Racial disparity plagues us still

Can we talk about race?

No need to in Kentucky.

As U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles, recently said, "We've moved past all that, and we're in a better place now."

Chandler was explaining why his campaign isn't making an issue of his Republican challenger Andy Barr's membership in a historically segregated country club in Lexington.

As for Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul's objections to the Civil Rights Act's interference with racial discrimination by private businesses, well, that's purely academic.

"He just needs to not take hypothetical questions," Kentucky Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, explained at the time.

And yet there's nothing hypothetical or academic about the discrimination that black Kentuckians experience in their personal lives and on systemic levels as a result of historic inequities and bias.

It may be easy, as staff writer John Cheves reported Sunday, for politicians to ignore issues of racial equality in a state where fewer than 1 in 10 residents is an African-American and no black candidate has ever been elected to statewide office.

But this state can't afford to waste the potential of any Kentuckian. And a society and economy poisoned by broad inequality will be weaker and poorer.

Whether white politicians want to talk about it or not, it matters that black Kentuckians are poorer, sicker and less educated than their white counterparts.

According to the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, the poverty rate among blacks is double that of whites. About two in three white Kentuckians own their own home compared to fewer than half of black Kentuckians.

In the Louisville area, blacks die from stroke 66 percent more often than do whites, 29 percent more often from heart disease and 25 percent more often from cancer.

The state human rights commission received 125 racial discrimination complaints regarding employment, housing and public accommodations in 2008, including one from a black repairman who was sent by his employer to fix the television at an American Legion post in Franklin but was barred from entering because of his race.

It would be nice to think that we've put "all that" behind us.

The truth is, Kentucky has a long way to go to build a more just and equitable society. Many of the factors that impoverish black Kentuckians also impoverish white Kentuckians.

If we're ever to get to justice and equality, we at least have to talk about it.