Photo: Daryl Davis
Some Reddit ‘Ask Me Anything’s are so damn interesting that it’s best to really let them speak for themselves. So I will leave you in the hands of Mr Daryl Davis. The full thread is here but below is Mr Davis’ introduction, and some highlights from his ‘AMA’.
Welcome to my Reddit AMA. Thank you for coming. My name is Daryl Davis and I am a professional musician and actor. I am also the author of Klan-Destine Relationships, and the subject of the new documentary Accidental Courtesy. In between leading The Daryl Davis Band and playing piano for the founder of Rock’n’Roll, Chuck Berry for 32 years, I have been successfully engaged in fostering better race relations by having face-to-face-dialogs with the Ku Klux Klan and other White supremacists. What makes my journey a little different, is the fact that I’m Black. Please feel free to Ask Me Anything, about anything.
What was your motivation to get started with this?
I was motivated by the racism I would encounter. I love people, I love my country. I have been to 53 countries around the world on 6 continents and I’ve seen different people get along in most of them. I know the United States can be a better place and we all have an obligation to making our society a better place not just for ourselves but for all Americans. I am just doing my part.
After you had broken the ice and gotten to know them, did you feel as if they were good people at heart and just misguided, or were they genuinely just nasty people?
All of the above. There are many good, decent people, who due to lack of exposure and living in their own little echo chambers, foster this culture of superiority and us vs. them mentality. Once coming to know other people who are not in their circle of friends, I saw an expanding of their horizons and some became receptive to, and acceptive of, those they once considered inferior. But make no mistake about it, there are those who are truly nasty and there will be no changing them.
Did you learn anything surprising or unexpected during these interactions?
Absolutely!!! Despite what you may have read in the numerous press articles about me converting KKK members, I NEVER set out to convert anyone. I simply set out to ask a question I had formed in my mind as a kid: “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?” Growing up, we all are told, “A tiger doesn’t change its stripes, a leopard doesn’t change its spots,” etc. I believed that and I didn’t think anyone was going to change, so that wasn’t my initial goal. I just wanted the answer to my question. But over time, though repeated interactions with various KKK members around the country, some of them began questioning their own beliefs as a result of their interacations and conversations with me. Then they began quitting, and I was astounded. Exposure and one-on-one dialogue is the KEY to solving a lot of issues in this country, not just racial ones. We live in echo chambers in which we surround ourselves with people who will reflect back to us, the very same thing we say to them. Therefore we block out anything from the outside as being inferior to what we learn in our little bubbles. I like traveling outside the bubble. Even people with good intentions, tend to shut out those who may hold different opinions. I am willing to listen all all.
Hey Daryl, what do you think is the most common reason people join hate groups like the KKK in the first place?
There are many different reasons. It depends on the circumstances. Some join because: “My grandfather was in the Klan, my Daddy was in the Klan, so I’m in the Klan, and my son will be in the Klan. Others, who may never have been racist to begin with, get laid off of their jobs and can barely make rent or feed their family, see their same job now being done by someone who does not look like them (perhaps an Hispanic immigrant). The Klan exploits this opportunity to convince them to join becacause: “The Blacks have the NAACP, the Jews have the ADL. No one stands up for the White man except the Klan. Come join us and we’ll get your jobs back. We are not going to let spics and niggers take over our country.” Yet others join because the environment in which they live, is conducive to that mentality and in order to get along with your neighbors, you join the local societal groups, garden club, PTA, KKK, etc.
For the Klan members you actually get a dialogue going with, what are the usual talking points they discuss with you, a black man? Do they shy away from talking about things like genetics, or do they debate you on that?
As a follow up, what points do they bring up that you may agree with, even in only small amounts?
We talk about everything. You name it, we talk about it. No, they don’t shy away from the genetic thing. Many of them have been brain washed to believe that Blacks have smaller brains than Whites, therefore, we are not as intelligent, nor are we capable of acquiring higher intelligence. Due to this defect, we are predisposed to laziness, and violence. They will often cite the book The Bell Curve, which most of them haven’t read, but someone told them about it. You know who that goes. This person said that, who told someone else, who then told another person and so on. Next thing you know, it’s the Gospel truth. I find things we have in common such as getting drugs of the street and better education in our schools, etc. Building upon these and similar commonalities, are the first steps to a relationship. Building upon that relationship, is the first step to a friendship. As you nurture those commonalities, they find the things they had in contrast, such as skin color, begin to matter less and less.
What was the toughest meeting you ever had with a KKK member? Have you lost friends or family contact because of your choice to have these meetings? Thank you for time and your big heart.
I have met some who engaged in horrific crimes, including murder. Some have even gotten away with it, while others have gone to prison for it and still show no remorse. You look into their eyes and you can instantly tell, your life is in their crosshairs. Another tough meeting is when I meet families and their are young children involved. You don’t have to be a psychic to predict that child’s future. It’s like going to a drug-infested ghetto and seeing a mother who is a prostitute and the father is either in prison or selling drugs on the street. There’s a small child in the home. Whiel there is always the rare exception, you know there is a better chance that kid will not finish school, will have an arrest record in his teens, and may be dead before the age of 30. When you meet with some of these people and you can predict these things, that is VERY scary. There are people who will not associate with me and who shun me because of my association with KKK members or neo-Nazis. But no, I have not lost any friends or family, because my friends and family already know that I’m crazy!!! :)
Were there any preconceptions you had about the Klan that turned out to be wrong once you actually began to make contact with and get to know some of its members?
