CBS’s Smith: Most Blacks ‘Feel Discrimination’; Wonders ‘Is This the America We Live In?’

On Monday’s CBS "Early Show," co-host Harry Smith talked to two liberal politicians, the black Governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, and black mayor of Washington D.C., Adrian Fenty, about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy and asked Fenty:

You know, if we look at this statistically, it's not a particularly bright picture. I want to just put up a couple of statistics very quickly here. The frequency blacks feel discrimination in America. So high. Applying for jobs, renting or buying a house, dining out or shopping. This is a pretty bleak picture. Mayor Fenty, is this -- is this the America we live in?

This is not the first time Smith has seen America as a racist country, as he did in the wake of the Jena 6 controversy. One wonders where prominent conservative black leaders were for this segment, like former Maryland Lieutenant Governor, Michael Steele. Also, not even Smith’s liberal guests were willing to go as far as Smith. Fenty replied to Smith in a way beyond any particular race:

Well, you know, I think that African-Americans do represent still a group of Americans who have some obstacles, but I think what the presidential campaign is about in politics in 2008 is there are lots of Americans who still have a struggle, Latinos, women, other racial minorities, and people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Smith then asked Patrick: "Governor Patrick, do you think there are two Americas, or maybe as the Mayor suggests, a multiplicity of Americas, where there's still plenty of discrimination left?" Like Fenty, Patrick also worked to move beyond race and instead focus on economic division:

Well, I think we have enormous challenges remaining. And I think that one of the problems we have in this country is that we have trouble striking the balance between celebrating the incredible progress that we have made, the doors that have been opened, and acknowledging how much work remains. You know, the poor are in terrible shape, and the middle class are just one month away from being poor and deeply anxious about it. And that crosses a whole lot of lines. And those of us who have leadership opportunities want to try to respond across all of those lines.

Undeterred, Smith continued to push the pessimistic theme of American rascism:

Yeah. You know, we look at some other statistics, especially among African-American men, this disproportionate number of African-American men who are in prison, the number of blacks living below the poverty level, so high. U.S. children living with two parents. Laws change. Do hearts change? Do you feel like hearts have changed in America?

Patrick responded optimistically: "I think hearts have changed. I mean, I ran here in Massachusetts, a place that doesn't have a very large black population, relatively speaking, and won decisively in a four-way race."

Later, Smith pushed the theme on Fenty: "Mayor Fenty, in closing, Martin Luther King said so famously he looked forward to the day when people are judged on the 'content of their character' and not 'the color of their skin.' Do you feel like we're closer to that day or farther away than 40 years ago?"

Like Patrick, Fenty did not go along with Smith’s pessimism: "I really do feel like we're closer. I think, you know, Governor Patrick's election, other people getting elected, they're really the embodiment of what Dr. King was talking about."

In a later segment with actor Denzel Washington about King’s legacy, Smith again pessimistically wondered:

All of a sudden, Martin Luther King Jr.'s name has been revived in the last couple of weeks during the political campaign. Is the dream -- did the dream die? Is the dream alive? Is all of the stuff that he talked about? Does it -- do you think -- is it meaningful, especially for young people?

Washington continued to dispell Smith’s pessimism: "I think it is more than we older people give younger people credit for."

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

7:30AM TEASER:

HARRY SMITH: Also coming up this half hour, the Martin Luther King Jr. legacy. We're going to talk with two African-American leaders about the state of African-Americans in America today.

7:06AM TEASER:

SMITH: Up next, we're going to talk to a new generation of black leaders about Dr. King's dream.

7:10AM SEGMENT:

HARRY SMITH: On Sunday Barack Obama remembered the legacy of Dr. King as he tries to make American history.

BARACK OBAMA: It's only been 40 years since he was assassinated. But you think about the enormous strides that we've made since that time, for me to be able to run a credible race for president.

SMITH: Barack Obama is part of a whole new generation of black leaders in American politics. Joining us now, are D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. Good morning, gentlemen.

DEVAL PATRICK: Good morning, Harry.

ADRIAN FENTY: Good morning.

SMITH: You know, if we look at this statistically, it's not a particularly bright picture. I want to just put up a couple of statistics very quickly here. The frequency blacks feel discrimination in America. So high. Applying for jobs, renting or buying a house, dining out or shopping. This is a pretty bleak picture. Mayor Fenty, is this -- is this the America we live in?

FENTY: Well, you know, I think that African-Americans do represent still a group of Americans who have some obstacles, but I think what the presidential campaign is about in politics in 2008 is there are lots of Americans who still have a struggle, Latinos, women, other racial minorities, and people from disadvantaged backgrounds. And so that's why I think people are looking for elected officials who speak to everyone and speak to everyone's problems in their own communities.

SMITH: Governor Patrick, do you think there are two Americas, or maybe as the Mayor suggests, a multiplicity of Americas, where there's still plenty of discrimination left?

PATRICK: Well, I think we have enormous challenges remaining. And I think that one of the problems we have in this country is that we have trouble striking the balance between celebrating the incredible progress that we have made, the doors that have been opened, and acknowledging how much work remains. You know, the poor are in terrible shape, and the middle class are just one month away from being poor and deeply anxious about it. And that crosses a whole lot of lines. And those of us who have leadership opportunities want to try to respond across all of those lines.

SMITH: Yeah. You know, we look at some other statistics, especially among African-American men, this disproportionate number of African-American men who are in prison, the number of blacks living below the poverty level, so high. U.S. children living with two parents. Laws change. Do hearts change? Do you feel like hearts have changed in America?

PATRICK: I think hearts have changed. I mean, I ran here in Massachusetts, a place that doesn't have a very large black population, relatively speaking, and won decisively in a four-way race. So if that's an indication, and I think it is, people are prepared to look past race. I don't think we are color-blind. And I don't think that's a goal we should be searching for. But I think understanding that race is a part of who we are, but not all of who we are, is absolutely key. And I guess the other point I'd make here, Harry, is that I think it's very important for folks not to look at a couple of us who have had wonderful opportunities and made the most of them and declared victory, because we have so much work to do.

SMITH: Mayor Fenty, in closing, Martin Luther King said so famously he looked forward to the day when people are judged on the 'content of their character' and not 'the color of their skin.' Do you feel like we're closer to that day or farther away than 40 years ago?

FENTY: I really do feel like we're closer. I think, you know, Governor Patrick's election, other people getting elected, they're really the embodiment of what Dr. King was talking about. And that is having people who just have everybody's best interests in mind regardless of what their race or background. We're not a hundred percent past it, but clearly making great progress.

SMITH: Mayor Fenty, thank you so much. Governor Patrick, do appreciate your time as well.

PATRICK: Thank you, Harry.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC