WILLIAM J. CLINTON, “RACISM IN THE UNITED STATES” (16 OCTOBER 1995)
1. What were Clinton’s goals in this speech? Discuss what clues he provided in his speech that reveal his agenda.
2. Who do you think was included in Clinton’s audience(s) for this event? Discuss what information in the text helps you determine your answer.
3. Locate three passages within the speech in which Clinton uses words like “we,” “us,” “our,” and “you.” Discuss who you think he is referring to with each reference. Is he always referring to the same audience in each instance?
4. Clinton frequently uses the phrase “head and heart” when describing where racism exists in Americans. What do you think he means by this statement? What kind of images does this conjure up? What might have been his motivation to use this imagery? Discuss what clues he provides in his speech that help you determine your responses.
5. How might Clinton’s assertion that racism is in American’s “head and hearts” serve as a reason not to pass federal legislation?
6. What social or political problems does Clinton identify in his speech? Discuss what solutions he offers to these problems and whether they seem feasible.
7. Does the fact that Clinton is a white southerner affect his ethos or credibility when speaking about issues related to race? Is he more credible? Less credible? Does his background matter? Be prepared to discuss your reasons for your responses.
8. Do you think that President Clinton was wise to abandon his original fund-raising speech to talk about racism in the United States instead? What opportunities might he have gained as a result of changing his topic? What opportunities may he have lost?
9. What does Clinton’s decision to address the white/black divide in America tell us about his understanding of the racial tensions in the United States in 1995? Why might he have focused specifically on the tensions between these two groups? Be prepared to discuss your response.
10. Why might Clinton mention fatherless homes as “perhaps the nation’s single biggest social problem” in his speech? What other social issues does he address within this speech? Discuss how these issues relate to the Million Man March and to civil rights concerns.
1. Using the search terms “Clinton,” “race,” and “speech,” perform a search on an electronic database and locate at least fifteen articles, editorials, or letters to the editor published between 10/1/1995 and 10/30/1995. What observations did journalists, politicians, and citizens make about this speech? Did they deem it successful? Based on your research, do you think that Clinton was effective in uniting his audience? How would you have responded if you were in his audience?
2. Using a research method of your choice, locate information about Abraham Lincoln, Lyndon Johnson, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For what reasons might Clinton have mentioned these men in his speech? Perform a search on the PBS.org web site (www.pbs.org) for the “civil rights movement.” Identify two other men or women that Clinton could have included in his speech. What contributions did these people offer to the civil rights movement?
3. Search www.pbs.org to find out more about Rodney King and Emmett Till. What happened to King and to Till? Why would Clinton refer to them as “bloody markers” on the nation’s record of abuse? What significance might their stories have in the larger context of the civil rights movement?
4. Read President Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1965 “We Shall Overcome” speech (http://voicesofdemocracy.umd.edu/johnson-we-shall-overcome-speech-text/). How does Johnson’s discussion of racial injustices compare and contrast with Clinton’s? What rhetorical strategies did both Johnson and Clinton employ within their speeches? (Pay attention to language, arguments, references, and tone).
5. How did the Million Man March influence the topics, arguments, and appeals Clinton made in his speech? Use three different research tools–one conversation, one print source, and one electronic database–to learn more about the Million Man March; then prepare to discuss how that event provided more context for Clinton’s speech.
6. Although President Clinton did not identify the Nation of Islam Leader, Minister Louis Farrakhan, by name in his speech, Clinton clearly referred to the contentious leader. Using three research tools–one conversation, an online database, and the Internet–locate more information about Farrakhan. Why is he portrayed as being a controversial leader? How do his views compare to other civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X? Do you think Farrakhan is more or less effective than the other leaders? Why are Farrakhan’s views seen as controversial?
7. Minister Louis Farrakhan responded to Clinton’s address a few hours later. Compare and contrast Farrakhan and Clinton’s speeches. How does Clinton’s call for racial harmony compare with Farrakhan? What similarities exist between their approaches to assuring equality for African Americans? What differences exist? Is Farrakhan more effective at appealing to African Americans than Clinton? Why?
8. Use a reliable dictionary like the Oxford English Dictionary to locate a definition of “civil rights.” What does this term mean? Based on this definition, what issues and rights fall within this category?
