BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Clarence Page, author of "Showing My Color: Impolite Essays on Race and Identity." Third chapter: "Survivor's Guilt." Why did you write that chapter?
CLARENCE PAGE, AUTHOR, "SHOWING MY COLOR: IMPOLITE ESSAYS ON RACE AND IDENTITY": Well, you know, that chapter, as you know, Brian, was -- the centerpiece of it is my first wife, Leanita McClean, who was the first woman -- I'm sorry -- the second woman and the first black member of the Chicago Tribune editorial board, preceded me on that board. And, sadly, right at a time when her career was really shooting up and she was such a great role model for so many young people of all races and especially young women trying to make it in the corporate world, she tragically committed suicide back on May 28th, 1984. And it was big news in Chicago and it kind of rattled across the rest of the country, because she was already starting to gain some national fame.
And it was such a mystery because in so many ways she was a symbol of our generation of black folks, baby boomers who were the first to get into college, the first to take advantage of the advantages that opened up with the civil rights reformers of the 1960s. She had nowhere to go but up. Everybody agreed. And then all of a sudden, boom, this tragic self-destruction. And, of course, knowing her as well as I did, me and a few other friends and relatives who knew her closely, knew what pain she was going through inside -- that the more successful she became, the more torn she was emotionally. It's not easy for a young black woman who grew up in the Ida B. Wells housing projects in the South Side of Chicago, very bright, very talented, to be a part of a pioneer, cutting-edge generation in the white corporate world downtown -- white-dominated, male-dominated -- and not feel that you're leaving something vital behind, not wanting to do that, not feeling bad for those left behind.
And that's the story of the post-60s African-American. A third of African-Americans were left in poverty, despite all the changes that have occurred since the '60s. And at the same time, trying to bust into this white corporate world that is not all that welcoming, necessarily, you know? Maybe not that hostile anymore, but not all that welcoming either. Kind of like, "OK, come on in. You're going to play by the same rules as everybody else. But for you the rules are tougher than it's been for everybody else."
LAMB: How do you pronounce her first name?
PAGE: Leanita [pronounced LEE-AH-NEE-TA]
LAMB: Leanita McClean.
PAGE: Right. Or, as she used to say, "Just call me Lea."
LAMB: But she combined the name Leanita with her two sisters?
PAGE: Her parents did, yeah. Yeah, her two older sisters, Leatrice and Anita, their names were combined to form Leanita. And she was born in -- what? -- 1952 and came along -- oh, I'm sorry, 1951. She was four years younger than me. And she was a very bright youngster who was so bright in grade school that she skipped a grade. And yet at the same time, you know, she suffered terrific teen-age angst that just kind of got worse over the years.
LAMB: Where did you meet her?
PAGE: I met her in the Tribune newsroom. And we were called the "golden couple," in fact, by a number of our friends, because I was only -- what? -- the second black man the Tribune had hired in its history. This was in 1969. The paper was founded -- I remind you, Brian -- in 1847, on two principles: free trade and abolition, both of which I still support. And they didn't hire their first black reporter -- they also sponsored Abraham Lincoln's campaign. After those favors to black America, they didn't hire their first full-time black reporter for 120 years, till 1967. And as I say, we were advantaged by an affirmative action program called Urban Riots. It was that kind of an era in the late '60s in which newsrooms across the country began to look for black talent all of a sudden. Overnight, we were qualified, where we hadn't been qualified before, so to speak.
But Leanita came along just a few years later fresh out of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern. And I met her in the newsroom, and so we were kind of -- we were both part of the pioneer generation, and here we were getting married, you know? It was kind of like this golden dream was sort of embodied in us in a lot of ways. And you might say we were buppie before buppie was cool -- you know, black yuppies.
LAMB: Where did you come from? How did you get to the Chicago Tribune newsroom?
PAGE: Well, I grew up in Middletown, Ohio -- born in Dayton and grew up in Middletown. And in the early '60s when I was in high school, I was really emboldened to go into journalism by the civil rights movement and just watching it on TV and reading about it and Life magazine and other publications, many of which aren't in existence anymore. But I saw how powerful the media could be, how important they could be in the struggle for human rights, for exposing inequality, for exposing problems of poverty, etc. And I wanted to be a part of that. So, nevertheless, at the time -- as I tell a little about in my chapter of supply-side affirmative action, as I call it -- in the early '60s, there weren't a lot of opportunities in the white media for black folks. But yet I had a grandmother, bless her heart, who always said, "Just prepare yourself, son, because someday the doors of opportunity will open up." And little did I know they would open up behind all the urban unrest.
LAMB: You say that you did apply once for an internship.
LAMB: Didn't get it. But a white female did.
PAGE: Yeah, a white female who had been a reporter on my high school newspaper staff. This was just after I graduated from high school with an award already under my belt at that time, in 1965 -- summer of '65. And I applied for a summer internship and didn't get it. I was told that they weren't hiring any young kids that summer, that they regrettably didn't have any openings. Well, the very next day, I found out a young lady who had worked for me on my high school newspaper staff had been hired, a year younger than me. And I knew it wasn't a question of qualifications, you know? So it was like -- but it wasn't like I didn't expect it.
You know, Brian, I grew up in the '50s and the early '60s at a time when segregation was still very visible and it was still very blatant that there were things that white folks could do that black folks couldn't. And so I was not shocked. I was angered by it, but my dad said, "Well, don't get mad; just get smart. You know, go on to college, and get your education. And someday you can get even." I'm happy to say, by the way, 20 years later, that same newspaper when my column went into syndication, that same newspaper was the very first one to pick it up. I've now got over 120 newspapers that are running the column. So time heals all wounds, as they say.
