Commentary: Is Arizona's immigration debacle a sign of things to come?

America's tombstone may read: The free press chose the profit and comfort of preaching to bigoted choirs over challenging the public with hard truths.

You can see our death in the controversy engulfing Arizona over its new immigration law. A 234-year-old nation of immigrants, the world's melting pot, has little understanding of what racism is and who is capable of acting in a bigoted manner.

Racism is not a quote or a slur uttered in disgust. Racism is imposing or supporting actions and laws that unfairly infringe upon the liberties of people who have a different skin color from you.

Each of us — regardless of skin color — is capable of acts of bigotry.

Somehow, a segment of society has been convinced that avoiding the public use of certain racial epithets and negative generalities about ethnic groups is all that is necessary to prove an absence of racial bias.

It's ridiculous. When black people in North Carolina used their political power to pressure a district attorney to wrongly persecute white Duke lacrosse players for a sexual assault that clearly did not occur, that was racism without a word being spoken. When white political activist James O'Keefe spliced together video footage to create the impression that minority ACORN workers assisted him in his bogus attempt to start a child-prostitution ring, that was racism.

And anyone equipped with a fifth-grade understanding of American and world history realizes that Arizona's solution to its illegal immigration problem is racism against brown people.

By demanding that overworked and overstressed police officers make "reasonable suspicion" decisions on who does and doesn't look like an illegal immigrant, Arizona is subjecting its Latino residents to a level of police harassment whites, blacks and Asians will not face.

Only the naive or disingenuous would deny this fact.

Naivete and disingenuousness power most of the misconceptions about racism, particularly the silly ideas that it is properly identified in word more than deed and that only white people are capable of holding and acting upon racist beliefs.

We're all guilty of harboring racial biases, and those of us in denial of that reality are most likely to act in an unfair manner.

Racism is a two-, three-, four- and even five-way street that too many Americans now ride comfortably. Rather than summon the energy, courage and intellect necessary to find and support fair solutions to difficult problems such as illegal immigration, we've drawn guns on one another and decided to wage a war of unfairness.

It's selfish. It's a glaring indication we care more about evening political scores than maintaining and improving our democracy. If not combated, these defensive, irrational instincts will lead to the demise of the most successful system of government in the last 200 years.

Popular left-wing comedian Bill Maher is fond of saying he doesn't believe all Republicans are racist, but that if someone is racist, he's more than likely a Republican. It's not true and it's a counterproductive barb — if Maher's intent is to lessen acts of bigotry — because it ignores the racism lurking on the Democratic side.

It is true many white conservatives (and their black puppets) love nothing more than to pretend the last example of white racism was the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. It is equally true that many white, black and brown liberals delight in pretending that dark-skinned Americans are incapable of bigotry.

These facades lead to the divisive discussions currently occurring in reaction to Arizona's unfair law. Conservatives feel justified in defending the policy because they feel liberals defend any and every unfairness endured by white people.

It's a failure of the left- and right-wing media. Both sides choose to exploit race rather than seek and promote understanding. None of the major political TV networks has the foresight, integrity and will to make its viewers uncomfortable. (And print publications aren't much better.) Preaching to bigoted choirs is easy and profitable.

We've reached a dangerous tipping point.

Barack Obama's ascension to the presidency created the myth of a post-racial America. The reality is, President Obama is a Hail Mary pass that was completed only because of George W. Bush's incompetence and Sarah Palin's folksy incoherence.

The culture and race wars continue unabated. Support of an ideology and skin color trump doing what is in the best interest of this country.

This must end. It is standing in the way of our collective progress. For at least two decades, our federal government has been rendered impotent in its ability to address significant problems by extremists' ability to turn every issue into a litmus test for ideological purity. Illegal immigration is far from a new problem. Arizona should not be tackling the issue alone. Given the endless domestic and international ramifications, it's a quandary best solved by our politicians in Washington.

They can't do it unless we muster the resolve to confront our individual biases and reject the political and media manipulators who bait us to give into our prejudices. Our future depends on it.