The African-American community overwhelmingly votes for Democrats. This has become almost a political dogma during elections, especially with the current Democratic incumbent being black. Why does this happen?  It is because white Republicans are unwilling to have an open, honest discussion with African-Americans on race and racial issues. One of the criticisms of Mitt Romney’s speech at the last NAACP meeting was that he talked “at” the audience instead of “to” the audience. Well, I think it is time to have that open discussion. I am a white male from the South, but the past year has given me incredible insight into the black experience. To have an honest conversation, we should discuss the history of black people in America, current racial issues, and what should be done about those issues.

Two experiences have given me an insight into how African-Americans view themselves and the world around them. First, I became very good friends with a former Black Nationalist and Howard University graduate. Howard is the quintessential HBC (Historically Black College), and he has explained to me how black people, especially poor black people, see the world. Second, I have spent this summer tutoring two African-American children from Knoxville’s poorer side of town. Their stories and lives are particularly heartbreaking, especially because they moved to Tennessee because of Hurricane Katrina. So now it is time for that honest discussion about race.

Historically, America has been a racist society, and black people in particular have been disenfranchised. America’s founding sin of slavery has tainted the rest of its history, through the Civil War, Klu Klux Klan, Jim Crow Laws, and segregation. Because of black people’s historical disenfranchisement, they have been, on average, less educated and far less wealthy. Civil rights legislation and programs like affirmative action have tried to help, but there are still some fundamental problems. Despite this history, I would like to say that if African-Americans want to move forward, it is time to leave behind the victimhood mentality. White America has in the past tried to keep that community down, its time to stop letting the past define what it is. It is time to throw off the shackles of victimhood because it does not matter where you have been or where your ancestors were. It matters where you are going. Today’s America offers the chance to move forward, even if you are black.

This leads me to problems African-Americans are still facing today. There are a plethora of issues that African-Americans encounter. In this economy, black unemployment is a staggering 14.4%, while white unemployment is only 7.4%. According to the National Poverty Center, in 2010, 27.4% of black people lived in poverty, compared to 9.9% of whites. One of nine black men is in prison, and according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice, African-Americans made up over 40% of people in jail while only constituting about 13% of the general population. There is a serious racial problem in America today that is largely viewed through the lens of history. Commentators will often say that there is no hope for black Americans because white Americans are just too racist. Or that African-Americans are too disenfranchised to catch up unless given significant help. Neither of these statements is true.

We have established that historically black people were disenfranchised and that there are significant racial issues today. The solutions to these problems are not what our liberal counterparts say they are, though. The friend I mentioned earlier is a staunch Democrat, but I have no idea why. He is a capitalist, works in business, is pro-life and deeply religious. It makes little sense for him to support a president that does little to help businesses and goes against his religious values. But this is why it is important to have the conversation on how to fix the racial problems in America. These problems can be fixed through conservative, not liberal, solutions. Conservatives want to cut taxes and regulations so that it is easier to start a small business, which could greatly help people who are less well off. It is easier for established and wealthier people to start businesses under the current liberal structure of higher taxes and more regulation. Conservatives want to implement school choice so even poor, black students can go to the best schools free of charge. That way black students can be just as educated as their white counterparts. Conservatives believe in the equality of opportunity, and it is only conservative policies that can help turn the black community around.

I do not expect the majority of black people to agree with me. But what I am hoping for is an honest discussion on race, racial issues, and public policy between whites and blacks. Conservatives are not racist, but they shy away from racial issues because they are so sensitive. I hope this is a start to a long, productive conversation on the direction of America that includes black and white voices.

Treston Wheat | Georgetown University | @trestonwheat