A frank discussion about race and prejudice between a white man and an African-American woman (video below) has become a viral sensation.
On August 21, an anonymous North Carolina man called into C-SPAN’s Washington Journal program to admit his prejudice to guest Heather McGhee, the president of public policy organization Demos, The Hill reports.
“I’m a white male, and I am prejudiced,” the caller said. “And the reason it is is something I wasn’t taught, but it’s kind of something that I learned.”
The caller said that he is constantly being given a negative impression of black Americans in the news. He explained “I get very discouraged at what young black males are doing to each other and the crime rate.”
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The North Carolina man added that he understood that he understood that many African-Americans live in disadvantaged communities, “But when, I have these different fears, and I don’t want my fears to come true… I don’t like to be forced to like people.”
The caller’s voice became audibly emotional as he asked McGhee “What can I do to change? You know, to be a better American?”
McGhee, visibly moved by the call, took a deep breath before answering. She thanked the caller for his honesty.
“It is simply one of the most important conversations we have to have in this country,” McGhee said. She described his ability to admit racial prejudice as “one of the most powerful things that we can do right now in this moment in our history.”
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McGhee suggested that the caller get to know black families in his community, telling him that it is easy to form a negative perception of African Americans when your only exposure to them comes from the nightly news. She also urged him to join a black church if he is religious and to read about African-American history.
Data suggests that white Americans unconsciously perceive African Americans with distrust. A 2014 study conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that white male police officers were more ready to believe that black children as young as 10-years-old accused of wrongdoing were guilty, as opposed to their white peers.
“Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection,” said the study’s author, Professor Phillip Atiba Goff of the University of California.
“Our research found that blacks boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent,” Goff concluded.
In 2015, a study conducted by the University of Houston found that local news stations disproportionately covered crimes committed by blacks, giving an exaggerated view of the African American crime rate. Their findings also found that this media coverage had a profound impact on viewers, according to Vox.
“Viewers who watched more local television news demonstrated more unconscious negative attitudes towards African-Americans,” said the study’s main researcher, Professor Temple Northup.
On August 24, McGhee told The Washington Post that she was thankful to hear a white man being open to discussing race.
“I grew up, I was born in 1980, I was born after the voices of the civil rights movement had faded, we were supposed to be color blind, and racism was supposed to be over,” McGhee said. “So many people of color are desperate just to have the conversation.”
The Demos president attributed the viral success of the video to her belief that Americans are hungry for a conversation about race that is not dominated by mean-spiritedness.
“White people want to choose a side; they want to be on the right side of history…" McGhee said. "So when he made that admission, I think it resonated because a lot of white people knew where he was coming from and were impressed that he was brave or that I was compassionate."
McGhee concluded that Americans need to understand that people who have racist feelings are not inherently bad, and that they need to have compassionate discussions about their prejudices in order for society to move forward.
“I think it’s important we let individuals who are brave enough to say they want to be a better American understand that our entire society sets them up to accept a lot of negative stereotypes of people of color,” McGhee concluded.