Things get pretty wacky every election season, but this year, in particular, feels like a circus in which the animals have run loose and the crowd is trying in vain not to get trampled on. While political debates, whether on Facebook or in real life, can certainly seem like an exercise in futility, there are some people out there who truly do want to confront their prejudices and change their attitudes.
One stellar example of that took place on a C-SPAN show, Washington Journal, last week. (C-SPAN, the public service network typically only watched by Capitol Hill staff, politics buffs, and maybe your dad, went viral for a hot second earlier this summer when House Democrats staged a sit-in to force a vote on gun control.)
The guest that day was Heather McGhee, president of Demos Action, a progressive public policy organization that champions equality. The majority of McGhee's time was spent talking policy, but toward the end, one caller's question shifted the tone.
"I was hoping maybe your guest could help me change my mind about some things," the caller, a man from North Carolina, began. "I'm a White man, and I'm prejudiced ... It's something that wasn't taught, but it's something I learned."
He went on to talk about the Black-on-Black crime he sees in the media, and said that he didn't want to come off as prejudiced, but that he had fears he didn't want to see happen.
"I don't like to be forced to like people, I like to be led to like people through example," he told McGhee. "What can I do to change? To be a better American?"
McGhee smiled and paused to collect her thoughts. "Thank you so much for being honest and for opening up this conversation, because it is simply one of the mosts important ones we have to have in this country," she said, adding that everyone, regardless of race, holds prejudices against others whether conscious or not.
"So your ability to say, 'This is what I have, I have these fears and prejudices, and I want to get over them' is one of the most powerful things we can do right now at this moment in our history. So thank you."
McGhee suggested that he turn off the news at night, citing studies that show how evening news exaggerates Black crime. She encouraged him to meet Black families and join a Black church if he was religiously inclined, and urged him to read about African-American history and start having discussions about race with his family and neighbors.
"This fear of communities that we do not live near — we are still a very, very segregated country; millions of White Americans live in a place where they rarely see anyone of a different race — this fear and set of ideas that we only get from the worst possible news is tearing us apart," McGhee told him. "We have to foster relationships. We have to get to know who one another actually is. And we are always, I think, as Americans, surprised when we build relationships across race."
The video has since been viewed more than 1.6 million times on Facebook. In an interview with the Washington Post, McGhee said that the exchange resonated with a lot of people particularly because of the current racial climate in the country today:
White people want to choose a side; they want to be on the right side of history. But we've lost the muscle to work through the reality of our distance from one another and the pervasiveness of unconscious bias. 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.