Heather McGhee, president of public policy think tank Demos, introduced by Yara Shahidi
The young Black-ish star, activist and incoming Harvard freshman, who assiduously took notes throughout the conference, introduced McGhee, who shared takeaways from her 2016 viral appearance on CSPAN’s Washington Journal, in which a self-described “prejudiced white man” named Gary called in to ask how he could change his attitude.
“Negative stereotypes of people of color have real consequences. They distort our politics and kill us,” McGhee said, explaining that Gary, who resides in North Carolina, told her that television is his only window to the world. “You know who else watches too much TV? Donald Trump and his followers. You have real power in this room.”
Racial resentment also hurts white people, McGhee continued. “Make America Great Again is based on a truth and a lie. It harkens back to a time when a white man could raise a family on a high school degree. It’s true that has gone away as the country gets more diverse, but that’s not the cause,” she said, pointing to policy and corporate decisions to gut public finances and infrastructure as the true culprit. “Decisions for political movement were made where the pursuit was greed but the weapon was race.”
McGhee is currently writing a book about the cost of racism to white people. “The system was set up to penalize people of color,” she said, “but like swimming pools across the south, rather than letting black people swim, they drained the pool for everyone.”
“Gary and I taught each other,” McGhee concluded, and her tale of their unlikely friendship became one of the most frequently referenced moments of the conference, as Kevin Tsujihara and Kerry Washington separately joked in later sessions of their desire to option the story for a future project.