A Friendship for a More Tolerant America

January 2, 2017 | The New Yorker |

In late August, just as Donald Trump was making his improbable pitch to black voters (“What the hell do you have to lose?”), an unusual and tender video began to make the viral rounds. It showed Heather McGhee, the president of the progressive think tank Demos, responding to a caller on C-span’s “Washington Journal.” McGhee is black. The caller was white, and, he said, prejudiced against black people, because of things he’d seen in the news. But he didn’t want to be. “What can I do to change?” he asked plaintively. “You know, to be a better American?” McGhee, moved, offered some advice: get to know black people, read up on black history, stop watching the nightly news. Eight million people viewed the video, leaving comments like “Hear, hear, hear every sweet, nourishing drop of that!”

Not long ago, the caller, a fifty-eight-year-old disabled Navy veteran named Garry Civitello, flew to Washington, D.C., from his home in Fletcher, North Carolina, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, to spend a little time with McGhee.Not long ago, the caller, a fifty-eight-year-old disabled Navy veteran named Garry Civitello, flew to Washington, D.C., from his home in Fletcher, North Carolina, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, to spend a little time with McGhee.

Since their on-air exchange, McGhee has spoken frequently about “Garry from North Carolina,” presenting him as a counter-Trumpian symbol of decency, hope, and racial reconciliation. The two have developed, they say, a genuine relationship.[...]