Alleged gunman Dylann Roof sits in a jail cell after being accused of killing nine people all in a racially charged massacre inside a historic church in Charleston. South Carolina.
While he was allegedly radicalized online, some people are now using the Internet and social media to combat racist attitudes and create an interactive dialogue about race relations in the United States.
One of those people is “Dixon White,” which is an alias he uses online. The self-proclaimed former-racist “redneck” from Tennessee became an unexpected YouTube sensation when he posted a video of himself talking about his racist upbringing -- all shot from the front seat of his Ford pickup truck. Speaking with a Southern twang, he says our country’s biggest problem is white supremacy, which he says is deeply rooted in American culture.
“Many years, I was a racist and I didn’t like blacks. I would call them the N-word and what not,” White says in his YouTube video. “This country was built for white people, and it’s time that Americans, us white Americans, came to terms with that and realize we benefit from that.”
In his frank, profanity-filled monologues, White urges his viewers to recognize culturally inherent “white privilege” and to take what he calls “white racial responsibility” to right the wrongs of the past, by standing up against racism and racial inequalities that plague the nation.
His initial video went viral, reaching more than a million views, and after getting so many responses, White posted a follow-up video, asking his viewers to take a “Racial Healing Challenge” and record their own thoughts about race.
The response to his challenge was far-reaching. People from all over, from various backgrounds, posted their own videos, often owning up to their own prejudices about different races, discussing how they learned those ideas to begin with, and pledging their effort to be more conscious and to do better.
It became a digital conversation among strangers that’s turned out to be a real dialogue about racism. Several people posted reply videos expressing their gratitude for other participants’ honesty.
Despite the open communication, some people have criticized White for not being truthful about his background.
White’s real name is Jorge Moran, and he is a part-White, part-Cuban businessman with a background in acting and film. While he was born and raised in the South, he no longer has the thick Southern accent he used in his first couple videos. He denied accusations he is getting paid to post these videos by any outside group, and he said he changed his name to protect himself from any backlash for starting what he said was a “highly controversial and potentially dangerous” online conversation. He said he has already received death threats as a result.
His videos have also caused outrage among some who claim the videos are promoting “white guilt,” which White doesn’t buy into.
“A whole bunch of them, and that’s the problem is that white guilt is a defense mechanism,” White said. “I’m not asking anybody to be guilty or feel guilty. I’ve never told anybody to be guilty. What I’ve asked people to do is to take on one of the most immoral things in our society, which is racial and social injustice.”
Born and raised in a small town in Tennessee, White said he was a product of his environment at home.
“Subconsciously and directly I was conditioned to believe -- to use the N word, to just assume and I did it blindly, I just assumed that people of color were beneath me,” he said.
But his views on race started to change, in part, when he went to college in Georgia and saw what happened to his roommate Roy Rudder, who is African American.
“I would probably be stopped by the police once every two weeks,” Rudder said. “This is fact, this is what happened to me. I experienced that for myself and my other friends as well.”
Rudder, a roommate-turned-life-long friends, said he supports what White is trying to do. But some black activists say it’s precisely White’s own “white privilege” that’s making his message popular and garnering him attention. White said he fully agreed with that criticism, but said he would use his platform for what he sees as good.
“There’s so many people of color that have voices so much better than mine ... that can’t even be heard because of white supremacy,” White said. “But I’m going to use that attention to try to do something positive, to try to forward the message.”
Whittney Ballard, a 21-year-old nursing student from Orlando who is African American, said at first she was shocked by White’s videos, but said the fact that he is white was what intrigued her.
“Is that a white man saying those things? It’s not something that you see or hear every day,” she said, explaining her initial reaction to White’s videos.
Ballard responded to White’s challenge by posting her own video, saying she thought his posts were amazing, blunt and truthful, and she used the opportunity to share with others her daily encounters with racism as a young African-American woman.
“It was a new way to have a dialogue,” she said. “I think the racial healing challenge was a positive thing for me and it was a positive thing for a lot of people, that I kind of watched have epiphanies and a change of heart.”
ABC News' “Nightline” arranged for White and Ballard to meet in person to have a discussion, and Ballard described it as “awkward and amazing at the same time.” Both agreed posting videos on the Internet won’t solve our country’s race problem, but it can help keep the conversation going.
“It’s breaking the silence, and silence is deadly,” said Ballard. “It shows that there is still hope and that maybe things can change for the better.”