THE DOUBLE STANDARD is alive and well among America's opinion elites. Imagine that David Duke had organized a white man's march on Washington. Would the powers-that-be have declared that while David Duke himself was objectionable, the message of the rally was "lofty," to use President Clinton's phrase?
No way. Every person who showed up in response to Mr. Duke's call would have been tainted as a racist or a tolerator of racists.
But most whites in America still patronize blacks by declining to apply to them the standards they apply to themselves. The reasoning seems to be a variant of the self-esteem nonsense pushed in public schools: "Those people so badly need to feel good about themselves that we'll just ignore the ugly, racist, paranoid and mendacious leader who brought the march to fruition."
All Americans of goodwill should be appalled at the widening chasm between the races. Reconciliation is devoutly to be wished for. But it cannot be based on anything but honesty. A solid two-thirds of what Louis Farrakhan preaches is false and breathtakingly grotesque -- that Jews were disproportionately represented in the slave trade, that whites are involved in a conspiracy to keep blacks hooked on drugs and alcohol, that AIDS is part of a white plan to annihilate the black race.
Though condemning Mr. Farrakhan personally, whites are often at pains to point out that his popularity stems from his positive, self-help message. How do they know? Belief in the conspiracy to keep blacks hooked on drugs and alcohol is widespread in the black community. And not just among the uneducated.
A couple of weeks ago, a Weekend Edition program on National Public Radio aired a discussion of racism among three black professors at Howard University. They spoke of a burning anger at white people that they had to struggle to keep under control.
What is the source of this anger? The daily racism they must endure in this society. Examples? A white woman was taken ill in a department store. A black male professor offered assistance. It was refused. His conclusion -- that racial animosity was the only possible reason to decline his help.
But countless other interpretations are possible. Perhaps the woman was suffering from something she would be embarrassed to have a man know about. Perhaps she knew a paramedic was on the way.
If most blacks grow up believing that beneath the surface, all whites are Mark Fuhrmans, they are being paranoid. And when they respond with racial hatred of their own, they are perpetuating a cycle of distrust and animosity that can have no end.
To believe in a white conspiracy to keep blacks down means ignoring the 30-year effort to offer jobs, scholarships and other opportunities to blacks. It means blinding oneself to the sincere and thoroughgoing efforts among most whites to rid themselves of racial prejudice. If this is a conspiracy, show me kindness.
Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.