An edited transcript of a probing, provocative conversation on the national narrative in the Trump era.
To commemorate the opening of the Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law at the New York University School of Law, founding director Thompson, a professor at the school, convened a panel including former attorney general Lynch, NAACP Legal Defense Fund president Ifill, and Equal Justice Initiative executive director Stevenson to discuss the major problems and challenges facing the country. Thompson launches the discussion by saying, “racism is embedded in the DNA of America. But while people of color have disproportionately felt its effects, it’s an American problem. In fact, it is the American problem.” Such framing is crucial because the narrative the participants hope to advance is not one of marginalized minorities but rather of the moral, economic, and human costs to the nation as a whole. Law and government play important parts in this conversation, but the discussion makes clear just how deeply embedded these problems are within American society and how solutions must be addressed in our schools, libraries, neighborhoods, and even transportation systems. As Ifill wisely notes, “people think about civil rights as something that over there, these black people are doing. And what I always want people to understand is that that kind of equality principle is actually unifying, and essential to unite us all.” The discussion presents a striking contrast between governmental initiatives today and those of the Obama administration while suggesting that if these are times of great struggle, they are also times of great determination and hope. The participants are pretty much in agreement and all on the same side, but one of the precepts of the book would seem to be that there is no other side.
A wake-up call for the American dream.