Racial politics can be a brutal and dirty business - especially during election season. For years, conniving and opportunistic politicians have gained power by using racial scare tactics to divide whites from blacks.
For example: Two years ago, Democrats ran targeted television advertisements in black neighborhoods. The ads instructed black voters that Republican victory in national elections would result in "church burnings and lynchings." This assertion was offensive and ridiculous - but the ads worked.
Such ploys are successful because clever politicians can recognize and exploit the gap in understanding between black and white Americans. Quite simply, most whites and blacks do not see eye-to-eye on the facts of racism and race in America - and our misunderstandings allow opportunistic politicians to use us to their own benefit.
To stop the political exploitation of the race issue, we need to look again at our basic assumptions about racism in America. Much of the conventional wisdom on the subject is either outdated or plainly false. A new common understanding is needed - and it should start with the recognition of two simple realities.
1) Racism continues to exist in America - but it is a much less common and less powerful evil than it has been in past years.
Every few weeks in Chapel Hill, someone rants about how American racism is "stronger than ever before."
In the 21st century, such a statement is akin to saying that the threat of Soviet invasion is "stronger than ever before."
In the 1940s, more than half of all whites said that blacks were less intelligent than whites, while more than 60 percent favored segregated schools and transportation.
Today, more than 75 percent of whites assert that whites and blacks are equal in intellectual ability, and virtually 100 percent of whites say that blacks and whites should compete equally for jobs.
Racism is essentially the belief that genetic characteristics like skin color determine the intelligence and worth of individual human beings.
This philosophy is not yet dead in America, and we need to remember that racists occasionally do still cause trouble for blacks.
But racism has declined greatly. It was once the dominant belief in the educated world. And today it is universally deplored and decried.
2) Rational discrimination is not the same as racism.
Much has been made of the tendency of city taxi-cab drivers to bypass young black men in favor of other passengers. Assuming racism as a motive for such pass-overs, some cities have levied heavy penalties on drivers who refuse to pick up young black men.
However, there are several problems with the "racism explanation" for taxi-cab pass-overs. For one thing, most taxi drivers are not white. A large percentage are actually black immigrants.
In his book "The End of Racism," Dinesh D'Souza describes his conversation with a black African student in New York City who was driving taxis to put himself through school:
"This racism stuff is all bullshit. I'm not going to pass up a fare, which is money in my pocket. But I don't want to get robbed. You know what the black crime rate is in New York? Do you want me to risk a gun to my head, man? What's wrong with you?"
An older black taxi driver put things more simply: "I'd rather be fined (for passing up young black men) than have my wife a widow."
When a black taxi driver in a city passes over a black man, he is not doing so out of racism. He is simply afraid. He knows that the crime rate among black men is stratospheric - and he is afraid. The same is true for white cab drivers.
In this case, then, cries of racism are misplaced. It is deeply unfair when law-abiding blacks are passed over by cabs, but the driver is not acting out of racism. It is not that he thinks blacks are inherently inferior. He is simply reacting rationally to a very real problem: the extremely high crime rate among young black men in the United States.
Political rallies and expressions of outrage will never solve taxi-style rational discrimination in America. Rational discrimination will persist as long as black communities have extremely high rates of crime, illegitimacy and drug abuse. It is simply impossible for self-concerned individuals (like taxi drivers) to ignore these harsh realities.
Change must come from within. Black Americans are right to be outraged when they are passed over by cab drivers - but their outrage should not be directed at the drivers (who are not acting out of racism.) Instead, our collective outrage must be redirected against the root causes of rational discrimination in American society.
Blacks and whites must become outraged that black criminals are perpetuating an ethnic stereotype that hurts law-abiding black citizens.
We must become outraged that our education system is failing black students in our inner cities - and that those who benefit politically from the continued suffering of black Americans are entrenched against education reform.
And we must rage against the paralyzing drug trade in black communities.
Rallies and speeches against racism will not solve these problems. Those of us who truly desire a colorblind society must begin to honestly address the real reasons that black men in New York City can't get a cab - instead of accusing scared immigrants of racism.
Craig Warner will proudly cast his ballot today for George W. Bush. He encourages reasonable students to do the same. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.