Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney on Thursday called the failure of inner city schools "the great civil rights issue of our time."
Taking questions at a music hall, Romney was asked whether he would be capable of improving race relations as president. He said his personal "colorblindness" would be his most important asset.
"I have a real hard time thinking of people other than as people," he told about 200 people. "I certainly consider myself colorblind. I don't distinguish people based on their race or their ethnicity or their faith."
Romney said he would make sure that those with whom he would surround himself in Washington would reflect the nation's diversity. He said he envisioned calling together a group similar to the "kitchen cabinet" of black citizens he met with regularly as governor of Massachusetts.
"I would anticipate again having a group of folks who represent a diversity of experience and being able to draw on their lives," he said.
Romney said one of his biggest concerns about race relations involves education.
"I'm really concerned that schools in inner cities are failing our inner city kids - largely minorities - and those kids won't have the kinds of skills to be able to be successful and competitive in the new market economy," he said. "The failure of inner city schools, in my view, is the great civil rights issue of our time."
Romney said he would work hard to improve schools but did not elaborate. When a woman asked him about how he would support arts and music programs that often are the first to be cut from tight school budgets, he said he was wary of too much federal involvement in education.
Recalling fondly his own high school glee club days, Romney said arts and music education spurs creativity that carries over into adulthood. But he said the federal government shouldn't mandate such programs.
"While it would be tempting to say all schools should have the following programs, that worries me that someday there'd be somebody up there with very different views telling schools what they should and shouldn't do," he said. "I'd like to have local school boards recognize that they need to be concentrating of course on English, math and science, but also some of the cultural elements that make us a society of creative individuals."