"Find someone who disagrees and invite them to your table."
November 23, 2013 10:25 AM   Subscribe

A "KKK Member Walks up to Black Musician in Bar-but It’s Not a Joke." Daryl Davis (his website here) is a black musician who has made friends with KKK members, many of whom have not only quit the KKK, but given Daryl their robes and hoods.

Mr. Davis wrote about his experiences in Klan-Destine Relationships A Black Man's Odyssey in the Ku Klux Klan. This is an hour long interview with him, and here is a 40 minute speech he gave at Worcester State University. He's also had his story told on CNN a couple of times. (Note: Some videos have people speaking the N word.) Here he is rocking the piano.
posted by Daddy-O (30 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
The key quote in that article: "fear comes from ignorance."

To me the most insidious aspect of the internet and social media is how easy it is to build a nice, big, comfortable echo chamber. It's the easiest thing in the world to be sure the world is how it is, find a lot of people that agree with and reinforce your perspective, and are ready and willing to tell you how right you are.

I don't pretend it was somehow magically different in the before times, but we'd be doing ourselves a favour, all of us, if we used all this amazing technology to reach out to each other rather than self-select.
posted by dry white toast at 10:33 AM on November 23, 2013 [22 favorites]

That's brave of him, but even more - it's incredibly compassionate.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:46 AM on November 23, 2013 [7 favorites]

I don't know, I feel like I became a leftist to the degree that I am today partially because of the internet. Not that I was ever in the Klan, but I grew up in the south in a politically moderate family. And I absolutely lagged on an understanding of racial and class issues, among other things.

Then, one day, I found myself on one of the early feminist web forums (probably the ones associated with Bust magazine, which was the sort of feminist I was back then?). Through that, and through the rabbit hole of internet culture that led me down, I gradually became more and more liberal until I popped out the other side a bona fide leftist.

Granted, the college I attended at the time didn't hurt -- it's an extremely diverse public university where The Marx-Engels Reader showed up on syllabi often enough that I still have my copy -- but a lot of my radicalization happened on the internet, through debate with people who disagreed with me.

Similarly with atheism -- I spent a lot of time on the internet arguing with "Militant Atheists", and now I tend to, well, not agree with them or count myself as one of them, but I see what they're doing and have a lot more respect for it than I once did.

I've seen similar in other people from my background. It's interesting to me that, out of my high school graduating class, a surprising number of us grew up to be far more liberal than our home circumstances and teenage opinions would have predicted.

I don't think it's likely that someone is going to completely shift from far-right bigot to lefty. And I do think real life away from computer experiences have a lot to do with people's political changes of heart. But I don't by any means think that the internet is making us more politically entrenched. If anything, I think it gives people access to information that can throw stark light on some fucked up beliefs, while also exposing people to arguments they wouldn't otherwise be aware of.

Insular real-world communities tend to be much worse echo chambers than the most annoyingly lockstep internet forums.
posted by Sara C. at 10:52 AM on November 23, 2013 [39 favorites]

posted by Sticherbeast at 10:57 AM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

He was also on a recent Snap Judgment episode.
posted by melodykramer at 11:00 AM on November 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

A lot of reaching out happens right here on this site. Mefites complain about the echo chamber, but an awful lot of them have also chimed in to talk about how they changed their minds about this issue or that because of discussions here.

That said, this guy sounds amazing. It's one thing to have a discussion with people who disagree with you about tax policy or something, and quite another to sit down with those who think you're subhuman and should maybe be killed.
posted by rtha at 11:02 AM on November 23, 2013 [14 favorites]

Interesting example: right now (as in, in another tab) I'm watching the first episode of the BBC miniseries North & South. One of the plot points of this first episode revolves around the beginnings of what looks like a fledgling labor union. All the principal characters are what, as a pro-labor leftist with a Marxist background, I'd call "management". I think we, the viewers, are supposed to think this labor uprising is a bad thing for Our Heroes.

But in a matter of seconds, I was on wikipedia reading about the history of the labor movement in Britain.

