Having a conversation with a political extremist is hard, and not something most people would think to be a worthwhile endeavor. However, one person has taken that challenge up for himself.
Daryl Davis is his name, and he has a unique hobby. In his spare time, he befriends white supremacists. In fact, he has befriended hundreds of them, going so far as to meet them where they live, meet them at their rallies, and dine with them in their homes. His philosophy is simple: “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me? Look at me and tell me to my face why you should lynch me?”
Interestingly, he’s also a collector of Ku Klux Klan robes. He keeps them around as souvenirs when KKK members decide to give up on their beliefs thanks to their newfound friendship with Davis. He never tries to convert Klansmen, but he simply becomes friends with them, and they naturally give up the Klan on their own.
“It’s a wonderful thing when you see a light bulb pop on in their heads or they call you and tell you they are quitting. I never set out to convert anyone in the Klan. I just set out to get an answer to my question: ‘How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?’ I simply gave them a chance to get to know me and treat them the way I want to be treated,” Davis said.
“They come to their own conclusion that this ideology is no longer for them,” he said. “I am often the impetus for coming to that conclusion and I’m very happy that some positivity has come out of my meetings and friendships with them.”
As a self-described Christian, Davis’s willingness to understand the opposite side and meet their opinions with an unconditional friendship is remarkable and demonstrates one way to combat political extremism.
Of course, his approach has been met with some criticism, especially by those in the black community. He is often called an “Uncle Tom,” or an “Oreo,” but such slurs don’t sway him from his dedication to combating racism.
Davis recounted a case in which, “I had one guy from an NAACP branch chew me up one side and down the other, saying, ‘You know, we’ve worked hard to get ten steps forward. Here you are sitting down with the enemy having dinner; you’re putting us twenty steps back.’”
“I pull out my robes and hoods and say, ‘Look, this is what I’ve done to put a dent in racism. I’ve got robes and hoods hanging in my closet by people who’ve given up that belief because of my conversations sitting down to dinner. They gave it up. How many robes and hoods have you collected?’” he asked.
Davis’s approach is a refreshing change from the violence and rioting that the media has been captivated with. It also demonstrates a willingness to respect the US Constitution – recognizing everyone’s right to free speech, no matter how controversial it might seem.
Proponents of banning hate speech and utilizing censorship not only are establishing a dangerous precedent, but more than anything, they only reinforce the commitment of those who have embraced the censored ideologies.
Davis’s story is told in his film, Accidental Courtesy; Daryl Davis, Race & America. Certainly, his conviction and courage to affect meaningful change through non-violent means is something we should all embrace, condone, and celebrate.