CHICAGO -- Millions of well-meaning white Americans don't think of themselves as racist. They deplore racist jokes, racist comments, racist attitudes, racial inequality, racial discrimination and bigotry. They would genuinely welcome the color-blind society Martin Luther King dreamed of.
They are perplexed and distressed by the rising anger about racism in recent years, about racial divides that seem to be widening and turning more hostile even as more minorities are succeeding. They are bewildered when they are told by blacks )) that they don't understand, can never understand. Many are wary of even talking about the problems lest they be scorned as racists themselves.
Throwing more fuel on the racial fires is a provocative new book, "The End of Racism" by Dinesh D'Souza, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. It has been scathingly denounced or angrily ignored by many blacks and white liberals. Some of it can easily be twisted to
seem to support racist prejudices and to blame the victims instead of the sins of racist Western civilization.
But the issues Mr. D'Souza raises need to be objectively debated, however politically and personally painful. The book is far more hopeful than the analyses concerned about racial differences in intelligence or the intransigence of white hearts. Its conclusions might possibly help us toward ending the racism that stains America.
Mr. D'Souza exhaustively documents the history and current status of racism in America (there are 143 pages of references).
He blames the civil-rights establishment for the recent, sharp increase in charges of racism, despite clear evidence that racism has declined. Civil-rights activists and bureaucrats have "a vested interest in making exaggerated accusations of racism," he says. They are using promiscuous charges of bigotry "to cajole and intimidate whites into acquiescing in programs which financially and politically benefit the civil-rights establishment."
Mr. D'Souza says "many white liberals are so embarrassed by low levels of academic performance and high levels of criminal and anti-social behavior by blacks, that they are destroying liberal institutions such as free speech, race neutrality, the legal presumption of innocence and equal rights under the law in order to compel equal results for racial groups."
The chief problem blacks must cope with today, says the author, is not white racism. Neither is it genetic deficiency in intelligence as the book, "The Bell Curve" implied.
"Rather, it involves destructive and pathological cultural patterns behavior: excessive reliance on government, conspiratorial paranoia about racism, a resistance to academic achievement as 'acting white,' a celebration of the criminal and outlaw as authentically black and the normalization of illegitimacy and dependency."
These cultural behavior patterns did arise as a response to oppression, Mr. D'Souza says. "But they are now dysfunctional and must be modified."
The old racial discrimination has declined, the book says. But "black cultural pathology has contributed to a new form of discrimination: rational discrimination." An example he gives is taxi drivers who often won't pick up young black men, not because they are bigots but because they are frightened by the high crime rates of young black men -- however unfair this is to individuals.
Mr. D'Souza wants to separate race from culture, to acknowledge that all cultures are not equal, to work toward changing the aspects of black culture that are causing the problems of the black underclass and to stop using racism as an excuse for underclass social pathology.
We need to mend the "civilization breakdown" that crosses class lines but impacts the black underclass the hardest, he says. We should stop blaming every problem of blacks on white racism, address behavioral problems for what they really are, make individuals responsible for their own actions and try to change the aspects of black culture that contribute to underclass pathology.
Separation of race and state
He argues for separating race and state, as church and state are separated. The government should stop classifying citizens by race and be forbidden to make race-based decisions. We should stop trying to solve problems of racial inequality by lowering admissions standards, using preferential hiring and redrawing voting districts. He would limit affirmative action only to blacks and set a date to phase it out.
Liberals, he points out, overlook behavioral pathology in the black underclass and since African Americans cannot be held responsible for their actions, no one else can either. As a result, problems like illegitimacy and drug use become socially acceptable for everyone.
"The solution to the race problem is a public policy that is strictly indifferent to race," he insists. "The black problem can be solved only through a program of cultural reconstruction in which society plays a supporting role but which is carried out primarily by African Americans themselves."
Mistakes have been made, Mr. D'Souza acknowledges. Current antagonisms are high. But America can move toward a society in which race ceases to matter -- "the end of racism."
The book deserves, at least, an objective hearing.
Joan Beck is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.