Last Thursday, Jim Lehrer hosted PBS' "A Dialogue on Race" with President Clinton and eight panelists. There is no evidence that more talking about race, the way we have been, will produce solutions. There must be honest talk and sensible steps taken.

First, all Americans should applaud the fact that the civil-rights struggle is over and won! At one time, black Americans didn't enjoy the constitutional protections that white Americans had. There were laws that restricted where blacks could live and attend school, who they could marry and what rest-rooms could be used, as well as other forms of discrimination. That's all history now.The fact that we have constitutional protections and there's no more codified discrimination does not mean all vestiges of discrimination have been eliminated, however. What it does mean is the discrimination present today poses nowhere near the barrier it presented yesteryear.

During the president's dialogue, the issue of racial preferences arose. Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page said, in reference to panelist Elaine Chao's complaint about quotas against Chinese in a San Francisco charter school, "If you want diversity in San Francisco schools, if you want that virtue of having your kids exposed to other kids of different races and backgrounds, then you've got to be willing to say we got to put a ceiling on some people."

Had the conversation been about diversity in the NBA, whose roster is 80 percent black, I wonder what kind of ceiling on blacks Page would have proposed to have more Chinese, Japanese and Indian players. Neither the president nor any panelist had the gumption and moral fortitude to say that creating an advantage for one American by punishing another is immoral and flies in the face of decency and democratic prin-ciples.

There's a much deeper problem in matters of race. Blacks are treated as victims in need of salvation by whites. What's worse is that blacks believe it. That's demeaning and destructive to both blacks and whites. Moreover, it insults our history.

Why? Blacks came to this country under horrible conditions and survived. Even under slavery's oppression, some blacks gained significant skills and some managed to become entrepreneurs by stealth. Being 10 percent of the population, we have produced great thinkers, orators and lawyers who have shaken the nation's moral foundations and made the other 90 percent see the betrayal of their principles.

No one denies that weighty problems confront a large segment of the black population. But those problems have little to do with discrimination.

There's no evidence that businesses don't locate in black neighborhoods because white owners and investors don't like dollars coming out of black hands. There's plenty of evidence that black criminals make economic activity in black communities unattractive. There's no evidence that discrimination accounts for today's unprecedented, devastating il-le-git-i-macy, family breakdown and dependency rates. There's plenty of evidence that irresponsible personal choices do.

The major problems that stand in the way of broader advancement will be solved only when blacks finally recognize that our destinies lie in our hands and only we can solve what are essentially black problems - not Washington, politicians and the intellectual elite.

Creators Syndicate Inc.