What excuses will they make this time?
Meaning that cadre of letters-to-the-editor writers and conservative pundits who so reliably say such stupid things whenever the subject is race. Indeed, race is the third rail of American conscience; to touch it is to be zapped by rationalizations, justifications and lies that defy reason, but that some must embrace to preserve for themselves the fiction of liberty and justice for all. Otherwise, they'd have to face the fact that advantage and disadvantage, health and sickness, wealth and poverty, life and death, are still parceled out according to melanin content of skin.
So they become creative in their evasions.
They use made-up facts (Trayvon Martin was actually casing the neighborhood) and invented statistics (black men and boys commit 97.2 percent of all the crime in America), they murder messengers ("You're a racist for pointing out racism!") they discredit the source (Can you really trust a government study?).
One waits, then, with morbid fascination to see what excuse those folks will make as federal data released last week reveal that African-American children are significantly more likely to be suspended — from preschool. Repeating for emphasis: preschool, that phase of education where the curriculum encompasses colors, shapes, finger painting and counting to 10. Apparently, our capacity for bias extends even there. According to the Department of Education, while black kids make up about 18 percent of those attending preschool, they account for 42 percent of those who are suspended once — and nearly half of those suspended more than once.
Armed with that information, there are many questions we should be asking:
Are black kids being suspended for things that would earn another child a timeout or a talking to?
If racial bias pervades even the way we treat our youngest citizens, how can anyone still say it has no impact upon the way we treat them when they are older?
What does being identified as "bad" at such an early age do to a child's sense of himself, his worth and his capabilities?
Does being thus identified so young play out later in life in terms of higher dropout rates and lower test scores?
How can we fix this, build a society in which every one of our children is encouraged to stretch for the outermost limits of his or her potential?
Those are the kinds of smart, compassionate questions we should ask. But again, we're talking about the third rail of American conscience. So one braces for dumb excuses instead.
Maybe someone will claim African-American preschoolers are 73.9 percent more likely to fail naptime.
Maybe someone will contend that they thuggishly refuse to color inside the lines.
And you may rest assured someone will say that for us even to have the discussion proves hatred of white people.
What a long, strange road we have traveled from the high land of idealism and hope to which the human rights movement brought us 50 years ago, down to the swampy lowland of justification and circumscribed horizons we find ourselves slogging through now. It is noteworthy that this story of institutional bias against children barely out of diapers scarcely skimmed — much less penetrated — an American consciousness presently preoccupied by basketball brackets and the mystery of a doomed jetliner.
Small wonder. Those things ask very little of us, other than a love for sport and a capacity to feel bad for other people's misfortune. This, on the other hand, cuts to the heart of who we are.
Last week we learned that their schools routinely bend little black boys and girls toward failure. And the people who make excuses should just save their breath.
There are none.
(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)