Overcoming Hate with Friendship and Communication
Daryl Davis is a black man. He is a black man who has spent countless hours at Ku Klux Klan rallies (KKK). He has invited KKK leaders to his house… and shared meals with these men.
You might ask yourself, “Why would Mr. Davis do this?” Is he some kind of bizarre racist who hates his own race? The answer to that is unequivocally NO. He does these things because he believes that Americans don’t have enough conversations with people who believe differently then they do. Generally speaking, we stick to our own “tribes.” This leads to linear thinking – “We are good and they are bad.” Groups stereotype other groups and ascribe qualities to them without facts.
The main premise that Mr. Davis operates from is a simple one – “How can you hate me, when you don’t know me.” So, he broke down barriers. He befriended people who claimed that they hated him. He was polite. He listened. He found common ground. Mr. Davis allowed these Klansmen to get to know him as a human being. And, as they did, they had to internally wrestle with their unfounded stereotypes. If a person believes that all black people are evil, lazy or stupid, yet they meet a kind-hearted, hard-working smart black man, their naive prejudices become myths.
As a result of all of these one-on-one interactions, over 200 Klansman gave up their membership in the KKK. More than one Grand Wizard (leader) quit the Klan and gave Mr. Davis his robe.
Joe’s Perspective: Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday. It is a day set aside to celebrate the progress made by this man and many others in the Civil Rights Movement. I wrote about MLK and feature him in my Role Models book https://characterandleadership.com/martin-luther-king-jr-composure/. I admire his philosophy of non-violent resistance. He believed that you don’t fight hate with hate. Rather, you fight hate with love. He taught us to love our enemies. In the above example, I believe Mr. Davis exhibits a similarly successful strategy. While MLK changed the world, Mr. Davis is changing individuals. To me, it’s a beautiful thing.
A Personal Example: When I was about 20 years of age, I worked as a valet at the Amway Grand Plaza. I worked the overnight shift. In this huge hotel, there were only two people working – the front desk worker and the valet. There isn’t a lot to do between 3 and 5 am, so I regularly had conversations with the front desk worker. One of those front desk workers was a gay man named Frank. Before I met Frank, I had a lot of negative stereotypes about someone who was gay. My conversations with Frank made me question my unfounded stereotypes. Frank liked sports and rock-n-roll. We agreed on politics. He was funny. By the end of the summer, I considered him a friend. I could no longer paint all gay people with the same brush. That’s called growth. I got out of my comfort zone and had uncomfortable conversations.
What can you do? Many of us wonder what we can do to improve race relations, but many of us struggle to know what to do. Mr. Davis provides us with a tangible example to follow. Start by going out of your way to talk with people who look differently or believe differently than you. Be nice. Purposefully and consistently initiate conversations. Listen without judgment. Politely express your views. Find common ground. Create understanding. Break down stereotypes and prejudices one interaction at a time. In a small way, this is what Mr. Davis did, and in a large way, this is what Martin Luther King, Jr. did too.
Your Turn: What can you personally do to develop more unity between people and minimize hate between people?