Pitts talks about race, future

Editor’s note: Prior to a June 28 speech at Washburn University in Topeka, syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts spoke to Journal-World editorial page editor Ann Gardner and “River City Weekly” host Greg Hurd on a variety of topics including race relations in the United States, the “American Dream” and the war in Iraq. Here are some excepts from that conversation.

Gardner: “You were talking about baggage (and its impact on race relations in the United States). Lawrence has a fairly large Native American community. The baggage that comes with that and comes with the black experience makes it very complicated.”

video River City video: Interview with Leonard Pitts Jr.More of this interview with Leonard Pitts Jr. will be featured on the “River City Weekly” that premieres at 6:30 p.m. today on Sunflower Broadband Channel 6. The show is rebroadcast at 9:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Thursdays, 9:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. Fridays, 9 a.m. Saturdays, 9:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Mondays, and 10 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays.

Pitts: “The natives and African-Americans are probably the only two American groups that are comparable in that. People always bring me the example of ‘My grandfather came here from Ireland. He was treated like a dog.’ I understand that, it’s a racist country. And I understand the Irish. I remember reading the sign, ‘No Irish or dogs,’ etc., etc. Yes, they were treated like dogs, but at the end of the day they were able to assimilate.

“They changed their names, they worked to lose the accent and all the distinctive things that marked them as new Irish arrivals, and then they became just white, and once they were just white, they were OK. And they did not have all the baggage to begin with. To me this is a no-brainer. To me this is very simple, but people bring this up all the time by way of making what they think is a very serious argument about the stuff that I’m saying. It just frustrates me.

“My favorite thing is to get a letter from somebody, get a dissent from somebody that forces me to think. That doesn’t. … I don’t mean to sound arrogant or full of myself or whatever, but if that’s the level of your complaint or contention then you’re not challenging me; you’re not doing anything.”

Hurd: “In your sense of the immediate future, are you optimistic about the war and its outcome?”

Pitts: “I’m optimistic. I try to be optimistic about most things. I will not say I’m not optimistic but I will say I’m very scared. You know, the war and our position as a result of the war, I have very grave concerns about. You know, I’ll never say I’m not optimistic but I’m very gravely concerned because we just seem to willfully, we seem to be willfully just sort of knocking, just sort of bullying through the world like the proverbial bull in the china shop and only belatedly discovering the value of diplomacy and only belatedly discovering that there’s a reason that these international institutions are there … You know maybe doing the Gary Cooper thing isn’t the best thing in the world when you’re dealing with the nuances of international diplomacy and geopolitical disagreements. You know, the whole Gary Cooper thing just doesn’t seem to be working for us.

Gardner: “What do you see as the American Dream?”

Pitts: “The American Dream is basically that here is a place where you can be judged, where you can reinvent yourself, you can be judged on what you and what you become rather than on who your parents were or who your grandparents were. You’re not judged on the old country if your folks came here through Ellis Island.

“You’re not judged on anything else except what you bring to the table and you have, under the American Dream, you have the opportunity to go as far as your pluck, your luck, your hard work and your talent will take you. … That’s my version of the American Dream.”