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Pop Culture Jump Starts Debate

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"Conversations have to happen locally," he says. "You can't literally have a national conversation, because 250 million people can't talk to each other. But it would be easy to share things in informal gatherings."

Many people across the country, in fact, have turned to small-group discussions, dinners, and meetings as a way for blacks and whites to better understand the cultural divide of color. Some groups are organized by community leaders, while others happen much more informally. Conversations are based not so much on political beliefs or on who's to blame for what, but on everyday experiences that help people find a common ground to discuss their different worlds.

Newspaper columnist Richard Louv, a self-described "white liberal" who writes for the San Diego Union Tribune, was surprised by what he discovered when he sat down with other whites and middle-class blacks from his area.

Black and white fears

"I couldn't believe that my upscale, well-educated, successful counterparts, who were black, were followed in department stores by house detectives because they were black," he says. "Or that they were pulled over by cops and frisked just because they were black. It showed me that I didn't know all the answers."

In one conversation, he was struck by the remarks of a black woman who recounted her specific fear that a policeman would hurt her son. "My fear about my sons is a much more general concern that something will happen to them at random," says Mr. Louv.

"I came away thinking that one way to talk about race is not to talk about how we can get along better, but rather about how we perceive the world," he says. "What we fear, is one area. If you really compare experiences between people, go into it as an exercise in how we perceive reality, that can be very interesting, and the end product is that we get along better because we've walked in each other's shoes. What we're talking about is perception, and perception is the reality."

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