This is something I wouldn't have been able to do pre-internet. Without the internet, I'd watch this nice little TV drama that tells me working class people are a scary mob of ruiners*, and I'd internalize that along with the many other similar messages from elsewhere in the mainstream media, and continue to either not care about class issues and the labor movement or actively sympathize with management.

I mean, sure, it's true that it's possible to grow up in a far-right bubble where you're never going to see this random TV show that inspires you to google a thing and potentially be enlightened. Extremist bubbles have always existed and will always exist.

But I'd rather have more access to diverse types of knowledge than less.

*Note that I'm still only in the midst of the first episode, for all I know this is not at all where the show is going. But organized labor as a scary mob of ruiners is par for the course in like 99% of non-Communist media.
posted by Sara C. at 11:04 AM on November 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Um also just in case I am tangenting too hard, here, THIS GUY IS AMAZING.

And way braver than me.
posted by Sara C. at 11:06 AM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Great story; thanks.

I have this working theory that on all axes differences in human behavior are matters of degree rather than kind ... It's helped improve my outlook on humanity (which unfortunately is still pretty dim).
posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:07 AM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Came to post the Snap Judgement piece, since I see that melodykramer already posted it this is where I'll recommend that folks check it out.

Can't believe I missed him when he spoke at Worcester State! I saw some of that lecture series too...
posted by rollbiz at 11:26 AM on November 23, 2013

Wait, where have I heard of this idea before...
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:38 AM on November 23, 2013

from the hour-long interview link--

interviewer: did you have any pre-conceived notions when you went into this?

davis: i never expected anybody to quit, but i already knew a lot about the klan b/c i self-educated myself with all the books that i bought. so i knew what to expect from them, i knew how they felt, i knew what they believed. i went in knowing as much if not more than most of the klanspeople that i interviewed. if you're going to deal with something like that, you want to be armed. i don't mean with a weapon, but i mean with knowledge, you know information is power. when they saw that i knew as much as they did or more, they had a great deal of respect for me.

and as a matter of fact, quick story, an exalted cyclops, which means a district leader, had been promoted to great titan, which means county leader. he was too embarrassed to ask his grand dragon (state leader) or imperial wizard (national leader) what his new duties were. he called *me*, b/c he knew that i knew, ok? so that's what i'm talking about the respect, you go in there knowing more than the person you're talking with. so i didn't have any preconceived notions, but i was caught off guard when one of them quit, that threw me for a loop.
posted by twist my arm at 12:31 PM on November 23, 2013 [13 favorites]

Love this, thanks for posting.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:41 PM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

He says there’s no need to be afraid of the KKK because at least they make their intentions clear, whereas racism can manifest in anyone, and it is often invisible.

This is a very good point. Great post!
posted by chavenet at 12:42 PM on November 23, 2013

re: "exalted cyclops", there's a wikipedia article on those strange titles and vocabulary.
posted by ovvl at 12:45 PM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Great story and what an amazing person. Now I want to go hear him play...
posted by Maias at 12:48 PM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mefites complain about the echo chamber, but an awful lot of them have also chimed in to talk about how they changed their minds about this issue or that because of discussions here.

So they complained about it and then joined it?
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:08 PM on November 23, 2013

I'm all for echo chambers when I can hear "consider your bias" and "don't be an asshole" in the echoes.
Also, this guy makes me proud to be of the same species. Although I didn't chose it. And then it makes me ashamed for not being in the same league as him.
posted by hat_eater at 2:08 PM on November 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

He says there’s no need to be afraid of the KKK because at least they make their intentions clear, whereas racism can manifest in anyone, and it is often invisible.

Except when they, you know, murder and intimidate and harass people. Then there's a need for fear, and the appropriate response thereunto.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:48 PM on November 23, 2013

I'm in awe of this gentleman. By persistence and engagement, he's challenging people's views and working good.