Yes there were. Excellent question, thanks. As much as I hate to admit it, I was guilty of the same thing many of them are. I was predisposed to thinking they were all alike before meeting them. I came to find out that a Klansman or Klanswoman, is not stamped out of a standard cookie cutter. They come from all walks of life, educational and socio-economic backgrounds. Most importantly, I found out that their beliefs can change for the better.
Have you ever felt unsafe or threatened?
Hello KidGrizz, I have been in many unsafe situations and have had to deal with not only threats, but also attempts on carrying out those threats. However fortunately, nothing too serious has happened and in a couple of cases, those who threatened me, are now friends. There are those who still pose a threat and will probably do so till they pass away.
Daryl, just recently watched your netflix documentary and loved it.
In that documentary you spoke with some BLM members and they did not take to you too well. Did you agree with them on anything? Anything different you would say to them now?
We are friends now. We had dinner together last Wednesday evening and got to know each other on a personal level. They are good people and want the best for everyone. We each had not been properly informed about each other prior to meeting. But this was actually a good thing. You saw how misunderstandings can lead to the friction you saw. Believe me, it got worse than what you saw in the film. It went on for an hour, and you only saw 8 minutes. But now a year later, we are friends as a result of getting to know each other.
What do you think of BLM?
The idea behind the creation of BLM was a very good one. It was created to bring the national spotlight on the disproportionate number of Black males who for lack of a better term, are being murdered by White police officers, when White males in the same circumstances are not. Blacks go to their graves and Whites go to jail or go home.
The way to change that, is to bring national attention to the plight. Just like MLK did with Rosa Parks and riding the bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Ms. Parks was not the first woman who refused to give up her seat. That had been going on. But when MLK organized the Bus Boycott and it drew national attention for almost a year, the laws were changed, which is why I can sit anywhere I want to on the bus today.
So the formation of BLM was a good idea. Where I believe it fell short, is in the fact it was not centralized and not trademarked. In otherwords, there is no central BLM in which policy is created and then disseminated to chapters all over the country so everyone is on the same page. The NAACP, the Boy Scouts of America, the Red Cross, would be some example of centralized organizations. They are run top down. BLM is run bottom up. In this case it has not worked to their advantage in that they have chapters that have sprouted up all over the country and each one is autonomous. Therefore there are those who are aggressive and disruptive, while there are those who are more constructive and instructive. The negative actions always make the news media and of course, casts a bad light on the the ones doing positive things, because people just say BLM, without realizing that each chapter is not connected to another.
What is the general reaction when you tell them you’re black? Do they know when you first talk to them, or is it much later in the conversation?
Initially, I would meet with them in person and they would have no idea that I am Black. My White secretary would phone them and set up the interview, specifically not mentioning the color of my skin unless asked. No one asked. There was shock and surprise. In a couple of cases, there was some violence. But most people, after getting over the surprise, would either talk with me or say they were not interested and walk away. Today, they all know the color of my skin. So when I inquire about an interview, they can decide over the phone or email, whether or not they want to meet with me.
I know that thanks to you, many people have left the klan.
How many people would you say that was, and how long on average would it take them to come around after meeting you?
At this point, I would say directly because of interactions with me, between 50 and 60 have left. Indirectly, I have been the impetus for a couple of hundred. This is the result of those who directly left, influencing some of their friends. Additionally, when leaders have become my friend and leave the Klan, often their group falls by the wayside and those members also leave. I don’t take credit for converting them. They did their own conversion. I was simply the impetus for it. Now understand, when a Klan group falls apart, it does not mean there are no more racists in the area. It simply means there is no more KKK group. In some cases, some of them renounce their beliefs and some still maintain the beliefs but don’t reorganize into a group. They drop out and move on with their lives.
Mr. Davis, thank you for your hard work and bravery over the years as an educator. My question for you is something that I struggle with often: How do you connect, communicate, and/or educate with someone whose views are so virulently different from your own?
Thank you very much. The BEST tool I have found is knowledge. Learn as much as you can about the person whose views are so virulently different from your own. Even sit in the privacy of your room and take that person’s position and argue in his favor with yourself. Often times these people who let me know they DID NOT like me, very often respected me, because of my knowledge of their position. I often knew as much if not more about them and their beleif system and their organization than they did. That garnered me respect. Today, some of those same virulent people have become my BEST friends, believe it or not.
This may be asking a lot, but can you provide with some bullet points of things that we need to listen to in order to prevent people from turning to racism and what are the most effective way to act or react?
People make the mistake of forming anti-racist groups that are rendered ineffective from the start because ONLY invite those who share their beliefs to their meetings.
Provide a safe neutral meeting place.
Learn as much as you can about the ideology of a racist or perceived racist in your area.
Invite that person to meet with your group.
*VERY IMPORTANT - LISTEN to that person. What is his/her primary concern? Place yourself in their shoes. What would you do to address their concern if it were you?
As questions, but keep calm in the face of their loud, boisterous posture if that is on display, don’t combat it with the same
*While you are actively learning about someone else, realize that you are passively teaching them about yourself. Be honest and respectful to them, regardless of how offensive you may find them. You can let them know your disagreement but not in an offensive manner.
Don’t be afraid to invite someone with a different opinion to your table. If everyone in your group agrees with one another and you shun those who don’t agree, how will anything ever change? You are doing nothing more than preaching to the choir.
*When two enemies are talking, they are not fighting, they are talking. They may be yelling and screaming and pounding their fist on the table in disagreement to drive home their point, but at least they are talking. It is when the talking ceases, that the ground becomes fertile for violence. So, KEEP THE CONVERSATION GOING.