“I never set out to convert anybody, I just wanted the answer to my question: ‘How can you hate me if you don’t even know me?’”
This is the driving question of accomplished musician Daryl Davis’s most recent feature documentary on racism in America. From the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. to Ferguson, from Alabama to Tennessee, the viewers are taken on an intriguing journey about one man’s will to befriend white supremacists in hopes of exchanging views on racism to ultimately evoke their desire to change for the better of society.
The documentary, entitled “Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America,” was shown in Marsh Memorial at 6 p.m. on Thursday night. Most pews were filled with occupants, including Davis, who sat in the back in his classic button up long sleeve shirt already prepared for the Q&A session that would proceed after the film.
Davis’s father worked as a foreign service officer for the United States. Since he traveled frequently with his family, the young Davis was predisposed to various different cultures, religions, and races. He did not realize until he returned to the United States at age 10 that racism existed.
His first encounter with racism occurred during a parade in Belmont, Mass., while holding up a flag with his Cub Scout troop. “I got hit by bottles, rocks, and soda cans,” proclaimed Davis. Young and naive, he thought items were being thrown in his direction because people did not like the Cub Scout troop. It was not until his troop leader and members formed a protective ring around him and said, “move along, move along, it will be okay,” that Davis realized he was the only member being targeted. He was also the only black boy in the troop at the time.
After returning home and being told it was an incident of discrimination by his parents, Davis was appalled. After growing up in such a diverse environment, being taught peace, patience, and acceptance of all people, the concept seemed unfathomable. Racism was no longer a term in a text book, it was reality. “I was going from technicolor to black and white,” described Davis. As a result, he explored different methods of how he could marginalize the issue in America.
Davis found conversation with like-minded African-Americans who do not believe change to be counterproductive. He then brilliantly decided to spark up conversation with the people who he believed could assist him the most since they were the ones enforcing racism: white supremacists.
Davis believes you should “invite somebody to the table who disagrees with you.” Whether or not the general public agrees, “[We] shouldn’t burn [our] history,” he said. “The [Klu Klux Klan] is as American as baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet.”
Whether it be a Neo-nazi, KKK member, or Traditional American Knight, Davis has befriended them all and hopes fervently to change their points of view. In many cases, members have never sat down with a black man to talk prior to meeting Davis. “Give your adversary a platform, allow them to air their views and there is a good chance people will reciprocate,” claimed Davis. In many cases when speaking with Klan members he said, “I did not respect what [they] had to say, I respected [their] right to say it.”
For each member of a white supremacist group that Davis is able to convince with interpersonal dialogue, he keeps their robes in remembrance of past history and in hopes of a less segregated future. “People can [change] and need change,” said Davis. Former imperial wizard Roger Kelly and former member of the KKK Scott Shepherd are just a couple examples of white supremacists who no longer practice radical racism and are making efforts to change their ways because of Daryl Davis. People changing is what keeps him inspired.
Although his methods have been effective, some of Davis’ black brothers and sisters think otherwise. For many millennials his slow paced, face-to-face approach does not help the overall corrupt system of today’s society. African Americans are often frustrated or confused by Davis’ willingness to speak to the ones who hate him but he encourages other individuals to avoid ignorance and face racism in any way they see fit.
David believes that ignorance breeds fear, fear breeds hatred, and hatred breeds destruction. The only way to fight against the issue is to do it as a unit. “No matter how we get there we should be fighting for the common goal to eradicate racism,” said Davis. “There used to be a taboo on talking about race but now it’s finally being addressed.”
Attendee Graciela Garcia agreed with Davis and mentioned the importance of dialogue and new ways of thinking after the presentation. “I think the biggest thing that he talked about was being able to have a conversation with people. Nowadays it’s all about being angry and yelling,” described Garcia. “It’s all about being able to talk to one another instead of just bashing each other because of the different opinions that we hold.”
Despite a healthy debate during the Q&A following the film on the flaws in society and Davis’ approach, he wanted to leave the audience with one message if nothing else: “I will stand with anyone fighting against racism, but I will not stand with those who do not believe in change.”