Library forum explores racial, ethnic tensions



BRICK –– The Brick branch of the Ocean County Library sponsored its second National Issues Forum discussion on Saturday, this time on the subject of "Racial and Ethnic Tensions: What Should We Do?"

Founded in 1982, the National Issues Forum is a nonprofit organization that encourages people of diverse views to come together and find common ground, according to supervising librarian Valerie Bell, the coordinator of the discussion.

The discussions are run by three moderators who discuss three different approaches to a selected topic. The moderators are responsible for positing questions to the public, directing the discussion and ensuring that all attendees have an opportunity to express their opinions.

After completing a short survey on their views, the public watched a short video on the topic of the day. The moderators then opened up the floor for discussion to build on the approaches discussed in the video.

The first approach to easing ethnic and racial tensions focused on what unites the country. Proponents of this approach view the United States as a melting pot where new immigrants should embrace conformity and assimilate quickly. The belief is that if you are willing to work hard, you will find success. Schools should treat all students equally, with no special programs such as affirmative action.

During the discussion on this approach, most of the participants believed that a little help for new immigrants was necessary in order to help them succeed, but in the end merit should be the overriding factor for college admission.

The second approach sees the country as more of a patchwork quilt than a melting pot where cultural differences should be acknowledged. In this approach, immigrants often self-segregate themselves, choosing to live in ethnic enclaves. Bilingual education and charter schools are viewed as necessary in order to keep the playing field level. In this approach, school textbooks should reflect the cultural makeup of the community.

This approach received the least amount of support during the discussion. Most participants said it would be impossible to accommodate children with bilingual education because of the various different languages spoken in schools today. They felt that after school tutoring and programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters could aid in teaching English as a second language.

This approach was also seen as too insular. Participants said when students enter the real world, they would go into a kind of shock from being exposed to

so many different cultures. School should be a place to widen horizons, according to the group.

The final approach to dealing with racial and ethnic tensions was to completely integrate society and open all doors to everyone. This approach calls for aggressive intervention in the form of programs like affirmative action and tax incentives for minority business owners.

All of the participants believed that simply being against discrimination won’t bring people together and more active measures are needed to break down barriers.

They voiced the opinion that churches and synagogues should be more instrumental in effecting change and that mass media’s portrayal of black men was extremely damaging.

Encouraging diversity training, refusing to patronize businesses that racially profile and writing to state and local representatives were some of the ways participants came up with to ease tensions between races.

At the end of the deliberation, participants were given a survey similar to the one they completed prior to the discussion. The purpose was to determine if any of their opinions had changed as a result of the forum.

One thing that didn’t change was the group’s opinion that more discussion was necessary and that the forum should reach out to senior citizens and high school students.

For more information on the National Issues Forum and upcoming deliberations, call (732) 477-4513.