LAMB: When you were in the newsroom -- in the Chicago Tribune newsroom with your wife, your deceased first wife ...
LAMB: ... were you the only two blacks in the newsroom?
PAGE: Not quite. As I say, in '69 when I came along, I was the second black male. There had been a black female who had been hired the year before who had already left. She was there for less than a year and went on to greater glory at other newspapers. We were -- at that time, there were about eight or nine -- less than a dozen -- black reporters on the staff of a couple hundred. So we were creeping up toward parity with the general society. I might add that women had just begun to make their breakthroughs into the newsroom, you know? It was only after the '60s that women began to be fully accepted as reporters and editors.
In fact, just about every woman reporter I know, many of them of great prominence now, you know, right here in Washington -- Cokie Roberts, Connie Chung, Eleanor Clift -- started out as receptionists and jobs like that or secretaries and were kept in those jobs longer than men were. And then all of a sudden, when opportunities did open up, they were given a chance to prove themselves. It was that kind of an era. So Leanita was going through that, too. She started in the classified ad department, by the way, while she was in school.
LAMB: Were you married when she committed suicide?
PAGE: Not at that time. We had been divorced for a couple of years. And it was obvious over time -- I mean, after the fact and all -- it was obvious that it was her continuing depression that was just deepening that had broken up our marriage. We were happy for like six and a half years, and then a series of events occurred that just caused her to become more and more isolated from me and from the rest of her family. And she came in one day and said, "I don't want to be married anymore." And we tried to keep it together for about a year and a half and then finally divorced. And I hoped it would make her happy. Sure wasn't making me any happier, but at that point, especially as young as I was then, I was brokenhearted. She was brokenhearted. We decided just to call it quits.
But we still remained friends and even had talked a little bit -- I mean, toward the end -- we'd still go out to dinner once in a while, this sort of thing, and toward the end had even talked about possibly getting it back together again. But I didn't think it was going to work. Nevertheless, we were still friends, and she had found that ending the marriage certainly didn't make her any happier. It only increased her isolation. She bought a house with a -- she thought she was going to be buying it with a fellow she was dating, but then they broke up, and so she wound up buying the house on her own anyway in Hyde Park near the University of Chicago campus.
And, you know, in the end, in her generic suicide note, as she called it, she talked in there quite plaintively about how living in a big house by herself can be a great prison. That's sort of the way it was. I mean, it was very sad toward the end. And it was a "learning the hard way"experience for me and a lot of other folks, because she could wear the mask so well at work every day. She could produce wonderful, award-winning columns. She could -- not only for the Tribune, but also she did a little writing for The Washington Post, for Newsweek. She could go out and give public speeches. She could appear on TV talk shows like this one or the more raucous panel discussions in Chicago. She appeared on ABC "Nightline" one night -- appeared on a number of programs and could put forth such a marvelous public face that it completely masked the pain that she was experiencing inside. And so it made it harder for me and for others to believe it.
You know, Brian, after this whole painful experience and the news came out of her suicide, I began to hear from people far and near, people I worked with in the media in Chicago and other folks who came to me and confided private stories about their own families, about depression with relatives, about suicide with relatives, and how much pain the survivors of suicide go through. And that was a big help. I began -- it was a real maturing experience for me, all of a sudden. And, of course, getting a whole lot of knowledge I wish I had had before to learn more about the warning signs and this sort of thing. But that, too, is a form of survivor's guilt that I found myself going through.
LAMB: How much of her depression, do you think, came from her blackness?
PAGE: You know, you can never really separate these things out very well. One thing I have found about trying to figure out why people commit suicide is you can't figure out why people commit suicide. I mean, it's very complicated. However, there's little question that as far as her own personal expressions of her depression went, it was like, you know, 90 percent through the filter of race. So in other words, if you look at her writings, both her columns and essays, as well as her suicide notes, she always talked about race. You know, in fact, in her suicide note, she said, "I'll never live to see my people free anyway." So you naturally get the impression that race had a lot to do with the weight pulling her down.
LAMB: Where'd you get the title?
PAGE: "Showing My Color," it's a double entendre in the black community, certainly. I -- for one thing, it was -- well, within the black community, the term "showing my color" usually means an expression of rage or losing your cool. If somebody says, "I almost showed my color today," it's an indication that something happened that angered them. And so in a way, this is a statement of rage and of impatience.
On the other hand, it's also a statement against the popular notion now that color-blind solutions are what we need. I think a majority in the Supreme Court is pushing that notion. It's a very popular notion among liberals and conservatives alike that we need to go beyond race and to have colorblind solutions all the way. That's a noble goal, but even Martin Luther King in his book "Why We Can't Wait," contrary to the popular notion, Martin Luther King said that preferential treatment is not something that can be easily dismissed as part of the remedy for centuries of discrimination. He said it's just not that simple. It's more complicated than that. There's no question, Brian -- you know, my son, who I mention a couple of times in the book, educates me all the time in what it means to be color-conscious. We have ...
LAMB: How old is he?
PAGE: He is now six, and he is fortunately growing up in an integrated neighborhood, more integrated than the one I grew up in, more middle-class, more suburban ...
LAMB: Montgomery County.
PAGE: ... Montgomery County -- very liberal, progressive neighborhood. The kids he goes to school with and brings home are of all races. And yet he, too, will come home sometimes, you know -- one day he came home and said, "How come everybody in my swimming class is white?" And not that he didn't like the kids because they were white; he just wondered why there weren't more kids who looked like him. He is conscious of color. He does not, we hope, feel that one is superior or inferior to the other, but he's conscious of color. We're all conscious of color. You cannot avoid it. And in American society, with all of the historical baggage that we carry around, we have to be conscious of that baggage, of the differences our society awards to different people. We have to be aware of the weight put on color in this society if we're going to solve the problems that color raises.
