When Daryl Davis is talking with one of his friends in the Ku Klux Klan, and that friend says something like “All black people have a gene in them that makes them violent,” he doesn’t respond in anger. Instead, he challenges him to examine that belief:
“After a time I said, ‘You know, it’s a fact that all white people have within them a gene that makes them serial killers. Name me three black serial killers.’ He could not do it. I said ‘you have the gene. It’s just latent.’ He said, ‘Well that’s stupid’ I said, ‘It’s just as stupid as what you said to me.’ He was very quiet after that and I know it was sinking in.”
Davis is an accomplished blues and boogie woogie piano player, but his greatest talent might be getting Klansmen to defect. According to the Las Vegas Guardian Express, he’s credited with “dismantling the entire KKK in Maryland,” after his friendships with several of its members brought down morale.
He’s been a pallbearer at a Klansman’s funeral and a guest at a Klansman’s wedding (and some of them were guests at his!). At this point he’s got quite a collection of hoods and robes from people he’s helped reform.
The idea of repaying hate with kindness sounds too corny work, and certainly when dealing with a group so committed to bigotry and willing to use violence. But the fact that it has worked time and again for Davis is as inspiring as it gets.
Here’s Davis’s advice for people interested in anti-racist activism:
“Invite your enemy to talk. Give them a platform to talk because then they will reciprocate. Invite your enemies to sit down and join you. You never know; some small thing you say might give them food for thought, and you will learn from them. Establish dialogue. It’s when the talking stops that the ground becomes fertile for fighting.”
Davis is currently working on a follow-up to his 1997 book documenting his experiences with Klansmen, Klan-Destine Relationships.
Check out Davis’s “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit.
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