It being a free country and all, no one has to have a "conversation" he doesn't want to have, a fact that explains our longstanding non-conversation on race: the one we're going to continue not having, never mind the pundits and Barack Obama.
A conversation has at least two participants. That's one more than most American liberals desire. A liberal, black or white, doesn't by and large want an exchange of viewpoints on racial questions of consequence. What he wants is a microphone and an audience -- preferably white, but he'll take what he can get. This audience he proposes to instruct as to the collective iniquity of white America in its dealings with non-white America. That isn't all he wants. He wants utter silence from the audience. No back talk.
You couldn't characterize a one-sided lecture as "conversation," and yet it's pretty much what we get every time the matter of race intrudes itself into public affairs. The habit was born in the 1960s, when so many of our present, er, moral leaders came into political consciousness. It was never the way of the counterculture to accept contradiction. America was wrong about almost everything, and if you didn't agree, all that showed was your ignorance; not to mention, your racism.
Demagogues like Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright are hard to take, but easily a harder job are those enlightened whites (they'll happily identify themselves as such) who see all racial questions as matter for flagellation of the supposedly less enlightened.
Put the ordinary white and the ordinary black together in real, not just pretend, situations -- the workplace, for instance -- and nine times out of 10 you find they care about the same things: family, sports, job, animals. God, too. No such occasion automatically produces instant brotherhood. On the other hand, simple tolerance isn't such a bad outcome to cross-racial encounters. Can't we all just get along here? Yes. Maybe. Provided we keep the ideologues, the worst of whom are white, not black, from turning all bi-racial encounters into mass scoldings.
As if! I don't think I've encountered a truly bigoted white in 20 years. On the other hand, the universities and the media -- two overwhelmingly white institutions -- keep the attacks on bigotry flowing liberally, you might say.
I was watching only the other day an independent film (you know, like Al Gore?) on bias in higher education, and, lo, a bearded academic had the gall to inform us that "whiteness" is "an oppressive social category." I think they used to call this condition "institutional racism." You were a racist by mere participation in the life of an institution traditionally dominated by the white folks. See how easy to qualify! You didn't have to wear a bedsheet to earn the stigma once reserved for plantation overseers or Confederate privates.
Alas, the parties making such accusations never made known justify their intellectual premises. Mere assertion does the job. The white man, especially the Southern white man, gets no credit for honorable performance, or, for that mattter, civilized emotion. Witness Duke University and the Great Lacrosse Charade -- the mendacious prosecution of three college students for alleged gang rape on the say-so of a black stripper whose "plight" inspired 88 faculty members, in a newspaper ad, to cry out against the Duke campus' "racism" and "sexism."
It's trendy, in other words, to advertise your own repudation of white "advantage" by attacking the advantaged whenever the chance presents itself.
So no conversation about race. Not until the great majority of those who learned their politics in the '60s are tucked away six feet under. Maybe not even then, such is the tenacity of their example. White America cast off segregation (and good riddance). It opened doors all over our national home to those previously denied admission. It now looks not unkindly on the presidential candidacy of a man of mixed race. Pretty good work for a bunch of institutional racists, mightn't we want to acknowledge?