9. Read President George W. Bush’s videotaped speech to the 2001 NAACP National Convention (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=63993). How is President Bush’s approach to race relations similar to Clinton’s? How is it different? What rhetorical strategies did both Bush and Clinton employ within their speeches? (Consider language, arguments, references, imagery, and tone).
10. Using an electronic database, locate some past and current articles written about the O.J. Simpson trial. At the time, what racial issues were brought up during the trial? Why might these issues affect how black and white Americans interpreted the verdict differently? What current lessons have we learned as a result of the Simpson trial?
11. What is the purpose of the civil rights movement? What are some of its goals? Who are some of its noted leaders? Use books, articles, and the Internet to formulate specific answers to these questions.
12. What is the Civil Rights Act of 1964? What was its purpose? What other Civil Rights Acts has the United States passed? What were the purposes of these Acts?
13. What is the Voting Rights Act of 1965? What was its purpose? What voting requirements existed prior to the passing of this act? How did those requirements inhibit some citizens from exercising their voting rights?
14. What is the Constitutional Equality Amendment? What does it propose to do? What social groups does it claim to protect? In your opinion, does America need this amendment or does it overlap with past legislation?
15. Search the Nation of Islam’s website (http://www.noi.org/) and be prepared to present a brief description about the organization. What is the Nation of Islam? What
are some of the organization’s goals? What issues does the organization address? Who are some of the organization’s leaders? How does the Nation of Islam fit into the current civil rights movement?
16. On June 14, 1997, President Clinton formally announced the “President’s Initiative on Race” in a commencement address at the University of California at San Diego. Read or watch the speech (http://clinton3.nara.gov/Initiatives/OneAmerica/announcement.html). What similarities do you notice between this speech and Clinton’s “Racism in the United
States” speech? Do you agree that the commencement speech is a development of the proposals Clinton made in the “Racism in the United States” speech? Why or why not?
17. Search through the official One America website (http://clinton3.nara.gov/Initiatives/OneAmerica/america.html). What were the purposes and goals of the President’s Initiative on Race? What were the purposes and goals of the President’s Initiative for One America? Do you think America needs another initiative on race?
18. What other speeches (past or contemporarily) have you seen or heard that address civil rights issues? Who was the speaker? What was his or her message?
19. What organizations or clubs in your area work to protect civil rights? What particular issues do they address?
1. What terms would you use to describe the current state of race relations in the United States? What policies, controversies, experiences, or events influenced your response?
2. Go to www.npr.org and perform a search using “civil rights” as your search term. What kinds of stories does this search return? What issues and controversies do they discuss? Have these stories changed your perception of the state of civil rights in the United States today?
3. Identify a local special interest or political group in your community that addresses issues of civil rights. What civil rights issues concern them? What policies or plans does it promote? How do your views on these issues compare and contrast with the organization?
4. Locate a campus organization that deals with issues of civil rights. What group(s) does it represent? What are its goals? What strategies does this group employ to raise
awareness about their issue? In what ways could you contribute to this group?
5. Visit Project Vote Smart (http://votesmart.org/) and enter in your nine digit zip code to locate information about your local and state representatives. Click on the name of one U.S. senator or representative and review his or her position on civil rights issues using the “Issue Positions (NPAT)” link beneath the picture. What civil rights issues does he/she address? What is his/her position on civil rights? Perform the same search for at least one of your state senators or representatives and at least one of
your state officials and record their positions on these issues. Which candidate’s responses most closely resemble your position?
6. Ask a member of your community to identify a civil rights debate that has occurred since the year you were born. Discuss with them how these debates and the issues
they brought up have affected you or those around you. Be prepared to share your response with the class.
7. What rights do you have as a citizen of the United States? Have you been denied any rights on account of your race, class, gender, or sexuality?
8. What groups in society are being denied civil rights? For what differences are they being discriminated against?
9. What are the differences between “symbolic racism”and “old-fashioned racism”? Is
one worse than the other? What changes can you make in your own life to prevent or minimize racism in the United States?
10. Interview one of your parents, grandparents, or an elder in your community. What were race relations in the United States like when they were growing up? What events or controversies influenced their perception of race?
11. Visit the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ web site (http://www.usccr.gov/) and review some of the posted meeting notes, correspondence, and news. What current issues is the commission discussing? How do these issues affect you personally?
Last updated March 23, 2016