First lady visits GW for town meeting on race discrimination

First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton brought her husband’s Initiative on Race to GW May 28, hosting a town hall meeting in the Marvin Center theater to share the program’s anti-discrimination message with children.

In a question-and-answer session moderated by ABC News anchor Carole Simpson, the first lady and elementary school children examined the manifestations of racism in the United States.

The pervasiveness of racial stereotypes in the media surfaced as a significant concern among the meeting’s participants.

One child said he noticed African-American and Latino characters die more often in television shows than white characters.

Another child in the audience said the television show “Walker, Texas Ranger” always depicts an African-American character as the sidekick who continuously makes mistakes.

The media – television especially – impacts young minds and influences viewers’ self-images because it is a reflection of society, Clinton said.

“I am concerned that so much of what is on television today, especially about young people of all races, is really quite slanted,” she said. “I think its about time that we start showing young people in a better light, and that we have more of a positive image about how we can get along with each other.”

The meeting’s young participants also shared their personal experiences with racism.

Amber Blank, a sixth-grader from Bethesda, Md., was among several children who shared personal stories about racism.

Blank recalled an incident when a classmate flung a derogatory term at her.

But instead of settling for temporary resolution of the matter, Blank said she sought to correct the underlying problem. She said she had a conference with her school’s principal to find an effective way to stop such situations.

“I didn’t actually say, `You need to punish them,’ ” Blank said. “I said that they need help.”

She said she asked the principal to inform her peers of the effects of name-calling.

Panelist Alimi Ballard, an African-American actor who plays the “Quiz Master” on ABC’s sitcom “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” said reaching out to an adult to solve problems is the most effective way to avoid confrontation.

Clinton commended Blank for avoiding confrontation and implementing educational means to the solution.

ABC’s Simpson, a native of Chicago, talked about her first bout with racism on a trip to Tennessee when she was 11.

She said she started drinking from a water fountain when a white woman grabbed her arm and ordered her to the “colored” water spigot.

“That’s when (my parents) explained to me that I was Negro,” Simpson said. “That was the first time I realized I was a person of color.”

Education and interaction at the elementary school level continuously were cited as two methods to counteract the negative effects of racism.

The event highlighted the educational work of “Calling All Colors,” a Coastal Carolina University-sponsored program that promotes interaction among young children of different races.

Fifth-grader Shanaz Kintz, the group’s representative, said the program “gives (children) a chance to talk about solutions and how to spread race unity.”

After the event, GW junior Jon Zimmerman said he believes intervention and education at a young age could prevent future problems with racism.

He said a forum with children, instead of politicians, may prove more effective because “children often see what adults can’t.”

Zimmerman recalled the success of Project Concern, a brief program in his Connecticut school that introduced inner-city children to suburban children and promoted racial understanding.

He said the town hall meeting made him reflect on his experiences with racism and interactions with people from different backgrounds.

“I think people in every part of our society can learn that we put barriers to other people at our own peril,” Clinton said. “If we don’t get to know each other in a society like ours, which is so diverse, we’re going to miss a lot.”

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