On Being Black in America

NOT long ago, Children's Defense Fund president Marian Wright Edelman was sipping a cup of coffee on a terrace in Aspen, Colo., when a woman stopped to ask if she would like a job as a maid.

More recently, a black friend of hers who works for a top corporation was standing near an airport baggage counter in Chicago, wearing an Armani suit. Within the space of 10 minutes, five people had asked him for help with their luggage.

"It happens all the time - it's just amazing," Mrs. Edelman says of the two incidents.

As she writes in her book "The Measure of Our Success" (Beacon Press, $15), a letter addressed to her three sons and to children everywhere, "Being Black in America is utterly exhausting - physically, mentally, and emotionally. There is no respite or escape from your badge of color."

"We've got to begin, as parents and leaders, to talk about the fact that we have a real race problem in this country, a real class problem," she says in an interview.

In the advice section of her book, she urges her children to reject any candidate who manipulates racial fears for political gain. Walk away from, stare down, and otherwise make unacceptable, she says, the telling of racist jokes and practices that demean others. She says that all black children need to have a sense of pride in their heritage. Yet in the end, the fellowship of humanity is far more important in her view than the fellowship of race and class. And she reminds her sons: "You were born God's original.... Try not to become someone's copy."

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