There are many wackos that call in to C-SPAN's Washington Journal, but every once in a while we get a real gem.
On August 18th, a caller who identified as Gary from North Carolina, called in to talk with Demos' Heather McGee and it was astonishing.
I was hoping your guest could help me change my mind about some things. I’m a white male, and I am prejudiced. And the reason it is is something I wasn’t taught but it’s kind of something that I learned. When I open up the papers, I get very discouraged at what young black males are doing to each other, and the crime rate. I understand that they live in an environment with a lot of drugs — you have to get money for drugs — and it is a deep issue that goes beyond that. But when, I have these different fears, and I don’t want my fears to come true. You know, so I try to avoid that, and I come off as being prejudiced, but I just have fears. I don’t like to be forced to like people. I like to be led to like people through example. What can I do to change? You know, to be a better American?
I was floored. He wasn't angry or unhinged, but appeared really looking for some real advice on a very difficult issue.
Heather calmly replied, “Thank you so much for being honest and for opening up this conversation because it is simply one of the most important ones we have to have in this country.”
She continued, "We are not a country that is united because we are all one racial group that all dissented from one tribe in one community. That is what makes this country beautiful, but it is our challenge.
We have the most multiracial, multi-ethnic, wealthy democracy in the world. asking the question you asked, how do i get over my fears and my prejudices, is the question that all of us, people of all races and ethnicities and backgrounds hold onto these prejudices. most are unconscious."
And then she gave him some advice
"Join a church if you are a religious person that is a black church or a church that is interracial. Start to read about the history of the African-American community in this country. Foster conversation in your family and your neighborhood where you are asking those kinds of questions. This fear of communities that we do not live near, we are still a very, very segregated country.
Millions of white Americans live in places where they rarely see anyone of a different race.This fear -- this set of ideas from the worst possible news is tearing us apart. We know in order to be, our name means the people of the nation, in order to be united across lines of race and class and gender and age we have to foster relationships, we have to get to know one another. We are always as Americans, surprised when we build relationships across that..."
Way to go, Heather. I'm sure she's spent many hours talking about this issue, but to speak so eloquently on a topic such as this was magnificent.
She told the Washington Post in a great interview this:
He specifically was coming to me saying, “I get my news about black people from the media, and I’m scared to go into black neighborhoods.” It was clear to me he didn’t know a lot of black people, so for him absolutely, first things first, build relationships. It’s also important to note, I said, read the history. The interpersonal is important, but people can have black friends and colleagues and still hold prejudiced ideas and support policies and economic and political systems that harm people of color. For him, it felt like it was a cry for help to know the humanity of black people.