LAMB: I think the most often quoted person in your book is -- see if you can guess. Who do you think you quote the most?
PAGE: I'd say James Baldwin, in fact.
LAMB: Yeah. Yeah.
PAGE: Still there.
LAMB: I ask that a lot and people don't remember, you know? But why?
PAGE: No, no, the reason why I remember is because my editor pointed it out. In fact, I took out a couple of Baldwin quotes. You know, that just happened. Maybe it's like what you found with other writers. It's just coincidental. I didn't intend for that to happen. But it certainly -- after I became aware of it, it became more apparent to me how big of an influence Baldwin had been on my life. I did get to meet him once in at a book party on the South Side of Chicago about a year or so before he died. He signed my book, "Peace, James Baldwin." I always cherished that.
But he is a man certainly when it comes to writing essays -- and, Brian, this is my first book of essays. These are my first real essays, you know, beyond my 800-word columns. When it comes to writing essays, he was so brilliant at it. He was so marvelous. And he had so many pithy comments that could just bring so many complicated issues together at once. And ...
LAMB: When did he die?
PAGE: Oh, when is it now? I'm going to be embarrassed to say I don't remember the exact year. It was in the mid-80s. It was like around '87, I believe, but not that long ago.
LAMB: Have you read everything he's written?
PAGE: All of his non-fiction I have read. And I'm one of those who believes Baldwin was a far better non-fiction writer than fiction writer. He's just a model when it comes to the essay. He always wanted to be a novelist and a playwright, and he was quite competent in those areas. But I think it's for his non-fiction, particularly "The Fire Next Time" and the early 1960s, late 1950s non-fiction that he wrote. Toward the end, America's racial situation was becoming so complicated that he was having a hard time figuring it out.
He went down with a colleague of mine who was working for Playboy magazine who was a big fan of Baldwin, a black editor of Playboy, got permission to go over to Paris and lure Baldwin back to try to figure out the Atlanta child murders. You remember that horrible serial murders that occurred in the early '80s. And Baldwin hadn't been back to the States for a while. And he comes back to Atlanta. When he left Atlanta, you know, it was run by white folks, and now it's got black administrations and all. And yet this horrible tragedy was occurring to young blacks there -- not just the killings, but he saw the poverty that still existed and he saw the growing divide between rich and poor in Atlanta, which I might add I think is the biggest problem facing our country today, the growing divide between rich and poor of all colors.
And at one point, when they went to the site -- a bridge over the waters where one of the children's bodies had been found, Baldwin just broke down in tears and just cried there on the side of the bridge, just buried his face in his arms and cried. And I feel like -- as Bill Clinton would say, "I feel his pain." So much has happened that we were hoping would not happen in the early 1960s when we really had a great era of hope, because things were opening up. The racial situation is more complicated now. So in some ways, I think I really set out to pick up where Baldwin left off, to try to make some sense out of all the complications that have happened since the '60s.
LAMB: "Showing My Color," this book is a book about race. When did you decide that you wanted to write only about that subject?
PAGE: The 1992 Los Angeles riots -- or do you say uprising? You know this is indicative of how complicated things have gotten. Even our language isn't the same anymore, you know? It was comparing the '92 riots -- I was on the "MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour" with some other editorial writers in one of our electronic roundtables from around the country. And Jim Lehrer asked us to take off our editorial writing hats and just respond as people, because we were black, white, Hispanic, male and female, young and old and left and right, politically -- and just respond as people. And suddenly all of us began to tell these personal stories.
Jim Burmeister up in the Trenton Times in New Jersey talked about the frustrations of being a white liberal who is afraid when he sees young black males on the street in the dark of night. Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Constitution talked about how as a black professional woman, how frustrated she is going into the poor parts of Atlanta to talk to students, and each year she seems to be more and more distant from them, having a harder time communicating with them and how frustrating that is. And I talked about how my son, who was then three -- I knew that everybody called him quite cute and, being the spitting image of his dad, I wouldn't argue. But I know 10 years later, at some point, he's going to go from being cute to being a menace, simply because he will be a young teenage black male in gym shoes probably and walking on the street -- will suddenly be -- the immediate impulse will be to regard him as a menace.
It's a new prejudice that has grown up since the '60s. It's all more complicated. Also, Richard Rodriguez pointed out this was not a black-white riot in '92. Unlike Watts, you now have -- Hispanics were the largest group arrested -- and not Mexican Hispanics, but Central Americans. Of course, remember the scenes of the Korean shopkeepers. And I write about that in my book, too. Why is it that, you know, we have this scene of Korean or Arab shopkeepers in the black community in poor black areas, I should point out, who seem to be thriving entrepreneurs. Why don't we see more thriving entrepreneurship among blacks?
I talk about issues like that. I chose a dozen different aspects of modern race relations and wrote a dozen or so essays on them -- kind of grew a little bit. The gender issue popped up again and again, you know? That's gotten more complicated now -- witness the recent success of "Waiting to Exhale."
LAMB: When you sat at your typewriter, who did you have in your mind that you were writing for? White? Black?
PAGE: The same person I always have when I'm writing a column. I write for newspapers, Brian, and we're dinosaurs in this era of target marketing, because newspapers want to be all things to all people. And we still try to do that, even though newspapers are adjusting the target marketing now. I think that my attention went back and forth. And it goes back and forth in these chapters, because some chapters are obviously aimed more at white Americans; others are aimed more at black Americans. And here I speak of chapters like "The R Word," where I talk about what is racism and why is it such a deadly word to even talk about these days. That's kind of directed at white folks, because I want to make the point that the white skin still has some privilege in this society, and it also makes a difference if you're a poor white or poor black.
