The current state of the world can make us wonder whether working together is even possible anymore. Whether it’s worth it to talk to people who see the world differently, come from divergent paths, or who might seem angry or even hateful about our beliefs or way of life.
Well, the fact that, since the 1980s. a man named Daryl Davis has been making a point of befriending open members of the KKK and other neo-Nazi groups in order to better understand their thinking – and sometimes change their minds – should give you hope.
“…Many of the ones I would encounter ended up leaving those movements after coming to know me. I would not say that I set out to convert them. I set out to learn about them and they ended up converting themselves. As I saw this happening more and more, I decided I owed it to my society and those who worked hard before me to do what I could to help improve race relations.”
He’s been doing this since the 1980s, and has some advice for the people who have more recently entered the battle of race relations in America – it’s all about respect, and understanding where the other person is starting from and how different it might be from your starting place.
“The one common denominator that all share is lack of exposure to others who may not look like them or believe as they do. Those who will say they know Blacks or Jews will cite a bad experience and stereotype the entire people. I break the stereotype and they are forced to confront that and question their beliefs.”
Davis is a musician by trade, and has performed with Chuck Berry, Percy Sledge, Jerry Lee Lewis, and President Bill Clinton (to name a few), and credits his profession, which is “a universal language that unites people,” with helping him on his inspiring quest. He first published his experiences in Klan-Destine Relationships back in 1998, and in it he tells the story of turning back racism one person at a time.
He talks quite a bit about the experiences in his youth that inspired him to take this path in life. Like all people of color, his bad encounters – from having rocks thrown at him, being told to go back to Africa, to being targeted by law enforcement – are numerous and sad.
When asked in a recent interview how the thinks his message and others like it can trump the hate threatening to overtake others involved in similar movements, Davis has some pretty simple (but amazing) advice:
“Lead by example. Rather than talk about people and talk at people, try talking with people. If you spend 5 minutes with your worst enemy, you will find that you have something in common. If you spend 10 minutes, you will find even more in common. Start building on those commonalities and you will begin to see the things they have in contrast with you will begin to no longer matter.”
Simple advice, perhaps, but not easy. Then again, nothing that’s worth it ever is.
Davis’s book is being updated and re-published this year.
h/t: My Modern Met