America’s state of denial about race (FCN Column, 08-01-2000)

NEW YORK ( – According to the results of a new national poll, Americans 18 to 34 years of age are speaking in favor of a more inclusive, tolerant and diverse society “where the elimination of poverty and ignorance should be given a top priority.”

“This poll is a wake-up call for Americans to educate and prepare themselves for the seismic ethnic shifts in our neighborhoods and communities,” stated Lawrence Kopp, executive director for the New York/Washington, D.C.-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, in his introductory remarks at the press conference.


Promoting racial harmony and strengthening inter-group relations are the main goals of the foundation, which was formed in 1989 by its president Rabbi Marc Schneier and its chairman Russell Simmons, who also serves as the chairman of the National Hip Hop Summit Action Network.

The poll, which was released Nov. 9, was conducted from Sept. 29 to Oct. 10 this year by the market research and polling company, Global Strategy Group, with 1,388 American adults–which also included an 870-person nationwide poll plus additional ethnic over-samples to complete the total.

“Race in America today is the elephant in the dining room,” Mr. Kopp noted, before introducing Mr. Simmons and Rabbi Schneier.

Rabbi Schneier explained why there was a need for a greater dialogue in America. “Ethnic changing demographics are creating new tensions and obstacles in our communities. We must honestly and openly begin a dialogue between and within communities and families in order to ensure a better future for our children.”

“What we want to promote is dialogue,” offered Mr. Simmons, adding that the foundation wanted to encourage people to see the value of dialogue. “There is a strong desire amongst a lot of adults to stay segregated, but not the youth,” he pointed out. “We know the burden that we all carry: The darker people still burdened all over the world; White supremacy, the thing that we don’t talk about much–but the hip hop community can bring people together in spite of these negatives. We must see the positives in all of these things.”

Mr. Simmons also mentioned that the Oct. 15 Millions More Movement rally in Washington, D.C. demonstrated the power of people coming together to “promote love and understanding.”

Dr. Benjamin Chavis, president/CEO of the Hip Hop Summit Action Network, reminded everyone that 50 percent of the people that attended the rally were young people. “What this study reaffirms is what the Millions More Movement has already shown the world–that young people are active; young people are conscious; young people probably have the strongest desire for freedom, justice and equality,” Dr. Chavis said.

The poll also concluded that: Americans over 35 are ill equipped to handle the massive demographic changes facing the nation. America is a nation not just divided by race, but also by age. The racial divide in America today is exacerbated by a lack of understanding; a lack of racial sensitivity; widespread societal denial about the realities of racism and the impact it has on minority communities. Older Americans are in denial about ethnic changes and race attitudes, in general, and are unwilling to see the ramifications and realities of racism and discrimination.

It also noted significant positive signs that Americans believe future generations will be more racially tolerant and understanding than current generations; and they are aware of the need to socialize more with other ethnic groups.