Poor whites outnumber poor blacks in America, but they tend to live with working-class and middle-class whites, if you look at the map as to where poor whites live. Whereas poor blacks tend to live off to themselves in so-called ghettos or housing projects, or just isolated from not only white folks but from better off black folks, too. That makes a big difference in how well you do in the society. Color does make a difference -- again, the reason for the title, "Showing My Color," you know? There's a tendency among the society -- when I was working back at Channel 2 in Chicago, an old friend of mine, a middle-aged, white producer for NBC said to me one day, "Well, Clarence, you're not black anymore. You're on television now." He was only half-joking, because he was right.
I'd been so surprised to go out into areas like Cicero and the Southwest Side of Chicago, areas that have been notoriously anti-black, and be regarded as a celebrity, because now I was a TV reporter. When I'd been a newspaper reporter, I'd better watch my head out in some of these neighborhoods. But now, all of a sudden, I was regarded like a celebrity, the kind of phenomenon we see around Colin Powell and Bill Cosby and Oprah Winfrey and the two Michaels, Jordan and Jackson, you know? This is this modern age of -- say, "Oh, isn't this wonderful? Now blacks can be regarded as heroes." Well, we get along better as individuals, Brian, than we do as groups in this society today. There's still these prejudices that divide us.
And so some of these chapters are aimed at black folks. When I talk about the whole "acting white" phenomena, for example, negative peer pressure among black youths targeted at any youngster who does his homework, tries to get good grades, may get castigated as trying to "act white," quote, unquote. This is a great tragedy -- a great internal tragedy in the black community, one that white folks can't do a whole lot about compared to what black folks need to do. And I think these internal problems are the reason why we have the Million Man March and new events like that for black folks to refocus on their own community values.
LAMB: You have ...
PAGE: Speaking of Louis Farrakhan, I've got a chapter on him, too.
LAMB: You have an interesting paragraph where you talk about labels.
LAMB: And you say that the black folks have gotten all the way from being colored people to being people of color.
PAGE: Yes, yes.
LAMB: Going through ...
PAGE: If some of us live long enough, we go that circle.
LAMB: ... Negro, African -- I mean, black, African-American. What are you comfortable being referred to and what are you ...
LAMB: I mean, I know you can't say that for all of the community, but what do you tell white folks -- what -- when you're -- what grates?
PAGE: I had to get this into the book, because it's probably the question I get asked more often than anything else, along with the question, "Why do you call yourself African-American? Why can't we all just be American?" And I think -- on your own program, in fact, we got a call -- at least one call from some viewer saying that -- we were discussing the news one day. And I think that black folks would have preferred to have been just American from the time that we arrived here before the Mayflower, but that choice has never been left up to us, including today. When we look at everything from continuing housing discrimination to racial disparities in criminal sentencing, color is still very much a part of America's reality. And I think we've got to recognize that and deal with it.
LAMB: You tell us early on that "stuttering and uncooperative motor skills left me severely challenged in dancing, basket shooting and various social applications."
PAGE: Afraid so. I defied all those stereotypes. But it's probably just as well, because that forced me to stay home and read books more often and become perhaps a bit more contemplative and intellectual. Also, when you're a stutterer, you learn to pipe down, not talk as much and listen more. And ...
LAMB: How have you dealt with stuttering in your life?
PAGE: You know, years and years of therapy, but really the most important thing that helped me with stuttering was getting out and talking, public speaking. In the ninth grade -- thanks to Fred Ross, a lawyer who happens to be white, back in my hometown -- white and Jewish, in fact. I also have a chapter on black-Jewish relations, if you want to get into that. But he was in the local Optimist Club. His firm had done some work for my father, and he took me on to be my coach, not knowing that I stuttered, in the annual Optimist Club speech contest there in Middletown. And I don't go into this in the book. I'll save it for my biography, if I ever write a real one.
But we had to give like a three-minute speech on some topic like youth's approach toward world forces or something like this. And I stuttered all the way through my speech, as it turned out. But everybody gave me polite applause and all this. And then Fred said, "That's OK. You're coming back next year, right?" I said, "I am?' He said, "Of course, you are, aren't you? You're going to win next year." And I said, "Oh, OK." So over the course of the next year, I went to high school, I joined the debating team, I did more public speaking. I did extemporaneous speaking and went around and just learned how to be as good of a public speaker as I could.
I re-entered the contest. This time I delivered my speech nearly flawlessly except at one point where I forgot a line and had to vamp a little bit till I got back on track, and walked away with the second-prize trophy. And that was -- well, also got a standing ovation from the crowd because most of them had seen me the year before -- couldn't believe the improvement. But I learned a lot about myself then -- you know, focus on doing a job and don't quit until you're able to do it. And I -- so the next challenge after that, Brian, was that I learned how to speak real well in front of crowds. I still stuttered in talking to individuals, so I've spent all these years since then now in working on that. But I'm still a stutterer, and certainly -- and my parents used to always say that my thoughts ran faster than my ability to keep up with them in talking, which is still true.
LAMB: You write about your dating a white woman.
LAMB: When was that and what was the impact on you?
PAGE: More than once, actually, in college and also between marriages back in Chicago. And these all were different adventures. But I think back in college, though, was probably the most important, because it was the late '60s, and it was a time when we had just gotten past the passage of all this great civil rights legislation. And, suddenly, all these great opportunities opened up for black folks. And while white folks' prejudices had hardly disappeared, their impact on black life had been greatly lessened. But at the same time, it was the black power era; it was the black identity era. And suddenly, in the black community, black folks were looking for more and more identity, something to be proud of, a lost history.
