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Center for Living Democracy Issues Report on Bridging the Racial Divide

"The challenge in the millennium is for Americans to engage in community-based dialogue as a means of bridging America's racial divide. To re-create a pluralistic, participatory democracy--a truly interracial democracy--America's multiracial population must engage in interracial dialogue."

The Center for Living Democracy's (CLD) new report, Bridging the Racial Divide: A Report on Interracial Dialogue in America, describes how citizens across the country are meeting this challenge by sponsoring interracial dialogues. The report identifies more than 80 dialogue groups representing at least 30 states and the District of Columbia.

Bridging the Racial Divide defines an interracial dialogue as "an inclusive, facilitated forum for the face-to-face exchange of information, sharing of personal stories, honest expression of emotion, affirmation of values, clarification of viewpoints and deliberation of solutions to serious civic concerns." The report examines how citizens form interracial dialogue groups and what contributes to their success.

Key Community Partnerships

The CLD found that 50 percent of interracial dialogues had begun in the past five years in response to perceived racial polarization triggered by either the Rodney King police beating and/or the O.J. Simpson murder trials.

The report details several specific interracial dialogue groups and organizations like Study Circles Resource Center that provide practical resources to support dialogues. The report profiles such groups as The Student Coalition Against Racism and the Houston-based Center for Healing Racism, among others.

Those involved in these groups ranked religious organizations first and the national media last in order of importance in fostering interracial dialogue. Successful groups involved several key community institutions including the media, businesses, government, schools and universities, and community-based, national non-profit, and religious organizations. One-quarter of the groups surveyed "cited educational institutions as key leaders or supporters."

Interracial dialogues increase the collective awareness of and appreciation for the richness of diversity within racial groups.

Media Involvement

While the national media are often cited as contributors to racial polarization, the report describes several public television and radio series that have promoted dialogue and interracial understanding. These include the radio series "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" and the television series "Not In Our Town." The report also commends North Carolina's The Charlotte Observer and Utica, New York's The Observer-Dispatch for supporting interracial dialogues.

From Race to the Diversity of Identity

The CLD also suggests that interracial dialogues increase the "collective awareness of and appreciation for the richness of diversity within racial groups. Acknowledgment of this diversity within socially constructed racial categories may contribute to the dismantling of racist myths and stereotypes." Many dialogue groups emphasize identity issues other than race. Many groups also discuss issues of ethnicity, class, gender, culture, immigrant status, and sexual orientation.

The Skills an Interracial Democracy Needs

The CLD identifies a set of skills crucial to advancing interracial democracy that dialogue groups help citizens to acquire. Many of these skills are also what colleges and universities are teaching as part of their own campus dialogues in the classroom and beyond. This report suggests that citizens need to develop skills in active listening, creative conflict, mediation, negotiation, political imagination, evaluation, reflection, and public judgment.

A National Priority

The report concludes by noting that: "America is beginning to value community-based dialogues as a national priority. Americans must revitalize our civic culture, improving the ways citizens think about key issues as well as the implied concepts of power, public life, the meaning of citizenship, and the interracial justice which a majority still professes as an ideal."

To receive a copy of Bridging the Racial Divide, contact Center for Living Democracy, 289 Fox Farm Road, Brattleboro, VT 05301; tel 802/254-1234; fax 802/254-1227.

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