There are some things a white person just can't say.
When I ask for a paper bag at the local grocery store and the black clerk says, "Honey, we don't have paper bags here -- this is the ghetto!" ... well, there's no safe way to respond.
I can't say, "Hey, I live here, too," because that might indicate I think the mere presence of white people means it's not a ghetto. (It's not, but that's another column.)
When she stops ringing up my purchases to watch a security guard run outside to confront a shoplifter and she hollers, "Get her!" I can't echo that sentiment -- because the security guard is white and the shoplifter is black. Only the black clerk can choose a side.
Of course I'm rooting for law-and-order and for grocery prices not rising due to crime, but I don't chime in because I don't wish to be misunderstood.
There are some things a white person cannot say, and there are moments when a white person of good will won't say anything at all.
That's my private policy, but for us as a nation, the time for hanging back and biting our tongues has come and gone. It won't work any more.
After Trayvon Martin, Christopher Lane and Delbert Belton, it won't work. After Paula Deen and Hadiya Pendleton, it won't work.
We all know -- or think we know -- the Trayvon Martin story. Christopher Lane is the Australian athlete gunned down in Oklahoma by a black teen in a car driven by a white friend. Delbert Belton is the white World War II vet beaten to death by two black teens in Spokane, Wash.
Hadiya Pendleton is the black 15-year-old girl murdered by young black men in Chicago days after she sang at President Obama's second inauguration. The fact that we all know about Paula Deen but not as many know Hadiya's story says a lot about America's distorted racial dialogue.
Barack Obama's presidency was supposed to be the catharsis that would usher us all -- white, black, whatever -- into a post-racial era. Even many who opposed his clearly leftist ideology nonetheless hoped that the election of a black president would bring about an era of increased racial harmony.
It has been anything but. With the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s history-changing "I Have a Dream" speech just days away, the inevitable polls on race relations have been conducted and released. The results are not encouraging.
Both Pew Report and Washington Post polls show that we are significantly more pessimistic about racial equality and race relations than we were five years ago. If you follow the news, though, you didn't need a poll to figure this out.
Racially charged incidents litter the national landscape, and their frequency is escalating.
Whether media coverage merely reflects our attitudes or distorts and polarizes, it requires intentionality to disrupt the news cycle and its effects.
That means actively disavowing the race-baiters, black and white. It's not that difficult to pick them out: Listen for high but selective dudgeon.
And we have to push back against professional protesters. A poster on an abandoned house in my neighborhood reads, "White supremacy acquitted Zimmerman." No, a lack of evidence acquitted George Zimmerman. I recognize the poster from the demonstration at the Pittsburgh mayor's office, where more than half the protesters were young whites who apparently hadn't bathed since they left their "Occupy Wall Street/Mellon Green" encampment.
Their activism is futile. Our problems don't need to be pointed out and inflamed; they need to be honestly addressed. Who will lead the way?
The only leaders -- black or white -- rewarded by the vast majority of black voters over the past 50 years are self-described "liberals." They are not liberals; they're socialists. America has tried their ever more centralized government, and it doesn't work.
This effort has reached new heights under President Obama's leadership, and it's a resounding failure. Is it a coincidence that the racial rhetoric has simultaneously reached ugly new lows?
It's time to try a different approach. It's time to try liberty.
White conservatives who tout this path get slandered as racists. Much braver are the black conservatives subjected, like Clarence Thomas, to "high-tech lynchings." Even politically moderate but traditional-minded blacks like Bill Cosby are eviscerated for making no-nonsense, bracing points.
If there are some things a white person cannot say, I will say this: It's time for the black community to listen to -- and promote -- its moderates and conservatives.
It's time for blacks to be judged not by the color of their skin, and not just by the content of their character, but by the quality of their ideas.
Ruth Ann Dailey: email@example.com.