How Making A Black Friend Turned This White Man From Fearful Racist To Woke Ally
Garry Civitello asked for help erasing his prejudices. He got it.
August 25, 2017 at 11:30 pm
If one is open to it, change can happen.
Some changes are, of course, much more difficult than others.
One year ago, a North Carolina white man named Garry Civitello called into C-SPAN. A black woman, Demos president Heather McGhee, was on the air.
Civitello confessed to his personal racism, and said that it stemmed from his fear of black people. He asked how he could change.
During the call, McGhee gave him an empathetic ear, and explained that one of the keys ways to overcome his fear was to personally get to know black people.
According to the Washington Post, one person he got to personally know and become friends with is Heather McGhee herself.
After that C-SPAN phone call, Civitello and McGhee began to have phone conversations, and eventually became what Civitello calls “personal friends.”
He credits the time McGhee took to speak with him with helping him to change his prior racial prejudices, and says that his relationship with McGhee has led to him becoming interested in black history.
“There are so many things I did not know that I thought I knew,” Civitello said. “I depended on the media for my information. I looked at television shows like Cops and Gangland and these programs that portray minorities in a negative way."
He said that he drew his images of black people from these programs because there aren't black people where he lives. "I don’t have the opportunity to come from a diverse area. I live in the rural South.”
So, one year later, Garry called back to C-SPAN to update everyone on his progress.
ICYMI: "A C-SPAN caller asked a black guest how to stop being prejudiced" https://t.co/hgJwWvEin0 via @washingtonpost— Washington Journal (@cspanwj) August 25, 2017
McGhee also chatted about the progression of her relationship with Civitello since the call during an international TED conference in Vancouver:
“As it turns out just as the exchange had touched so many people it had really deeply affected him,” McGhee said. “He’s really done a transformation of his life and taken this on as a really mission driven journey. He’s chronicling all the racism he observes and sees in his own friends’ circle and life, Confederate flags he’s never really noticed or seen the harm in before.”
The two even met in person when McGhee went to North Carolina during the most recent presidential campaign. Civitello informed her that while everyone he knew voted for Trump, he did not.
McGhee believes that Civitello's journey over the past year has assisted in reversing some of his long-held racial stereotypes, and has made him a more empathetic person.
“I understand how our black counterparts feel, how our black counterparts feel neglected and targeted,” Civitello said. “When we get into groups that want to think like we think, we join groups with similar thinking, when we have ideas we can get on the internet, even if you are a white supremacist or any kind of a nut, you can always get on the internet and find someone that agrees with you, that makes your views okay.”