FARGO-Talking about race is not race-baiting.
Explaining why people of color might not feel as comfortable as white people around police officers is not race-baiting.
Giving statistics about arrest rates or incarceration rates among minorities is not race-baiting.
Suggesting race plays a role in the treatment of some Americans is not race-baiting.
Acknowledging the existence of racism is not race-baiting.
We have a problem in this country. We don't like to talk about race. And when somebody tries to broach the subject, to have a conversation about what is really happening, they get accused of race-baiting, of stirring up minorities about what's happening in America.
The President of the United States would be Exhibit A when it comes to getting accused of race-baiting.
A goodly number of Americans see President Obama as a black president as opposed to the president. Some perhaps view him as president of the blacks. We say this with confidence because there are clearly many people who believe Obama was elected only because he's black and only because "those people" who voted for him wanted handouts or welfare.
It matters not that Obama collected about 70 million votes in 2008 and another 65 million in 2012, a solid majority of voting Americans in both cases. His presidency is viewed through a racial lens.
So when Obama stands behind a microphone after two recent incidents in which police officers killed black men and says he wants to "put into context why emotions are so raw around these issues," you might think this is a good thing. The president was trying to explain the fears and concerns of African-Americans and Hispanics, a major (and growing) portion of the U.S. population. You know, citizens.
You'd be wrong if you thought everyone received Obama's words in the spirit he intended.
"When incidents like this occur," Obama said, "there's a big chunk of our fellow citizenry that feels as if, because of the color of their skin, they are not being treated the same."
A fair and factual statement. Explanatory, not inflammatory.
Yet when, several hours after Obama's remarks, a single deranged gunman tragically murdered five Dallas policemen and wounded nine others, the president was coming under fire for stoking the killer.
A common theme on social media was: "This is Obama's fault. He has blood on his hands."
A former U.S. Congressman from Illinois, now a talk-radio host, tweeted, "Obama stoked the flame."
A current Texas lawmaker accused the president and other leaders of "constant instigation" that led to the Dallas attack.
The usual suspects on right-wing radio put the blame for Dallas squarely on the president's shoulders.
The theory seems to be that if Obama didn't talk about black men being shot by police, whatever the cause, then it wouldn't be an issue and we could all go on our merry way. That somehow, Obama addressing an issue important to a large number of his constituents is inciting violence against police officers.
It is balderdash, of course. Obama talking about race and racism no more emboldens bad people to do horrific things than if he was talking about anything else. Placing the blame on the president is either purely political or racist. Or both.
But that's where we are when it comes to race relations. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. If we just ignore it, maybe it doesn't exist. Nothing to see here.
There's plenty to see. It's questionable whether America is much better off today than we were in the 1960s at the height of the civil rights movement. Perhaps the difference is that back then the racism was much more overt. Today it is much more couched. But it's there, even right here in River City.
Here's the text of an e-mail sent to my 970 WDAY radio show last week, in response to a column I wrote about the shooting death in the Twin Cities of Philando Castile:
"Your argument that if he was white he would be alive today is correct. The reason ... whites and every other race takes advantage of education and more importantly responsibility for their actions. Stop the entitlements and demand responsibility."
That's one man, writing one e-mail in Fargo-Moorhead. He's not alone in his beliefs. Yet Obama is the one we need to worry about because he's talking about race?
No. The president is not race-baiting. He is not instigating. He is not emboldening. Obama is acknowledging reality. Racism exists. Minorities sometimes feel singled out.
It's OK to talk about it, America, even if makes us a little squirmy. It might even help solve our problem.