Daryl Davis is somewhat of a controversial figure in the activist community: a black man who convinces members of the KKK to quit, just by talking to them. Davis's belief in conversation and platform-giving are key to his open-minded approach, which mostly involves befriending Klansmen and Klanswomen in an attempt to facilitate discourse about racism. Davis has been quite successful: he claims that he has gotten 200 members of the KKK to give up their robes.
Davis even keeps these robes in a closet in his home, as a reminder of the "dents" he is making in American racism. Davis's story is one of controversial conversation, surprising friendships, and really out-of-place-looking photographs.
His Purpose Was To Find The Answer To A Very Specific QuestionPhoto: flickr / CC0
After Davis experienced racism for the first time as a child, a question formed in his mind: "How can you hate me when you don't even know me?" It was this question that followed him throughout his life and led him to be open-minded about talking to those who hated him just for the color of his skin.
Davis's first encounter with a Klansman was at a bar where Davis was performing music. The white man approached Davis, impressed by his musical ability, admitting to never having had a drink with a black man before. When he revealed his card-carrying KKK status to Davis, he was met with incredulous laughter – and friendliness. By the end of the night, the KKK member was asking Davis to let him know when he'd be playing music again. And eventually, according to Davis, he hung up his robes entirely.
It was this encounter that inspired Davis to write a book and set out across the country to find an answer to his life-long question.
Davis Was Shocked When His Interactions With KKK Members Led To Them Leaving The KlanPhoto: Metaweb / GNU Free Documentation License
Davis's intention was not to get KKK members to leave the Klan; rather, he genuinely wanted to know why they hated him based on nothing but the color of his skin. After various encounters, though, the men he befriended began to quit in droves, and Davis was "astounded." He said that it was their interactions with him, a black man, that led them to question their ideals and essentially give them up in the end.
He Used Their Own Arguments Against Them – And It WorkedPhoto: Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY
One revelation for a Klansman came when Davis confronted him about a core belief: that all black people had a specific "latent" gene that made them commit crimes. This man truly believed that all black people were violent (a bunk-science biological claim that lots of overt racists belive) – that is, until Davis turned his argument back on him.
Davis told the man to name three black serial killers, which he couldn't do, but Davis could name three white ones. Davis then accused the man of being a serial killer. It is a story he recalled in an interview with NPR:
"He says 'Daryl, I've never killed anybody.' I said, 'Your gene is latent. It hasn't come out yet.' He goes, 'Well, that's stupid!' I said, 'Well, duh. Yes, but you know what, you're right. What I said was stupid, but no more stupid than what you said you me.' Then he got very, very quiet and changed the subject. Five months later, based on that conversation he left the Klan. His robe was the first robe I ever got."
Davis Admitted To Having His Own Stereotypes, Which Broke Down As He Met More KlanspeoplePhoto: flickr / CC0
Davis seems to have a rather idealistic view of humanity, one in which all people can and will change for the better if correctly driven to do so with a little bit of friendship and education. Davis believes that this drive can only come from conversation. Because conversation is so important, it was key that Davis address his own biases before entering into friendships with Klanspeople. When asked in a reddit AMA whether or not he had any stereotypes, he replied:
"As much as I hate to admit it, I was guilty of the same thing many of them are. I was predisposed to thinking they were all alike before meeting them. I came to find out that a Klansman or Klanswoman, is not stamped out of a standard cookie cutter. They come from all walks of life, educational and socio-economic backgrounds. Most importantly, I found out that their beliefs can change for the better."