Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Clarence Page discussed his perspectives on the politics of race and social issues with University professor Michael Dawson at a UChicago Engages event at International House yesterday.
Page’s recently published book, Culture Warrior: Reflections on Race, Politics, and Social Change, a collection of his columns from the Chicago Tribune from 1984 through 2014, was the focus of the discussion with Dawson. After the discussion, the event transitioned into an open question-and-answer session and ended with a book signing and reception.
Touching on topics ranging from his first encounter with segregation, to the history of black support for the Republican Party, to his unlikely friendship with Patrick Joseph “Pat” Buchanan, Page discussed material from both his old and recent columns. The discussion, full of historical analysis and personal anecdotes, often became humorous as Page frequently ended his comments by poking fun at the faults of both old and new generations.
Page, who grew up in Ohio, said that his first encounter with segregation was at the colored fountain in a 10-cent and nickel shop in Birmingham, Alabama. His family had traveled to the South when he was just old enough to read the segregation signs, and his father found him in front of a “Colored” sign, turning the water on in hopes of seeing red or blue liquid flowing from the spout.
After a loud laugh from the audience, Page added, “I’ll explain to you young people later what a nickel is.”
Talking about race relations in America, Page replaced the traditional “melting pot” description of diversity with his “Mulligan’s stew” idea—that American society is a diverse society to which everyone contributes some individual flavor, and gets some back.
Page also asserted the only issue Americans avoid more than race is class. Page agreed with Dawson’s statement that many Americans don’t like to talk about certain issues, especially when their privilege is liable to be stepped on. Page added that Americans have a tendency to divide by race so they don’t have to divide by class, and used a historical example to illustrate the resistance racial figures encounter when they try to approach class divisions; when Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to address the class divisions within the black community, his coalition began to break apart.
One thing that Page emphasized throughout his commentary is that he believes there is still a need for change.
“We tolerate too much inequality in this country,” he said.