Ah, the joys of public debate.
Last week, I devoted my column to the volatile subject of racial discrimination. Understandably, some people disagreed with my opinions on the matter. And predictably, an extreme minority of those people chose to take the low road: Instead of offering an intelligent rationale for their disagreement with my ideas, they resorted to name-calling. As a result, my column was denounced in several letters to The Daily Tar Heel as "racist," despite the fact that its entire (obvious) point was to highlight those realities that I believe are standing between us and the end of racial discrimination.
Accusations of racism are very serious business. So despite the absurdity of the few charges of racism that were leveled against this column last week, I feel it necessary to re-emphasize my feelings on the subject.
In last week's column, I noted that racial discrimination still exists in America - some of it due not to overt racism, but rather to rational fear.
For example, cab drivers in New York (many of them black) often refuse to pick up young black men. The drivers insist they are not racists; instead, they are merely afraid for their safety because of the high black crime rate.
I concluded that this sort of discrimination - based not on racist ideology but on a rational concern for one's own safety - cannot be effectively stopped with legislation and lectures against racism. Instead, I argued, we need to focus our energy toward eliminating the reasons that cabbies are afraid of young black men - by finding ways to reduce the black crime rate.
Despite this departure from the liberal "conventional wisdom" on discrimination, my entire column was written with the explicit assumption that racism and racial discrimination - of any sort - are immoral and unfair to law-abiding black Americans.
Thus, although I certainly expected some healthy debate over my ideas, I was genuinely mystified when critics leveled accusations of racism against my column. In my humble opinion, the backlash is indicative of a problem among certain groups at UNC: They are unable to recognize that some good people, with good intentions and good motivations, hold different opinions than they do.
However, for those who recognize that an unorthodox opinion is not always a surefire indicator of Nazism, I'd like now to offer a few thoughts about "rational discrimination."
To begin, it is not "racist" to acknowledge the facts. One of my critics suggested that it was "racism" for me to observe that there is a high crime rate in black communities. I disagree - in reality, it is our refusal to acknowledge such problems that is the biggest hindrance to racial harmony in the United States.
The current tendency to blame white racism for every instance of unfairness only prompts bitterness and apathy - especially when such accusations are not supported by the facts. Many whites with good intentions become insensitive to instances of genuine racism when the specter of racism is constantly (and inaccurately) invoked.
We must be absolutely honest about the facts, so that racism will be taken seriously by all Americans when it really does appear. That means facing the reality of some harsh statistics.
Black Americans make up about 12 percent of the U.S. population. At the same time, according to FBI statistics, blacks comprise 39 percent of those arrested for aggravated assault, 43 percent of those arrested for rape, 55 percent of those arrested for murder and 61 percent of those arrested for robbery. Even allowing for some racial bias in criminal arrests, these numbers are staggering.
When one considers that the vast majority of these violent crimes are committed by young men (women and the elderly rarely commit murder or rape), it becomes clear that cabbies in New York have a very legitimate statistical basis for fearing young urban black males.
Most of these taxi drivers are not discriminating based on racist assumptions of black biological inferiority, but because they have a grim understanding of the statistics. It will do us no good to pretend that these taxi drivers are vicious racists when in fact they are merely afraid for their safety.
For the record, I don't think that rational discrimination is moral or acceptable, and I believe that it is just as horribly unfair to the vast majority of black Americans (who are absolutely law-abiding) as discrimination based on racist ideology. This is why we should work together to end it.
But while legislation and denunciation are relatively effective in combatting discrimination based on old-style racist ignorance, they are much less effective in stopping discrimination based on rational fear.
No matter how many laws we pass, people will continue to act to protect themselves when they feel threatened. Thus, the way to stop rational discrimination against black Americans is - quite simply - to lower the black crime rate. Improved education, stronger families and decreased violence in entertainment are all important aspects of this process.
Right now, honesty is needed perhaps more than any other virtue in the effort to bridge the racial gap.
That means acknowledging that racism is still a serious problem in America.
It also means recognizing that racism is not responsible for every case of hardship faced by American minorities.
Most importantly, it means being willing to listen to ideas about the racial gap that differ from our own - without trying to brand those who disagree with us as racists.
For my part, I intend to practice what I preach.
You know where to reach me.
Craig Warner highly recommends the new U2 album. Reach him with any questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.