Marshal McLuhan appeared on our campus at that time and said, "While white America is detribalizing, black America is retribalizing." And he was absolutely right. This, too, has been something that's occurred since the '60s. And not just black America now; we're finding white Americans are retribalizing around ethnic lines or various other lines, too. But the woman you're probably talking about was in my chapter in regard to the new debate over whether biracial people ought to be counted as a separate race, instead of going by the one-drop rule now. And I ...
LAMB: What's the one-drop rule?
PAGE: Well, the one-drop rule being that if you've got one drop of black blood, you're black. As a result, we have lots and lots of people running around this country who look very white but are legally black, so to speak, under the old one-drop rule. That was a rule that was developed -- and every society, I must add, regards race differently. Now you go down to Brazil, and a survey was taken in Brazil and people who we would call black here in the States were asked, "What do you call yourself?' And we came back with 47 different labels that people had for themselves besides just simply black or white.
But, nevertheless, here in the States, if you've got one drop of black blood, you're black, that's it. It's a rule that goes back to slavery times. It was useful to slave holders and that slave industry because it increased the numbers of the slaves that could be owned. Today, because of modern politics and constitutional reapportionment, etc., it now behooves black Americans to have the highest numbers possible. So now there is a vested interest among black folks to embrace the one-drop rule, irony of ironies, while white Americans who are trying to reach out for color-blind solutions want to try to reduce the numbers of people who would be called black.
And in any case, I got into that essay with an anecdote of this one white woman who I had dated who had said to me one day that she couldn't imagine marrying a black man and having children. I said, "Why not?" And she said, "Well, I'd feel alone in the house." I said, "But why's that?' And she said, "I'd be the only white person in the house." And I said, "Well, not really. You know, your parents -- your children -- they're still your children." And she said, "Yeah, but they wouldn't be white." Now here was a gal that -- she wouldn't be going out with me if she was all that prejudiced, right?
But yet this racist standard was so deeply embedded in her consciousness that she took it as second nature. And also the very notion that she would be alone in the house -- in other words, she wouldn't be able to identify racially the same way her children would identify, that would suddenly create a divide for her. And this is so true of so many of us. You know, we have prejudices in our minds that we don't want to acknowledge. So I set out in that chapter to deconstruct race. And I saved it for the final chapter, Brian, because I think that's the big emerging question of the future now, as America moves into its first real multicultural, multiracial century.
LAMB: "White men are not accustomed to feeling racially vulnerable." These are your words. "Affirmative action has given them a taste -- a tiny taste of it. They don't like it. They want to get rid of it, and they don't want to feel it again."
PAGE: Right. And I can't blame them. I start this book out talking about the racial vulnerability I felt as a kid, looking at signs that said, "White" and "Colored' and this sort of thing. And, yeah, it doesn't feel good to feel you're being discriminated against. But I also try to make the argument in this book that affirmative action, this most nettlesome issue of our time, is a very modest program that ...
LAMB: What does it mean? Let's stop and define it. What does it mean, in your opinion?
PAGE: Yeah, what does affirmative action mean? Well, you know, to me what it means is going back to John F. Kennedy before affirmative action became law. When Kennedy first became president, he looked at the Secret Service guards all lined up outside the White House and asked the chief, you know, "Why do we only have white guards and agents here?" And the chief said, "Well, we haven't had any qualified blacks who've showed up and applied." And President Kennedy said, "Well, go out and find some." That's what affirmative action is. You know, it means consciously saying, "We need some people of color in here."
LAMB: What's the ...
PAGE: Or, "We need some women in here," you know, and then taking steps to do it. Now what steps you take, this is where the debate begins. Do you set a quota? No. But I think you do have to set a goal and set a timetable for when you expect to see some results.
LAMB: What's an affinity impulse?
PAGE: Affinity impulse is just that basic human -- you know, what I was talking about with my son earlier -- that basic human impulse that makes us want to be with people who are like us or as much like us as possible. You know, if I was in a position of hiring people completely unfettered, I'd probably want to fill my newsroom with people who were just like Clarence Page, you know, because I like me. I'm used to me. I understand how I think. But that would also be a newsroom -- that would be a pretty lousy newsroom, because it would be people who all think one way and all came out of the same background, trying to serve a diverse population. I think then that paper would go under pretty fast.
It behooves the modern business world, and corporate managers understand this, even if some of our politicians don't -- that it behooves the modern corporate world to be diversity-minded. Because the fastest growing groups in the work force, for one thing, are not white males. They're people of color and women. And does this mean white males ought to feel threatened? No. In fact, the basic laws of economics indicate that because you're going to be more rare, you're going to be more at a premium than ever before. But what it does mean is that some modest but significant efforts need to be made to make the workplace more hospitable, so that the Leanita McCleans who come along won't feel like this is such a hostile work environment.
LAMB: Where did you find your second wife?
PAGE: At a party in Chicago. She came up to me, she had seen an article I wrote on Louis Farrakhan for Chicago magazine and said that she -- she walked up and just exuberantly said, "I think you're wonderful." And I thought she was pretty nice, too. And one thing led to another. And this was only about six or seven months after Leanita's death, in fact. And, also, I might add, my mother died the same year, Brian. My mother died a few months before Leanita. I'd been pretty privileged in my life, really. I mean, I grew up -- you know, it was a low-income family before by today's standards, but my parents always worked all the time. They always gave me this kind of strong values that have kept me going over the years. And, suddenly, in 1984, I suddenly got those twin tragedies of my mother and my recently divorced wife both dying within months of each other. And then before the year is over, I met Lisa. And ...
LAMB: Lisa black or white?
