Former NYC mayor urges race dialogue

by Kathleen McDermott | 3/31/00 5:00am

Former New York city mayor David Dinkins stressed the importance of opening up the dialogue against hatred and urged young people to think about issues of race in his speech yesterday afternoon at the Rockefeller Center on "Public Responsibility: Breaking the Silence of Good People."

"The most powerful weapons we have against hatred are words," Dinkins said to the audience of about 140 people.

Good people often remain silent when an atrocity occurs, Dinkins said.

According to him, people wonder what they can do when hate crimes, such as genocide in Kosovo or police brutality in New York City occur.

"There is no simple answer ... I'm not here today to give you the answer [but] ... to simply open a conversation," he said.

Dinkins asserted that college campuses have always been at the forefront of creating a more just America, adding, "I'm here because I choose to be ... I love young people."

He pointed out the challenge students will be facing in the future. "Your generation will be handling challenges of hatred and bigotry," adding that students continue to have the commitment, concern and compassion to create a just environment.

However, Dinkins said one of the largest problems today is still an unwillingness to discuss matters, saying the issue of race is rarely candidly addressed. According to Dinkins, even the mention of the word "race" is often seen in a negative light.

Dinkins pointed to examples in history when people have remained silent leading to disastrous consequences. In past events such as the Holocaust, McCarthyism and the South African apartheid, too many good people have been silent, he said.

According to Dinkins, even today people are not engaging in discourse about the of events in Kosovo, East Timor, issues of hunger and homelessness, and the "appalling state of education" in the United States.

"I do believe in the promise of America," he said, and part of the solution lies in recasting the debate about race.

After his speech, Dinkins answered questions from the audience about his predictions on New York City politics, freedom of speech issues on college campuses, Elian Gonzales, the future of affirmative action, and recent acts of police brutality.

Dinkins is currently a professor at Columbia University.