Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Decoding Race, Education & Politics: A REVEALING CONVERSATION WITH SEN. BILL BRADLEY

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Decoding Race, Education & Politics: A REVEALING CONVERSATION WITH SEN. BILL BRADLEY

Article excerpt

Decoding Race, Education & Politics: A REVEALING CONVERSATION.

WITH SEN. BILL BRADLEY

CANDID, INFORMED AND REALISTIC DIALOGUES ON RACE-RELATED ISSUES ARE IN SHORT SUPPLY IN THE GREAT AMERICAN POLITICAL ARENA.

INSTEAD, CODE WORDS ARE USED BY TOO MANY POLITICIANS ON THE NATIONAL SCENE TO EXACERBATE RACIAL TENSIONS AND POLARIZATION.

SEN. BILL BRADLEY (D-NJ), HOWEVER, OFFERS A REFRESHING CHANGE FROM THE STATUS QUO. A HIGHLY REGARDED THREE-TERMER, BRADLEY IS A RHODES SCHOLAR AND A FORMER MEMBER OF THE WORLD CHAMPION NEW YORK KNICKERBOCKERS BASKETBALL TEAM. HIS INTELLECTUAL AND ATHLETIC EXPERIENCES HAVE GIVEN HIM A SERIOUSNESS OF PURPOSE THAT ALLOWS HIM TO SPEAK WITH WELL-REASONED ELOQUENCE. BRADLEY FEELS STRONGLY THAT THE RESOLUTION OF RACIAL PROBLEMS REPRESENTS A CORE ISSUE REGARDING AMERICA'S FUTURE.

RECENTLY, JOAN MORGAN AND I SPOKE WITH SEN. BRADLEY AT HIS CAPITOL HILL OFFICE.

FRANK MATTHEWS, PUBLISHER

Did you pay a political price for getting out in front on the race issue?

I think ultimately I would say no, because I have a little different view of what's good politics. When it comes to the issue of race, most political advisors urge candidates to finesse the issue. And that leads to playing on stereotypes and ultimately ending up in situations where codes and symbols convey and ring bells from the past.

Is the American public in the mood to be challenged on the race issue?

The American public is ready to be challenged on the issue of race, and think new and freshly about our future, because the prospect of a better future is inextricably related to race relations in the country.

What reactions greeted you following your speeches on this subject?

The interesting phenomenon after I gave those speeches was the press, not the politicians. I had senators come up to me and say, "I'm going to make a speech like that on the floor next week." I'm still waiting. The press said "...well, what's the politics here?" They believed there had to be some political calculation. So it forced me to think about that which I hadn't done prior to these speeches.

I concluded that the politics of it was precisely codes and symbols, and that there was a new constituency out there of people who understand what these symbols and codes meant. And that cut across party lines in many ways. And a national campaign depended upon being able to communicate only to that constituency in codes that only that constituency could understand. A politician who chose to play the race card would lose as many votes in the broader electorate as he would gain in the small niches of America that are still profoundly racist. This is what I concluded. That's why I decided to answer the questions that were posed after I had given the speech.

You're still giving speeches on race. A lot of people thought it was a one-shot deal. They said, "Oh, Bradley will go to something else next week."

I've kind of been there for a long time. I remember giving a speech in 1989 down in Mississippi. I gave the same speech at the Black Issues Conference in New Jersey in 1990. While shaking hands after the speech someone said to me, "I bet you won't give this speech to a white audience." So I proceeded to do [just] that in the following week to the New Jersey Bar Association.

The point is that one of the main reasons I'm in politics is because of my interest in the issue of race in America. I was in the Senate chamber when the 1966 Civil Rights Act passed, and was profoundly moved with the sense that because of that act America was a fair place...not just for African Americans, but for white Americans, for Latinos, for Asian Americans...for everybody, for my children and for your children. I'm here partly because of that, and it's always been a part of that continuity of my service, whether that was in the early Reagan years, speaking to the business roundtable telling them, "Hey, you're the guys that got to keep this guy's right flank honest because there's a part of this coalition that's racist. …

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