July 21st, 2013
11:21 AM ET
5 years ago

Lawmakers say racial prejudice can't be wiped away with laws

(CNN) – Two congressmen, one Hispanic and one African-American, weighed in Sunday on how they've been personally affected by racial tension in the United States. They agreed that the issue can be erased only by dialogue, not by changing laws.

"I don't think you can legislate attitude," Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-California, said on CNN's "State of the Union."

"It's not going to be a matter of instituting a particular program," he added. "It's about doing this as a collective, as a people."

President Barack Obama on Friday talked about race relations, nearly a week after the verdict in the trial for George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed teenager Trayvon Martin during a confrontation last year. The case drew national attention for its racial undertone: Zimmerman, who has Hispanic roots, initially followed Martin, an African-American, saying he looked suspicious as he walked down a street.

In his speech Friday, Obama said "Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago." He argued African-American males frequently go through uncomfortable experiences, such as hearing people lock car doors when they walk by or being followed in department stores.

"There are very few African-Americans who haven't had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off," Obama said.

Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-Louisiana, said Sunday he experiences such incidents "on a daily basis" when he's home and "dressed down" in New Orleans.

"Even as a United States congressman, as a black one, it is very, very frustrating. You build up an internal anger that you can't act on," he told CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley.

Cummings: ‘I cross the street’ when white women walk toward me

PBS and radio host Tavis Smiley was not impressed with the president's speech. On Friday, he tweeted the speech was "weak as pre-sweetened Kool-aid" and added Sunday that Obama only made the remarks after a week of protests "pushed" him to the podium.

"But when he left the podium, he still had not answered the most important question, that Keynesian question - where do we go from here?" Smiley said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "That question this morning remains unanswered, at least from the perspective of the president."

Smiley disagreed with the idea that elected officials can't "occupy this space on race."

"Lincoln did, Truman did, Johnson did, President Obama did. He's the right person in the right place at the right time, but he has to step into his moment. I don't want him to be like Bill Clinton, when he's out of office, regretting that he didn't move on Rwanda. I don't want the president to look back and realize he didn't do as much as he could have in this critical moment," he said.

But Becerra argued Obama's openness about his own experiences will likely have an impact.

"That makes you think a lot more when your own president says that," Becerra said. But he added that changing things will require more than one person. "No one man, including the man in the White House, including a black man in the White House, can solve this by himself or herself."

Richmond said racial profiling is something that can be stopped in the law enforcement sector, but "we can't stop either racism or attitudes" through legislation.

"That I think will come from a dialogue," he said.

Watch State of the Union with Candy Crowley Sundays at 9am ET. For the latest from State of the Union click here.

Filed under: TV-State of the Union
soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. saywhat

    That racism is always simmering just below the surface here on our soil needs no argument. With the election of President Obama to the White House which made this nation proud and got some of our prestige back (lost during the Bush-Cheney era of infamy) also made this ugly sentiment raise its head again.
    I remember this coming into play during both the election years and mid-terms. It was shameful the way it was used unabashedly by those politicos opposing his election and those in the civil society who could not bring themselves to face this change.
    We need to come together to fight bias based on color, creed and religion.

    July 21, 2013 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  2. ST

    I beg to disagree with them. Dialogue can never change anything. Things work well when strong laws are fixed and people have to abide to them. Anyone who breaks them has to be punished accordingly. Unfortunately this is the way human beings live.

    July 21, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  3. Phillip

    Laws that Honor, The sworn oath of the United States will work.I,DO,/U SWEAR,to TELL the TRUTH the whole Truth and NOTHING but THE TRUTH so HELP u GOD! If not God will help U.

    July 21, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  4. GI Joe

    My sister is a proud racist and says so. But she lives in WV - it's expected there, sadly.

    AND she and her 75 yr-old hubby own something like 27 guns. WTH are they thinking?

    July 21, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  5. Nothing At All

    Laws stopped the overt racial discrimination that was prevalent under Jim Crow. Laws for the most part only keep those who are basically deceit and honest from cross the line. No law will prevent someone from breaking it if they believe the outcome is worth the risk.

    July 21, 2013 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  6. ThinkAgain

    Pretty rich the way these Repubs say we shouldn't have laws! Then why did you steal the 2000 election if not to put your puppets on the Supreme Court and install activist judges to turn back the legislative clock to a time when women can't decide what to do with their own bodies and grant personhood to corporations so they can buy and sell elections and politicians?

    July 21, 2013 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  7. HenryMiller

    Want an observation from a white guy? A lot of white reaction to blacks and, to a lesser extent, to Hispanics is based on the perception that blacks and Hispanics are united, near-unanimously, as Democrats, to promote a welfare state disproportionately funded by whites and disproportionately in benefit of minorities. Yes, yes, more whites, numerically, benefit from the welfare state but, as a percentage of their representation in the general population, more minorities do so.

    And, yes, blacks in particular have historical reasons for resenting whites, but dwelling on that is counter-productive. If minorities want the honest respect of whites, they're going to have to quit treating whites as enemies to be punished throughout eternity.

    July 21, 2013 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  8. Jason

    Truman did not do nothing for civil rights movement Dwight E is the one who Desegregated the Military And Republican Everett Dirksen not Lyndon B Johnson pushed through the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act

    July 21, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  9. Steve, New York City

    Racism has been a problem since the ancestors of modern humans moved from out of hunter-gathering mode and began to settle down. It is a shame - every group struggles with racism, as it's easier to be afraid of those who are different than to try to separte the good from the bad. This is simply part of the ugly reality of human nature – people are stupid, and that's life!

    July 21, 2013 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |