A friend shared with me recently this powerful TED talk entitled: Why I, as a black man, attend KKK rallies. It’s the story of Daryl Davis, a well-known African American musician who also, though, has an unusual passion for befriending members of the Ku Klux Klan and, ultimately, leading to amazing transformations of relationships and experiences.
Go listen now to the TED talk to learn more about him.
In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, the story of Daryl Davis still stands as an instructive beacon of hope for transforming race relations in America (really everywhere). It’s no exaggeration to say that the example of Daryl Davis, how he embodies a character of courage, empathy toward gaining an understanding of how others think (which does not mean he necessarily agrees with it), and patience, is an educative prescription for how to be a Change Agent (i.e., a person who helps an organization or society transform itself).
Here is a valuable article in the Guardian News in which Mr. Davis summarizes his approach:
“People must stop focusing on the symptoms of hate, that’s like putting a Band-Aid on cancer,” Davis says. “We’ve got to treat it down to the bone, which is ignorance. The cure for ignorance is education. You fix the ignorance, there’s nothing to fear. If there’s nothing to fear, there’s nothing to hate. If there’s nothing to hate, there’s nothing or no one to destroy.”
This is a sophisticated approach that Mr. Davis describes. We must absolutely respond to injustices everywhere we know them to exist. We cannot allow ourselves, however, to get stuck in a cycle of only responding. We have to take it further. We must very proactively focus on creating peace. This…creating peace…is actually something that is seldom done but which has the power to supplant what may otherwise look or be perceived as something immovable. It’s what Daryl Davis does so well, namely addressing ignorance at its root instead of just focusing on the manifestations of it.
This approach that Daryl Davis exemplifies takes patience, knowing that there will still be examples of poor race relations that manifest in our environment, as we actively go about striving to change societal conditions. This means that, if your personal understanding of how to change society, literally changing the minds of the humans in your society, sits on a premise that you need to be seeing dramatic change overnight, you’ll likely lose hope, become swept back up into the distractions of modernity, and go back to sleep. Mr. Davis, however, shows how real work is work that produces sustainable change, bit by bit, person by person. Reactionary band-aids may look all glitzy on Facebook and feel very nice to the ego. If, however, they’re not sustainable, they’re no good. Although they may feel pleasant for a moment, their value as sustainable change is specious. We seek change and not entertainment of the ego.
I am a white man in America who has spent many of his years in Law Enforcement, Policing, and Security. I have spent just as long trying to figure out how to help all of humanity get to a better place (I know…it seems like a pie in the sky concern, but it needs attention). Specifically, I focus a lot on what is in front of me here in America, i.e., the relations of black and white Americans.
I challenge other white men to come out of the closet, namely the closet of privilege where it’s way too easy to sit back, nod affirmatively as if you agree with your children’s anger over George Floyd’s murder, but otherwise say and do absolutely nothing. Don’t turn away because it’s uncomfortable. Be a moral man. Be a strong man (yes, the prejudiced is the weakest kind of man). Be the kind of man exemplified by Daryl Davis.
I intend to leave this world a better place than I found it. Join me.
2 thoughts on “Turning Adversaries into Allies: An Example of Race Relations Transformation”
When I first saw this talk, I knew that what Daryl Davis did is the key to repairing over 400 years of trauma and oppression. You said it perfectly, this can’t be something on whose coattails we can ride until the excitement fades. To achieve lasting change, we must be ready to hunker down for the long haul and change one person at a time, no matter how long it takes. Great piece!
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Thank you for sharing this valuable feedback!
I like and agree with how you put this: “We must be ready to hunker down for the long haul and change one person at a time, no matter how long it takes.” Perfect!