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07.06.2018 15:00
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26.05.2018 05:00
Home » Blog » Face to face with Daryl Davis about talking with racists

Face to face with Daryl Davis about talking with racists


Musician, anti-racist activist, lecturer. For more than 30 years he has been meeting and talking with Ku Klux Klan members. He claims to have been directly responsible for 60, and indirectly for over 200 people leaving the Klan. Most of them have become his friends. The first of them was Roger Kelly.

Interview with Daryl Davis - Face to Face conference

Daryl Davis was one of the speakers at the Face to Face conference - Aprl 26-27, 2018 - https://www.pdcs-conference.sk/

Q: You approach and talk with people who may hate you. Have you never felt fear? A: No, I was not afraid of them. I just viewed the white supremacist people as another culture, and I’ve seen many cultures in my life, around the world. Slovakia makes the 56th country that I’ve been to, so I’ve literally seen many cultures, religions, ethnicities, traditions, and ways of thinking. I just view them as another way. So, if he’s willing to sit down and talk with me, then what do I have to fear?

Q: These people are often armed and surrounded by bodyguards. Does it create a good atmosphere for talking? A: But you know what, though? I fear the police a lot more than I do Mr. Kelly, because when I see Mr. Kelly in his robe, in his hood… For many people, that evokes fear. For me, it does not, because I know where he’s coming from. I know he doesn’t like me, I know what he’s thinking etc. And I know the history of atrocities that he has committed – or people like him have committed – against people like me.

But when you see a police officer in his uniform, with his badge, his gun, you know where he is supposed to be coming from. But in my country, that is not always the case. There has been a long history of animosity between black people and the police. So, you know he’s supposed to stand for equal justice, but that’s not always the case in my country. At least when you see someone in a robe and hood, you know what they stand for.

Q: These days many politicians evoke fear in people on purpose, so they can rule them easier. What may be a result of such politics? A: Yes, it’s a tactic. And we saw it work very effectively in this last election. What it has done is that has emboldened the racists in my country. Now people say “is your country becoming more racist?”. No, it’s not becoming more racist. Those people were already there. The mentality was already there. But, as a result of exactly what you’re talking about in the last campaign, the last platform ran on a platform of fear, on racism, on xenophobia, that kind of thing. It emboldened, it allowed those people who were already racist to come out and say “Yes, yes! Finally, we have someone who gets it! Finally, we have a protector, a saviour, a man who believes in what we stand for!”. So, now they’re all coming out. But they’ve always been there. They’ve been hidden.

I know where they are, because I’ve been doing this work for 30 years, but most people think “Oh, where did they come from?! This is new!”. No, it’s not.

Q: What can we do to prevent racist and xenophobic views from becoming more and more fashionable? A: We have to communicate with each other. We must communicate with each other. You know, too many people form groups of like-minded people. So, if you and I, and these people over here are not racist and say: “Ok, we all agree. Let’s form a group, and we’ll meet the second Wednesday of every month, and we’ll talk about how bad racism is.”, what are we achieving? Nothing. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already now.

We need to invite that person, who is a racist, to come to us and explain why he or she feels this way, so we can understand what is it that they fear, what is it that they believe that may not be true, what is it that we believe about them that may not be true... So, we must communicate with each other.

I see too many people now (and now I’m speaking for my country) who talk about each other, they talk at each other, but they talk past each other. What I prefer to do is sit down and talk with each other. I have a theory: when two enemies are talking, they’re not fighting, they’re talking. They might be yelling and screaming, and maybe beating their fist on the table to make a point, but at least they’re talking – they’re not fighting. It’s when the conversation stops that the ground becomes fertile for violence. So we must keep the conversation going.

Q: Since you do an extraordinary thing… A: You say it’s an extraordinary thing. I hope, one day, talking to people who may not agree with you may be the norm, not the extraordinary.

Q: Did you ever face disapproval within your community or family? How do you cope with that? A: Because I know this is the only way we’re going to resolve this problem of racism – through communication. I realize that there are people who think I’m crazy, but here’s the funny thing: when I first started doing this, people said exactly what you say – “You’re crazy!”. They would avoid me. My friends would avoid me. Now that we have Trump in office, that we have all these crazy people running around, my friends from way back are calling me. They’re saying “Daryl, you know these people. What going on? Tell us what’s going on!” (laughs). I say “Well, if you listened to me 30 years ago, you would know what’s going on…”.

But seriously, anytime you are pioneering something, you’re the first person or one of the first people to do something that is different, you will always have detractors who say “Nah, nah, you’re crazy, bye-bye!”. It’s like the astronomer from way back. He said that the Earth revolves around the sun. Everybody thought we were the centre of the universe, and the Sun revolves around us. And they put him in jail, thought he was crazy. Cristopher Columbus said that the Earth was round. Everyone else thought it was flat, told him he was crazy. So, if you’re amongst the first, you are always going to have detractors. Until they come around…

Q: What about if it is your close friend or relative who disagrees with you approach? It may spoil the relationship… Well, you make a decision. Do you want to stay loyal to your friend or family or do you want to know the truth? And that’s the decision that you must personally make. Whatever decision you make, you have to live with it. If it’s the truth, it will come out eventually. You can never kill the truth. The truth will defend itself. A lie, you must always defend.

Q: What do you think about our habit to avoid talking about politics at the dinner table with our families? A: We have the same thing in our country, too. Don’t talk about religion, don’t talk about politics… I disagree, because you live in a lie. I think it’s important to have these conversations, so people know where each other stands. But they must be respectful conversations. I don’t have to respect what you’re saying, because I don’t believe what you’re saying, but I must respect your right to say it.

Lukáš Zorád
Lukáš Zorád

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