PAGE: She's both. She's biracial, as it turns out. Her mother is white, and her father's black. She grew up in Hyde Park in Chicago, where biracial couples were not that uncommon in the '50s and '60s. And she's got a book of her own to write, which I'm trying to encourage her as much as possible to write. She wrote an essay for a wonderful book called "Skin Deep" that was published earlier this year, Brian -- which is a collection of essays by black and white women writing about race. And since she is both, they were eager to get her views. And it was a marvelous piece talking about how growing up in the '50s and '60s -- actually, more the '60s and the early '70s in Chicago with parents who divorced when she was about seven years old. When she would go from staying with her mother to staying with her father and back, she'd pass from the white world to the black world, back again to the white world there on the South Side of Chicago and how the racial differences in modern America were brought home to her in such great graphic detail, which she explains marvelously well.
But she -- you know, I've talked with her a lot about this whole biracial identity question, and she said she, like all biracial people, had to decide early on who she was going to identify with. And she's identified black since she was a teenager. But at the same time, she knows that she is also half white. She's got this white family going back to Michigan and to Germany. And she goes and visits many of them quite often.
LAMB: I want to ask you one quick question, and then I want to ask you about people that you talk about in here and have you briefly define them, because we won't get through them all. But there's a whole bunch of folks -- and get your take on what you think of them, where they were coming from. If I were black, sitting here talking to you now, what difference would you feel and what questions would I ask you that -- as you travel around -- that I won't because I'm white? Do you have any idea?
PAGE: Well, that's a good question. You know, well, for one thing, I mean, there's certain language -- when I have been interviewed by black interviewers, everybody gets a special chuckle over the title, you know, "Showing My Color." And everybody's got some personal story to tell about how they felt when they first heard that phrase as a kid. One thing I talk about in this book is if we're going to bridge the racial divide, we've got to talk about experiences, the experiences that make us what we are and who we are. And that's what the difference is between talking to someone of the same race or someone of a different race.
Black Americans will tell you that the only problem with dealing with white folks is that you're not sure of where you stand until you get to know the other person as an individual -- just not sure of where you stand, which is why we get along better as individuals than as groups, because, you know, you and I have known each other for a while; we know where each other is coming from and all; and there's a lot of similarity in our backgrounds -- in fact, both are out of the Midwest, both into journalism, etc. Over time, you get to know somebody, you know, as the old Native American saying goes, "Before I judge a man, let me walk a mile in his moccasins." And that's the difference.
Also, when you talk about the questions that are raised, though, this is what's really intriguing, Brian. I think black Americans these days are very much concerned about that part of the glass that's still half empty, how much racism still exists in America. And it's more of a given that America is a racist society. Even Colin Powell -- you know, John McLaughlin and I got into an argument on "McLaughlin Group" one day because Colin Powell had said, "Well, America's a racist society," said it rather casually. And McLaughlin said, "No, it's not." And I said to John, "Don't you believe it's a racist society?' He said, "No, it's a society that's got some racists in it, but it's not a racist society."
You know, there's a difference, a nuance of difference there, isn't there? There's a difference between a person who views racism as just simple prejudice and a person that views racism as institutional, as a power structure, as custom and tradition and habits of mind deeply embedded in American life. The whole O.J. Simpson divide -- when I'm talking to black folks now, I wonder where they're coming from initially, insofar as, you know, "How do you feel about O.J. Simpson?" This is the new litmus test now. And I personally feel that he was probably guilty, but at the same time, there was a lot of racism involved in his prosecution, which is worth another book, which somebody's going to write. Maybe I'll have to. But in any case, I mean, there was a presumption that Mark Fuhrman, for example, would be a credible witness by the prosecution. Marcia Clark, Chris Darden just kind of thought the fact that Fuhrman was a known racist within the department wouldn't matter, which makes me wonder, "How much racism is accepted in the LAPD and other police departments?" Having been a police reporter in Chicago, I know that far too much is accepted.
But in a nutshell, you know, the difference over the O.J. Simpson verdict just as an indicator reminds me of the old slogan, I'm sure you've heard, that "a conservative is only a liberal who's been mugged." Tom Wolfe in his book, "Bonfire of the Vanities," says that "a liberal is only a conservative who's been arrested." And that's the difference between black and white Americans that the O.J. Simpson verdict brought out. White Americans have a deeply vested interest in knowing that the system works. I mean, after all, they have the most to do with building the system, the criminal justice system and other systems. They want to believe that they work. They want to believe that you wouldn't be charged unless you were guilty, that the system couldn't be that flawed.
Black Americans, their experience tells them -- either personal experience or their friends or relatives or community -- that the system is deeply flawed and has been deeply flawed against blacks from the very beginning. I can go back to the first Constitutional Congress and talk about their biggest argument over how to regard the slaves. And the black Americans come from a position of feeling the system is already flawed. And so that colors their -- pardon the pun -- but that colors their perspective on how fair the system is and whether just an indictment can be trusted to be a pursuit of truth or railroaded another brother.
LAMB: Let me just pull out names, and I'll ask you to keep the answers short or we'll never get through a bunch of them.
PAGE: Yeah. I'll do my best. I'm sorry about that.
LAMB: No, that's all right. I want you to define, though, who these people are and where they're coming from.
LAMB: Let's start with Shelby Steele.
PAGE: I think Shelby Steele -- interesting, he's biracial, too. My wife has another point of view, she thinks that when he made the decision who he was going to identify with, that he actually identified more white than maybe he wants to publicly acknowledge.
LAMB: He's at San Jose State.
