Condemning the “savage, senseless” beating of an African American boy in Chicago, President Clinton on Saturday made an impassioned plea for people of all races to take up the fight against overt discrimination as well as “quiet hatred.”
Clinton, who hopes to go down in history for improving race relations, used his weekly radio address to speak in an unusually frank - and accusatory - manner about the divide that he said has been America’s “constant curse.”
“There is never an excuse for violence against innocent citizens,” he said. But because the brutal beating May 21 of Lenard Clark was “driven by nothing but hate,” Clinton said, it “strikes at the very heart of America’s ideals and threatens the promise of our future - no matter which racial or ethnic identity of the attackers or the victims.”
Clark, 13, was riding his bike with a friend when three older, white teens reportedly attacked him so fiercely that he went into a coma, from which he began to emerge one week later. The teens, who allegedly bragged they were keeping blacks out of their neighborhood, were charged with attempted murder.
But Clinton made clear the beating represented just the most obvious form of racism.
“Racism in America is not confined to acts of physical violence,” he said. “Every day, African Americans and other minorities are forced to endure quiet acts of racism - bigoted remarks, housing and job discrimination.
“Even many people who think they are not being racist still hold to negative stereotypes, and sometimes act on them,” Clinton said. “These acts may not harm the body, but when a mother and her child go to the grocery store and are followed around by a suspicious clerk, it does violence to their souls.”
The address, tied to Easter and Passover and what Clinton called “our sacred values,” incorporated ideas about subtle forms of racism that frequently aren’t acknowledged by the white mainstream.
It also didn’t single out whites.
African Americans, Clinton said, must not look at Clark’s attackers and “see the face of white America. The acts of a few people must never become an excuse for blanket condemnation, for bigotry begins with stereotyping, stereotyping blacks and whites, Jews and Arabs, Hispanics and Native Americans, Asians, immigrants in general.”