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We can solve the problems of racism — but only if there's political will, panelists say

At the kickoff to the 2017 Texas Tribune Festival, Chris Hayes of MSNBC and Jamelle Bouie of Slate participated in a Community Forum on Race and Justice moderated by Tribune CEO Evan Smith.

Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith (left) hosts a community forum on race and justice, featuring Jamelle Bouie (center) and Chri...

Chris Hayes of MSNBC and Jamelle Bouie of Slate joined us this afternoon for a community forum on race and justice. Here’s what we learned:

The problems are intractable, but there are solutions. Audience members asked Bouie and Hayes to tackle big subjects: the racial wealth gap, covert racism and the school-to-prison pipeline. Even for thorny issues, there is hope, the panelists said. To fix the problem of educational inequity, for example, they agreed on a one-word answer: “desegregation.”

...but too often, those solutions are “politically unpalatable,” Bouie said. Parents with students in affluent, majority-white schools don't take kindly to the idea of integrating students from lower-income neighborhoods, the panelists said.

“Desegregation isn’t really that hard to solve as a policy problem,” Bouie said. “But that simple solution is politically impossible.”

The words matter. It’s easy for people to acknowledge the problem of “racism” — but problems related to "white supremacy," not so much. An audience member brought up that concern and Bouie and Hayes ran with it.

“The problem with white supremacy as a term is it implies the most supreme forms of it — you think Klansmen. I’m not sure there’s a way to get around that,” Bouie said. White supremacy, he argued, isn’t a problem of hate but “of resources and of power” — and it’s not a tiny group of extremists, but a “continuum.”

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And that makes it hard to talk about. Hayes argued that it's difficult to discuss racism without unintentionally reinforcing the prejudicial system that created the problem.“‘Race’ is a creation of racists,” Hayes argued.

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And it’s on us, too. The panelists each took a minute to discuss the lack of diversity in newsrooms across the country. Hayes said he and his staff take care to avoid having all-white, all-male shows, but that they don’t always succeed. “I am part of the problem,” Hayes acknowledged.

It's just as difficult to solve problems of representation in newsrooms, the panelists said. In an overwhelmingly white newsroom, “the easiest thing to say is the only people we’re gonna hire are non-whites… and that would fix the problem,” Bouie said. But that’s not likely to go over well: “It offends Americans’ basic egalitarian sense. People don’t want to do that because it doesn’t sound right to them.”

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