Dec. 29, 2016
Ted Johnson wrote for the New Republic about how black writers can help white readers.
“I’m a white male, and I am prejudiced,” the caller confessed. “What can I do to change? To become a better American?”
Heather McGhee, president of the public policy organization Demos, took this question during a C-SPAN show last summer. A video of their exchange would later go viral, due in no small part to how McGhee, a black woman, met the man’s humility with gentleness and compassion.
In a different America, this would be the tone and tenor of a national conversation on race—that mythical dialogue that folks clamor for after some racialized event has momentarily captivated the country. Instead, a debate soon emerged about the pedestaling of McGhee’s sympathy and the nerve of the white man expecting her to solve his racism over the phone. Why should black public figures be gracious therapists for white strangers’ racial questions and quandaries? And why should a white person seeking to better understand black people be chastised for asking them for help?