussion as we seek better understanding and search to find common ground. These conversations can occur in our schools, our places of worship, our neighborhood-based community organizations, and our places of employment or association—in short, we can find the means to discuss the topic, but we must also summon the courage to act upon the findings that result. The discovery of points of common ground provide us with a starting point from which policy can be crafted. Most importantly, the beginning of such an open, frank, and honest dialogue presents us with the opportunity to continue to keep the lines of communication open so that this becomes an ordinary practice. This is how we can begin to reach the hearts and minds of those who are willing to engage and help fashion a more just and equitable society. The noted African American scholar Cornel West explains this more clearly when he says “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”

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You may note that this policy proposal does not entail a specific legislative fix to alleviate the conditions that must be remedied. That is because the specifics of a policy cannot be understood until a true conversation about race relations occurs. Keep in mind that we have seen intractable sides torn asunder by generations of racial apartheid in South Africa who have found the means to move forward together through the atoning power of reconciliation. Fratricidal conflicts in war-torn nations have led to individuals of good faith finding common bond with their former sworn enemies through the power of dialogue and shared understanding. We know that one of the most common themes found among many religious traditions is the challenge to “love thy neighbor,” so the beginnings of this initiative are already deep-seated core beliefs of many. This is possible.

It is only through listening and hearing that each of us can come to understand that the world that we know and experience is dissimilar to the worldview of others. If we can come to recognize and understand the points of fracture that are responsible for this divisiveness, then we can come to find practical workable solutions to make our society more whole. There is no miraculous legislative fix that can achieve this end, but it is the collective will of the People that can make it succeed. We have always been strongest as a nation when we find common purpose and work toward a goal that is consequential. It would seem that moving our nation forward toward that “more perfect Union” that our Founders prophesied should be a cause that is worthy of our greatest endeavors.

[Text from file received]

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