Philadelphia magazine created quite a controversy last month when it published a cover story by Bob Huber on white residents of that city and their views on race. The piece was brutally honest and jarring in some places. It produced several comments from white Philadelphians that were wrongheaded, a few that were outright bigoted, and many that were genuinely thought-provoking.
But the piece did something positive and noteworthy just by forcing white Americans to talk about and think about a subject they are painfully reluctant to confront.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter responded to the piece by requesting an investigation of the magazine by the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations. He could hardly do more harm to the First Amendment or to the cause of racial harmony.
Perhaps the cynics in America's political system are responsible for making race such a thorny topic. It's very easy, after all, to find political advantage in some politician's insensitive comments. But it is much harder to make people think seriously about racial issues that really affect people's lives. Take, for example, the disparate enforcement of gun control laws against young black men,; the astoundingly disproportionate share of black pregnancies that end in abortion, or the destruction of millions of black children's futures by policymakers who have resisted education reform.
These things matter more than even the worst bigot's nastiest comments, yet they receive far less attention.
If racial harmony were a question of political ideology, then uniformly liberal cities like Washington and Philadelphia would be models of race relations. They are not. Census data and recent citywide Democratic primary election results in D.C. show a tragic and stark physical and political self-segregation. This reflects a problem that transcends ideology and that is shared uniformly throughout both red and blue America.
One of the biggest problems with America's discussion of racial issues -- insofar as it occurs among people of goodwill -- is that whites don't care and won't participate constructively. White people view themselves as neither the perpetrators nor the victims of discrimination. Many of them -- too young to remember Jim Crow or to understand the pain associated with what President Obama has called the great flaw in America's founding -- wrongly conclude that they have no stake in the conversation at all.
Nutter and the other guardians of political correctness are only making this problem worse by pouncing on anyone, no matter how well-meaning, who tries to talk about the subject honestly. If the Nutters of the world have their way, whites will keep ignoring issues of race and discrimination -- and black people's concerns in general. This would be a great tragedy. And it is a great challenge for all who place the common good ahead of ideological aims.
In this Easter season, Jesus Christ's new commandment asks all people, and all Americans, to love one another unconditionally. All Americans are in this thing together. No government policy can force people to take this seriously. But each American can at least commit to being part of the solution.
David Freddoso (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the editorial page editor for The Washington Examiner. Follow him on Twitter at @freddoso.