He also is viewed as being responsible for dismantling the entire KKK in Maryland because things “fell apart” after he began making inroads with its members there.

posted by arcticseal at 3:36 PM on November 23, 2013 [6 favorites]

Daryl Davis is a true mensch.
posted by acb at 5:48 PM on November 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Wait a minute - what is up with this Amazon.com editorial review by Kirkus Reviews:
Grammy-winning musician Davis gets taken for a ride by the KKK in this futile and pointless volume...What never occurs to Davis is that he may be being used by these people.
Is this a reputable review source?
posted by amtho at 8:49 PM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I happened to be stuck in traffic in late October, and idly flipped radio channels when I came upon the Snap Judgement piece. Ended up sitting at a parking lot in a beautiful national park for a while so I could finish listening. It was a great story, and Daryl Davis is an amazing human being.
posted by gemmy at 8:55 PM on November 23, 2013

This echoes the story of Ann Atwater (an African-American woman) and C.P. Ellis (a member of the Klan), whose unexpected alliance is the subject of the book The Best of Enemies.

In Durham, NC, a play based on that book runs in early December.

I found that book incredibly inspiring, because it showed that sometimes people do change their minds. It can seem so unlikely, and even on this site, I often read advice that boils down to "don't expect people to change," "don't waste your time arguing," "don't waste your time" with people who don't agree with you. The book shows one way that one man did change, the forces that worked against that change, and how and why he was able to change. It gives me a lot of hope.
posted by amtho at 8:58 PM on November 23, 2013

Kirkus? Yeah, Kirkus is a highly regarded trade mag. They don't review everything that comes down the pike, and if you're an author or publisher getting a good review from them means marketing points and jacket copy.
posted by rtha at 8:59 PM on November 23, 2013

Kirkus' review of Davis' book (first review on the Amazon page) seems to have a very different tone from everything else I'm seeing. It seems quite angry and worried:
"...The dual dangers of this book are that some readers will find tacit support for their beliefs that blacks are easily led and others will view the Klan as ``not all that bad'' and perhaps join where they otherwise might not have."
posted by amtho at 9:11 PM on November 23, 2013

That Kirkus review really reveals a total misunderstanding of the book. Davis' point is that dialogue is transformative.

You cannot have dialogue if you dehumanize people. And yet it is so tempting to despise people who hold despicable beliefs. But what does do for us? Of course we repudiate beliefs we abhor, but are we made more pure by despising those who hold them? Usually, it indicates our insecurity about these beliefs. We hide from an uncertainty that in our beliefs by redoubling our hatred… it's so stupid. Dialogue and introspection: that's the long, hard path to building certainty.

Hating people who hold despicable beliefs is not just bad for us. It prevents them, who have arrived at their conclusions usually through a poverty of life experience, from having the transformative experience we were so privileged to have. Davis grew up in an international community. Many Klansmen by consequence of culture or economic disparity probably never left their state. Maybe we owe the (culturally) poor nothing — I don't think so — nevertheless, lampooning them protracts their poverty by eliminating dialogue.

Humanizing people with whom we disagree enables dialogue, which is good for us and good for them. The final danger suggested by the review is that "others may join the KKK"? This is the defence of censorship around the world: ideas are dangerous; people cannot be trusted to arrive at the right conclusions. Yet the more we foist socially imposed values on people, the less practice they have deciphering for themselves what is right and wrong, and the more vulnerable they are to being swept up by misguided ideas. You have to trust people, just like you trust your children, even as they sometimes fail.

Life is about dialogue and growth. Davis is right.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 2:02 AM on November 24, 2013 [10 favorites]

Regarding the negative review by Kirkus, it doesn't matter what you do, somebody isn't going to like it. One of the CNN videos I didn't link to when I made this post was from a You Tube account called ExposingUncleToms. It was the same CNN video from the Paula Zahn show as I did link to, but the motivation of ExposingUncleToms for posting it and his opinion of the video was 180 degrees different from most people who hear Daryl Davis' story. I think Kirkus' and ExposingUncleToms' conclusions are wrong, but they're going to think whatever they think whether it agrees with my opinion or not. Whatever. You can't please everyone, but we have to keep talking about things.
posted by Daddy-O at 2:23 AM on November 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Enjoyed reading this, but I'm dreading the seemingly-inevitable upworthy clickbait version.
posted by sherief at 5:08 AM on November 24, 2013

ExposingUncleToms is just wrong and is either stupid or drastically misunderstanding what Daryl Davis did. Daryl Davis humbles me and has made me think deeply on compassion.
posted by Danila at 3:12 PM on November 24, 2013

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