Are we really ready for an honest conversation on race?

Protesters rallying against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner stage a
Protesters rallying against a grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner stage a “die-in” at the Apple store on Fifth Avenue, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Manhattan. Photo Credit: Newsday

Are we a nation of liars?

If you listen to the politicians and talking heads, we are. Everywhere you turn, one of them is saying we need to have an “honest conversation” about race in this country.

But who’s really being dishonest? Do the people calling for the conversation really want one? I doubt it.

For the past three decades, white people have been taught a tacit but unmistakable lesson: Keep your mouth shut on issues of race. Step out of line — even get near the line — and criticism follows. Few are willing to endure the scorn that comes with challenging political orthodoxy.

Sure racism exists in many forms. And yes, we should talk about it.

I’m guilty of a particular strain called “Murphy Brown racism.” I named it after an episode from the 1988-98 CBS sitcom in which the title character admits to being overly nice to black people. I find myself calling African-American 8-year-old boys “sir,” just to show respect, or rather not to suggest any disrespect. I am more effusive in my praise of black colleagues at times. That could be interpreted as patronizing, and it is. There are more pernicious types of racism in America. But I don’t believe bigotry is nearly as bad as it’s portrayed.

But let’s discuss that.

Should we also discuss the simmering resentments about affirmative action? Or other issues everyone is afraid to talk about? Can we discuss, for instance, the billions of tax dollars spent on inner-city issues that only seem to grow worse — such as low scores on school tests? Or how the high rate of absent fathers in African-American households prolongs the cycle of poverty? Can we be critical of these things under this “honest conversation” banner?

Can we talk about the absurdly high rate of teen pregnancy in African-American communities, or the equally ludicrous rates of crime among black males? Can we do it without just blaming “the system”? How about the achievement gap in schools that never seems to go away?

These are difficult conversations and painful conversations. I’m not sure President Barack Obama, Mayor Bill de Blasio, or the Bill and Hillary Clintons of the world, all of whom called for honest dialogue about race, really want to go there.

William F. B. O’Reilly is a Republican consultant.

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