Good question on racism: ‘What can I do to change?’

It’s wishful thinking to assume a call to C-SPAN signals a widespread change in the discussion of race in America, but maybe it’s at least a small sign that it’s possible to make progress.

The call came from a man in North Carolina, the Chicago Tribune says, during an appearance by Heather McGhee, the president of Demos, a progressive public policy organization that advocates for equality.

“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?”

Well, now, there’s something we don’t hear every day.

Then she offered him some ideas for how he could begin to allay those fears. She urged him to get to know black families, to not form opinions about people of color from the evening news, to join a black church (if he’s religious), to read the rich history of the African American community and to start conversations within his own community about race.

Because C-SPAN callers are often anonymous, we don’t know what the man thought of McGhee’s answer or whether he will follow through on any of her advice. But we did reach McGhee to ask her, among other things, what she was thinking during the caller’s remarks and why it was such an important moment.

A million people have watched the video since it was posted on Facebook.

“White people want to choose a side; they want to be on the right side of history,” McGhee tells the Washington Post. “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.”