When a C-SPAN viewer who identified himself as a "prejudiced" white male called in to ask Heather McGhee how to be a "better American" on Wednesday, the president of the progressive issues group Demos gave a perfect response. McGhee, who is black, told the caller his question is an important one and broke down some ways that white people can work to undo racial prejudices they hold against black people.
In his question posed to McGhee, the caller said that he feels "discouraged" when he reads "about what young black males are doing to each other and the crime rates," referencing violence linked to selling drugs. The caller also said he has "different fears, and I don't want my fears to come true... 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 lead to like people through example. What can I do to change, you know, to be a better American?"
McGhee began by saying that the conversation this question poses is "simply one of the most important ones we have to have in this country." McGhee explained that everyone has fears and prejudices, but there are things that everyone can do to actively work against internal and subconscious biases we hold. McGhee said:
So what can you do? Get to know black families, who are not all and not even any majority are involved in crime and gangs. Turn off the news at night, because we know... that, actually, nightly news and many media markets that have been studied actually over-represents African-American crime and under-represents crimes that happen by white people. 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 in your neighborhood where you’re asking exactly 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 and set of ideas that we only get from the worst possible news, it’s tearing us apart. And we know that in order to be, our name [of McGhee's organization] means the people of a nation, 'Demos,' in order to be a Demos, that is united across lines of race and class and gender and age, we have to foster relationships. We have to get to know who one another actually is. And we’re always, I think, as Americans, surprised when we build relationships across race.
McGhee's remarks are especially prescient now, given the often racist and xenophobic remarks that have dominated much of the 2016 presidential election discourse.