Race relations must improve, Bradley exhorts N.J. senator blames both parties for woes

March 27, 1992|By Nelson Schwartz | Nelson Schwartz,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- In a candid and passionate call for racial harmony in America, Sen. Bill Bradley said yesterday that the future of the nation's cities depends on better race relations but warned of growing fear and distrust between whites and blacks.

Speaking on the Senate floor, the New Jersey Democrat criticized Republicans and Democrats alike for their handling of racial issues, arguing that "silence or distortion" have shaped the debate over race in this country over the past 25 years.

Republicans "have played the race card in a divisive way to get votes," he said, but members of his own party must also shoulder some of the blame. "Democrats have suffocated discussion of self-destructive behavior among the minority population in a cloak of silence and denial," he said.

The speech was the latest in a series of statements that the senator has made on racial issues in the past year. Mr. Bradley said later that he hopes to increase public discussion between blacks and whites, arguing that the only way racial divisions can heal is "to let the sun shine in."

Today, Mr. Bradley said, there is a growing fear among whites of random violence. "Walking the streets seems to be a form of Russian roulette," he said. "At the core, it is a fear of young black men."

While noting continuing racism on the part of whites, Mr. Bradley said, "Many white Americans, whether fairly or unfairly, seem to be saying of some young black males, 'You litter the street and deface the subway, and no one, white or black, says stop. . . . You rob a store, rape a jogger, shoot a tourist, and when they catch you . . . you cry racism. And nobody, white or black, says stop.' "

Regardless of whether this "white rap" is accurate, he said, the key is that this is "what millions of Americans feel is true." The result of this attitude, he said, is that white Americans are "more and more unwilling" to devote money to help the inner city or see that the way in which urban children live "threatens the future of their own children."

Politicians, too, are afraid, unable to speak candidly about the effects of violence on blacks and whites, and "indifferent to the black self-destruction." But unless they begin to discuss these issues, Mr. Bradley said, "they cannot lead us out of our current crisis." Individuals, too, must break through the walls that separate blacks and whites, he said, and communicate honestly.

In the coming decades, the United States faces the prospect of a continued decline in its cities and continued racial animosity unless blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians and others can agree on "a new politics of change, empowerment and common effort." Mr. Bradley said.

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