PAGE: Not anymore. He's at the Hoover Institute now. He wrote this marvelous book -- I say marvelous; I don't agree with some of it, but for the most part, he makes some very -- well, "Content of Our Character," it's a book that seems to be directed at black folks to say, "Look, you know, get past that which causes you to hold yourself back, those negative attitudes that cause you to hold yourself back." He writes eloquently. As a sociologist, he makes a great English professor, because some of his arguments are flawed. But the problem with his book, Brian, is that he puts all the onus on black folks. I looked through his book, and I'm challenged to find him show at any point what value is there to being black in America? You know, now maybe he does personally believe there is some value to the black experience, but he doesn't show it in this book. And as a result, Brian, the book seems to be directed at blacks, but it's bought mostly by whites, because it makes whites feel good. They don't have much obligation.
LAMB: Is he a conservative?
PAGE: Oh, yes, he is now. I mean, by modern parlance -- initially, he would have been called a liberal, but times have changed now. I mean, I would have been called more liberal; people call me a centerist now, because, you know, the firmament has changed around us.
LAMB: What about Henry Louis Gates?
PAGE: Henry Louis Gates is one of the most brilliant people writing about race today.
LAMB: In Harvard.
PAGE: At Harvard. And he -- Skip Gates -- I quote him extensively in my chapter "The Signifying Muslim" about Louis Farrakhan, because I find so much of Louis Farrakhan's style ties into ancient African traditions of signifying and other colorful word play and art which Henry Louis Gates, better than anybody, has explained in great detail.
LAMB: What's his politics?
PAGE: You know, Skip Gates, I do know supports affirmative action. He's big on it. I think it's similar to my own centerist -- he opposes quotas, but believes we do need to set goals and timetables. We need to be race conscious. We can't just pretend to be color-blind.
LAMB: Stanley Crouch?
PAGE: Stanley Crouch, he's a great grouch. If you want to see some impolite essays, read Stanley Crouch. And that's OK. You know, he was marvelously generous in his endorsement, ran it on the back of my book, along with some other generous endorsements of people. But, you know, what's great about Crouch's blurb on the back is it's backhand in that classic way he's so famous for. It says, "One need not agree with all the people that Clarence Page likes to enjoy this book." You know, in other words, he doesn't agree with me on some of the people who I praise or some of the ideas that I praise, but he's big enough to say that, you know, "Read this book. It'll be thought provoking." And that's how I feel about Stanley Crouch. He's very thought provoking in a positive way.
LAMB: William E. B. Du Bois.
PAGE: Billy B. Du Bois is a classic figure in terms of one side of the dichotomy of black ideas that we see throughout African-American history. In other words, he's part of the integrationist view. He was a founder of the NAACP, and he was an intellectual rival to Booker T. Washington, who was very much pro-self-help. And that self-help vs. outside-help dichotomy has colored black philosophical life throughout American history, going back to the days of slavery, with Frederick Douglass on one side and Martin Delaney on the other -- to today with Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow Coalition on one side and Louis Farrakhan and his separatism on the other. W.E.B. Du Bois was obviously very much in the civil rights activist mold who felt that we could not just turn inward for self-help until we get white racist oppression off our backs. And in those days, I remind you, lynchings were prevalent as one every three days in this country.
LAMB: You say that most of the American history's greatest black leaders were white to some extent.
LAMB: And then you listed Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass had white fathers.
LAMB: W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, who had an Irish grandmother and some American Indian ancestry, and Jesse Jackson also had some white ancestry, as does, judging by his physical features, Louis Farrakhan, the son of West Indian immigrants.
LAMB: What do you think of Malcolm ...
PAGE: In other words, we are American, aren't we? You know, America is a country where everybody wants to have some Indian in their background and nobody wants to have any black in their background. Isn't that ironic?
LAMB: What is, in your opinion, is it, though, when -- what does -- a white person that looks at someone and says they're one-drop black and all of a sudden, they change the way they deal with them. What's going on there?
PAGE: It's the baggage we carry from history and the lessons we've learned growing up -- racism is like sexism. You know, I'm a sexist. I grew up in a society that said men were superior, the woman's place was in the home, blah, blah, blah. I've had to recognize that in order to deal with it, like an alcoholic does. And I think we need to recognize our racism in order to deal with it.
LAMB: What do you think of Malcolm X?
PAGE: There were different Malcolm X's, weren't there? You know, there was the early Malcolm, who was searching. There was the defiant Malcolm, who was the black separatist. And there was that late Malcolm in the last couple of years who was reaching out, who was, in my view, using race not as the end-all of his being, but as the beginning, using it as the platform on which to stand and then walk through the window and doors of race in order to get out and appreciate the larger world and deal with the larger world. That's the real important lesson of Malcolm's life to me. And I try to bring that out in this book. And that was something I discovered in the process of writing this book, that race really ought to be -- why do I think color consciousness is OK? Because it's only natural. But we should not let it limit our being. We should let it be the beginning and help us to appreciate people of all races.
LAMB: Ken Hamlin.
PAGE: Oh, Ken Hamlin, yes, the black avenger. He is an example of the new black conservatives who I distinguish in my book from conservative blacks.
LAMB: Denver talk show host.
PAGE: Denver talk show host and a black Rush Limbaugh, tries hard to be outrageous. I love him for that. But his audience is mostly white -- it matches Limbaugh's audience. Some of his audience members call me up and say, "Why can't you be more like Ken Hamlin? Listen to Ken Hamlin; you'll learn something." You know, well, Ken Hamlin ought to listen to me, too. You know, I mean, I hope these same people will buy this book and show they're genuinely interested in the other side. Because the fact is most black Americans are conservative, socially conservative, in everything but politics and I cite polling data in there that shows it.
