The scourge is real, though our solutions could be more thoughtful.

Today: Racism in America 

BOB: President Obama used the N-word during a podcast taped in Los Angeles last week. It was not a slip of the tongue, but part of a powerful statement on race relations. The president said: "And it's not just a matter of it not being polite to say 'n----r' in public. That's not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. ... Societies don't overnight completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior." He is right.

CAL: But nobody says we can make it go away "overnight." During his 2008 campaign for president, Obama said, "We may have different stories, but we hold common hopes. ... We may not look the same ... but we all want to move in the same direction — towards a better future for our children." I agree.

BOB: The president made his latest comments after the murder of nine blacks in a historic black church in Charleston, S.C. The alleged shooter, Dylann Roof, is apparently an avowed racist. President Obama went on to talk about the ease of guns getting into the hands of a person such as Roof, but said the chance for real gun control legislation is highly unlikely given the influence the National Rifle Association has in Congress.

CAL: Roof had recently been arrested on drug and trespassing charges. There were many signs he was dangerous, including postings on his Facebook page and websites he visited. He should never have been allowed to buy that gun.

BOB: Are you saying that you'd agree to laws blocking a gun purchase based on racist Internet postings and pending misdemeanor charges?

CAL: No, not entirely, but examining one's background might be a requirement for people who have the beliefs Roof has. Perhaps an examination by a psychiatrist, or other physician, might have been helpful as part of a background check. We have such requirements for jobs in government, military specialties and other positions. We ought to make sure a person buying a gun is mentally fit.

BOB: The larger issue raised by the president was whether racism still exists in the United States. As you know, Cal, my family was deeply involved in the civil rights movement in the '60s and '70s. Racism was overt. Jim Crow laws stripped blacks of basic rights. Despite landmark civil rights laws, many public schools were still segregated, blacks still faced barriers to voting, and violence by white racists continued. Such open racism is mostly gone in America, but covert racism is alive and well.

CAL: One might as well try to obliterate original sin as to end racism. There are people who not only hate blacks, but also hate Jews, Catholics and immigrants. We need to stop focusing on what can't be solved so we can focus on how people can better overcome racism. Many have, and the news media should start telling their inspiring stories.

BOB: The problem is there seem to be more Charlestons and Fergusons grabbing attention than there are black students escaping the ghetto to become surgeons. Covert racism is a bigger problem for black Americans than you realize. When a black man is stopped by a cop for no apparent reason, that is covert racism. When a black woman shops in a fancy store and is followed by security guards, that is covert racism. It is more subtle than 1960s racism, but it is still racism.

CAL: I grew up in the all-white suburbs of segregated Washington, D.C. The only black person I knew was our maid. It was only when I played basketball that I began to know and socialize with African Americans. I was at the Rev. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963. He stirred my conscience and gave me a new understanding of the black experience.

BOB: I think King would say that much of what he dreamed about in 1963 has been realized in America. He would also say much more needs to be done. He would point to poverty in many of America's great cities. He would be shocked by the number of babies born out of wedlock. He would say to all who believe racism has been eradicated, "I have a dream that you would all wake up."

CAL: America is a generous and compassionate country. Most people want to help others who seek to improve their lives. Those who exploit the issue of race and seek to keep us divided for political gain are not helping to solve the problem. We need less talk and more doing; fewer characters and more character; more men getting and staying married and being fathers; better educational opportunities for black children dying intellectually in failed schools. The question is how best to overcome racism. Talking about it isn't working.

BOB: I salute South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Sen. Lindsey Graham for their calls to remove the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the Statehouse.

CAL: I agree. It is important for such offensive symbols to go. Good for those Republicans.