Duke, Deceit and Rehnquist

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Nancy Grace has no idea what happened in the Duke lacrosse sexual abuse case. Neither does Tucker Carlson. Ditto for Rush Limbaugh.

And neither do I. Nor does anyone else, save the lacrosse players or the strip…er, exotic dancer, though they appear to disagree. Was it rape? Did she lie? Was there another kind of assault? Is she looking for attention?

Don't know. Can't possibly know. Wish everyone -- from MSNBC's Joe Scarborough to CNN's Wolf Blitzer to District Attorney Mike Nifong -- would stop talking about it.

But conservatives emboldened by Duke case prosecutor Mike Nifong's apparent ethical lapses should not deny one aspect of the case that rings resoundingly true: There almost certainly were racial taunts that night. And those black Duke students who came forward afterward to talk about feeling uncomfortable on their overwhelmingly white, wealthy campus were certainly telling the truth too.

Honestly, I don't have a clue whether any of the three players charged in the case harbors a racist bone in their body. But after spending five years -- wonderful years, actually -- working in Charleston, S.C., I can tell you two things about race and deceit in the old South.

One, that racism is still very much alive, lurking where you don't expect it.

And two, nobody is ever honest about it.

Five years in Charleston, five quick examples.

While working as a reporter and anchor for the CBS affiliate in town, I went to have drinks with my girlfriend and a new friend from her work. It took about 27 minutes of innocuous conversation and then …BAM! She said it. Apparently, my girlfriend and I passed some secret John Birch Society test we didn't know we were taking. Out of nowhere, her new friend called a white politician (I've completely forgotten whom) a "N - - ger lover." Charming girl. That's one.

Number two came on a Sunday, riding in an SUV marked with the TV station's call letters. The cameraman and I pulled up next to a black family in another car with four very young children dressed in their Sunday best. Four-year-olds in suits are probably heading to church, I figured. Very cute. They waved enthusiastically at the news truck. I smiled and waved back. Then the cameraman said it, a word I hadn't heard before or since. "Niglets," he observed.

Ben Mankiewicz is host of "The Young Turks" on Air America Radio.

Here's three -- it involved middle-aged woman who worked for Charleston County. I was chatting with her, stalling before some council meeting about the growth of businesses on upper King Street, a predominantly black part of town. "They cross the street slower in front of white drivers, to slow us down," she said.

I swear I'm not making it up. She thought she'd uncovered a citywide, slow-walking black conspiracy.

Next, another TV station employee, during a conversation about women. I mentioned a black woman I thought was attractive. "How many black women have you been with?" he asked.

"Two," I said ( It's now three, by the way. That's progress).

"Aren't they dirty…down there?"

Finally, number five: An elected official. A smart, sexy woman with whom I was flirting. We were on a date driving through the overwhelmingly black neighborhood that leads to the bridge that takes you to an overwhelmingly white neighborhood. At probably 30 mph, she hit the "lock door" button on the car. "Blacktown," she explained, as if it were obvious.

The thing is, all of these people would deny any racial animosity. The guy who asked the "dirty" question, in truth, knew as soon as the words left his mouth that he was harboring a ridiculous racial stereotype he'd picked up 15 years earlier in fourth grade. But the others? No, they weren't racists. How dare I even suggest it? And to be fair, I hardly challenged any of them. That's my own shame.

But, of course, everybody lies about race. Even chief justices of the Supreme Court. In those 1,500 pages of FBI files released under a Freedom of Information request was a bureau report from 1971. The documents show that the FBI knew the deed to William Rehnquist's home in Phoenix required he sell it to whites only. Rehnquist claimed in his 1986 chief justice confirmation hearings he'd learned of it only days earlier.

So the FBI knew but Rehnquist didn't? Please. He was also unaware of the restrictive covenant on his property in Vermont. That land couldn't be sold to "members of the Hebrew race." Wow, two homes, two racist deeds. And one of the country's great legal minds didn't know about either. Quite a coincidence.

Ben Mankiewicz is host of "The Young Turks" on Air America Radio.

Rehnquist clearly lied. Unless you're David Duke, Matthew Hale or Hutton Gibson, we all lie about our racism.

And though it's impossible to know what happened in that house just off the Duke campus, this much is clearly true: Like much of the south and much of the country, Duke University and the city of Durham have a serious racial divide. And the resolution of this case won't solve it, no matter what Nancy Grace says.

Ben Mankiewicz is host of "The Young Turks" on Air America Radio.