If blacks are soft on crime, for example, why are all these black men in jail being sent there by black juries? Obviously, black folks have some real tough conservative views, but at the same time, the Republican Party is moving away from us, not toward us. The outreach conservatives, like Jack Kemp and Bill Bennett, they aren't running for president. And what we're seeing is that those conservative values in the black community have almost nowhere to go. Bill Clinton cleverly has reached out to them. He goes to black churches and talks to folks about self-help and about doing something to save black youths. But, you know, the problem with Ken Hamlin, Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele, a number of other so-called black conservatives -- and while I agree with a number of their views -- nevertheless, they have set themselves outside the black mainstream. That is their choice. They've put themselves outside that mainstream, which puts them outside what I would call the conservative black mainstream.
LAMB: You talk about going to the Million Man March And I wanted to ask you about the etiquette between black men.
LAMB: "Normal street etiquette calls for unacquainted black men to avoid direct eye contact for fear of sending the wrong signals and triggering a violent response."
LAMB: What's that all about?
PAGE: Especially nowadays. You know, if you step on somebody's shoes on the subways or the metro, you might get a fight on your hands. It is a defensiveness that has built up over centuries where black men have had to be particularly defensive in a society that often targeted them for destruction. And there is a -- it's also certain machismo and all, where body language can send the wrong signals. We have been carefully taught, in many ways, carefully programmed not to get together, to compete with each other. You know, studies of -- you look around the black business world, and traditionally the big black businesses have been primarily family businesses. They've not been corporations in the white model or even partnerships. Only recently the younger generation now of black businesspeople are starting to think in those terms. But the big companies in the past, those have been primarily proprietorships, family businesses. Johnson Publishing or Motown Records before they went corporate -- various others, and I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that black men, in particular, have not been encouraged to get together with -- with other black men in a level of high trust.
The Million Man March was important. And you can ask anybody who was there, because so many folks who just didn't even know each other suddenly were shaking hands, embracing or just smiling and saying, "How you doing, brother," you know? There was an element of trust that was there. That's why I call it kind of a big black Woodstock. You know, it was like this island of trust had suddenly settled down. And I must have stepped on a million toes all by myself, Brian. Nevertheless, nobody cursed at me or anything else. Everybody said, "Excuse me. I'm sorry. You know, let's try to make this whole thing work," in other words. And it was a very beautiful moment. And everybody agrees that we need to take that beautiful moment back out to the community.
LAMB: You say in your book that you moved your father here.
LAMB: In a suburb of Maryland out here. And what is he in a nursing home or a retirement home?
PAGE: At Leisure World, the retirement village. And he's -- I don't know if you've heard about Leisure World, but it's a lovely little bit of heaven. I don't know if heaven looks like it, but they tried their best to make it as heavenly as possible.
LAMB: What had he done in his life? What was his work?
PAGE: He was a janitor for over 34 years at a paper mill back in Middletown, Ohio, where I grew up. But he also saved his pennies and bought a couple of apartment houses besides the house we lived in. Those are the kind of values I learned growing up. And my mother was a cook and a caterer, and for a couple of years, ran a restaurant as well. So all we knew was work growing up. They even worked at the church there as ushers and baking the communion bread. That was my mother's job for many years.
LAMB: How is his life now? Is he with white people?
PAGE: Yeah. Well, yeah, you know, at Leisure World, they do have -- out of several thousand people live there, about 200 are black. And it's new for Dad to have white people as neighbors on an equal basis, you know? I mean, he's lived in integrated neighborhoods before, but usually they were low-income working-class neighborhoods. Now he's up here with the hoi polloi, so to speak. And it's a new thing for him to relate to a white people as equals and neighbors. But what's so great about it, though, is that everybody there has a real neighborly spirit.
I do mention one anecdote in the book, though, in which the black residents like to get together sometimes in order just to look at each other and talk with each other and plan excursions, this sort of thing. And one night they came out of a meeting, and somebody had left Ku Klux Klan notes, hand-scrawled notes under the windshields of some of their cars. And one of the black women there said, "Apparently, some of the white people don't like the idea of black folks meeting off for themselves at all. They'd like for us to meet with everybody else." And yet, you know, you've got Jewish groups, Catholic groups, other ethnic groups that meet up there every so often. We in America celebrate St. Patrick's Day and Columbus Day. Those are ethnic holidays, and these aren't intimidating. And yet we still have a society in which whenever black folks get together, some folks find that to be, in and of itself, intimidating, and that's sad.
LAMB: This dedication to Grady and to Maggie Page in memoriam. Who's Grady?
PAGE: Well, Grady is my son. And Mom, as I mentioned earlier, died in '84, didn't live long enough to see either this book or Grady, which is very sad, because Mom always wanted to be a grandmother. I'm an only child, and she never got to see her grandson. But I owe her so much for teaching me so much in the past. And I owe my son a lot for teaching me a lot nowadays about what it's like to grow up. As you know, you can't raise kids without being reminded every inch of the way of what it was like for you when you were their age. And Grady has helped to restore a little sense of innocence to my life. It's been a long time.
LAMB: Do you think he's going to have a better life than you?
PAGE: I'm sure he will. He already does. But he's not going to have a life free of concerns about race. That's obvious already. Like I say, he's already concerned, not in the same way I was over not using the restroom or the water fountain marked "white people' or "white only," whatever. But a little different in the sense that he's very curious about Martin Luther King. He's very curious about slavery, what that was about. But he's curious about the world, you know? Are there more black people than white people in America? He comes in and he comes in with these kind of questions. But he also has these cute little questions like, you know, "Why do you call yourself black when you're not really black? And why do you call white people white when they aren't really white?" As I told him, somebody once suggested that we ought to call ourselves pinkies and brownies; it might be closer to the truth. He liked that idea.
LAMB: This is the cover of the book, published by Harper Collins, and the name of the book is "Showing My Color: Impolite Essays on Race and Identity," by Clarence Page, columnist for the Chicago Tribune and other papers around the country. Thank you.
PAGE: Thank you.
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