We Americans are a nation divided.
We feud about the fires in Ferguson, Missouri, and we can agree only that racial divisions remain raw. So let's borrow a page from South Africa and impanel a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to examine race in America.
The model should be the 9/11 commission or the Warren Commission on President John F. Kennedy's assassination, and it should hold televised hearings and issue a report to help us understand ourselves. Perhaps it could be led by the likes of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and Oprah Winfrey.
We as a nation need to grapple with race because the evidence is overwhelming that racial bias remains deeply embedded in American life. Two economists, Joseph Price and Justin Wolfers, found that white NBA referees disproportionally call fouls on black players, while black refs call more fouls on white players. "These biases are sufficiently large that they affect the outcome of an appreciable number of games," Price and Wolfers wrote.
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If such racial bias exists among professional referees monitored by huge television audiences, imagine what unfolds when an employer privately weighs whom to hire, or a principal decides whether to expel a disruptive student, or a policeman considers whether to pull over a driver.
This "When Whites Just Don't Get It" series is a call for soul-searching. It's very easy for whites to miss problems that aren't our own; that's a function not of being white but of being human. Three-quarters of whites have only white friends, according to one study, so we are often clueless.
What we whites notice is blacks who have "made it" - including President Barack Obama - so we focus on progress and are oblivious to the daily humiliations that African-Americans endure when treated as second-class citizens.
"In the jewelry store, they lock the case when I walk in," a 23-year-old black man wrote in May 1992. "In the shoe store, they help the white man who walks in after me. In the shopping mall, they follow me."
He described an incident when he was stopped by six police officers who detained him, with guns at the ready, and treated him for 30 minutes as a dangerous suspect.
That young man was future Sen. Cory Booker, who had been a senior class president at Stanford University and was a newly selected Rhodes Scholar. Yet our law enforcement system reduced him to a stereotype - so young Booker sat trembling and praying that he wouldn't be shot by the police.
My sense is that part of the problem is well-meaning Americans who disapprove of racism yet inadvertently help perpetuate it. We aren't racists, yet we buttress a system that acts in racist ways. It's "racism without racists," in the words of Eduardo Bonillo-Silva, a Duke University sociologist.
This occurs partly because of deeply embedded stereotypes that trick us, even when we want to be fair. Researchers once showed people sketches of a white man with a knife confronting an unarmed black man in the subway. In one version of the experiment, 59 percent of research subjects later reported that it had been the black man who held the knife.
I don't know what unfolded in Ferguson between Michael Brown, a black teenager, and Darren Wilson, a white police officer. But there is a pattern: a ProPublica investigation found that young black men are shot dead by police at 21 times the rate of young white men.
If you're white, your interactions with police are more likely to have been professional and respectful, leaving you trustful. If you're black, your encounters with cops may leave you dubious and distrustful. That's why a Huffington Post/YouGov poll found that 64 percent of African-Americans believe that Wilson should be punished, while only 22 percent of whites think so.
That's the gulf that an American Truth and Reconciliation Commission might help bridge just a little. In 1922, a Chicago Commission on Race Relations (composed of six whites and six blacks) examined the Chicago race riots of 1919. More recently, Clinton used an executive order to impanel an advisory board on race that focused on how to nurture "one America."
A new commission could jump-start an overdue national conversation and also recommend evidence-based solutions to boost educational outcomes, improve family cohesion and connect people to jobs.
White Americans may protest that our racial problems are not like South Africa's. No, but the United States incarcerates a higher proportion of blacks than apartheid South Africa did. In America, the black-white wealth gap today is greater than it was in South Africa in 1970 at the peak of apartheid.
Most troubling, America's racial wealth gap, pay gap and college education gap have all widened in the last four decades.