Dems urge national discussion on racial justice following Trayvon Martin case

“Racism is not simply about African-Americans. Racism is present in every one of our communities,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the chamber’s Democratic whip. “We need to be conscious of it; we need to confront it; we need to deal with it.”

Democrats on Tuesday steered mostly clear of advocating for specific policies, instead asking broader questions about Congress’s role in the race debate. Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, wondered, for instance, how much power Congress has to alter racist views.

“Most of us believe that it would be very difficult to legislate attitudes,” Becerra said. “While we can do things to protect people’s rights and freedoms, attitude is something different.”

But Maya Wiley, founder and president of the Center for Social Inclusion, argued that Congress can and should play a central role in fighting racial bias around the country. She argued that policymakers, “by legislating opportunity,” can “change how the attitudes are developed.”