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Jewish World Review July 16, 2001 / 25 Tamuz, 5761

Chris Matthews

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Consumer Reports

White blindness -- A NEW POLL shows most white people believe that blacks have it as good in this country as whites do.

I accept the accuracy of the survey released this week by the Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation and Harvard University.

It's the white people I don't believe.

Seventy-one percent of whites say they agree when told, "African Americans have more or about the same opportunities in life than whites have."

Only 20 percent agree when told, "There is a lot of discrimination against African Americans in our society today."

More than 4 in 10 whites believe that the typical black makes as much as or more than the typical white.

These answers remind me of scientific surveys showing that many black Americans believe O.J. Simpson was innocent of his wife's murder. In 1999, on the fifth anniversary of the deaths of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman, a Gallup poll found that 79 percent of whites thought O.J. was guilty, compared with only 35 percent of blacks.

In both cases, we have exhibitions of attitude masked as statements of fact.

Many whites do not want to admit racial discrimination for fear it will be used to justify affirmative action.

Many blacks did not want to admit O.J.'s guilt after a media circus, artfully choreographed by attorney Johnnie Cochran, that pitted an African American defendant against a white Los Angeles detective who used the n-word.

In both cases, the pollsters asked for a thoughtful assessment of the facts.

What they got and reported were hundreds of gut reactions to a highly charged, racially tinged question. In both cases, you can forget the dainty wording. What the person being polled heard was, "What side are you on?"

I often wonder how blacks would respond to the O.J. question if the poll were administered along with some sodium Pentothal. I now wonder the same about whites when asked about race.

Can a white American, with Harlem, Watts or any of this country's huge racial ghettos in mind, defend his or her claim that blacks have the same "opportunities"?

If not because of blatant discrimination, what does consign blacks to live in certain neighborhoods?

Because they know they are not wanted in nicer neighborhoods, and would rather not have their families put up with the hassle? Because real estate agents steer black buyers away from the better openings? Or because the black home buyer simply doesn't have the money to buy the better homes?

Whatever answer you choose involves a denial of equal opportunity.

Ever watch an NBA game and notice that the players are black but that nearly 100 percent of seats within a hundred feet of the court are filled with whites? Ever go anywhere and not see the whites in the better seats, the better houses, the better jobs?

It reminds us of the Groucho Marx line, "Are you going to believe me or your lying eyes?" Are we going to believe the portrait of race relations painted by the polls or the real world we see around us?

I believe many white people know there's discrimination in this country but refuse to admit it. I believe they refuse to admit it for the same reason blacks refuse to admit O.J. killed his wife: because it wouldn't look good.

JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of Hardball. and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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