Unmasking their fears; Daryl Davis dismantles the KKK

Juan Zuniga-Mejia

FEATURES EDITOR

Daryl Davis is a blues musician, and an activist for race relations. As one of the Feinberg Lectures speakers, Davis gave a lecture about dismantling the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) — his book is titled Klan-destine Relationships, published in 1997. When first approaching the idea of confronting KKK members, the primary question in his head was: “Why do you hate me when you don’t even know me?”

Davis has seen what most people never get to see with their own eyes, due to his parents being in the U.S. reform service, and being a musician who has played all over the world. “I’ve been exposed to a multitude of ethnicities, cultures, religions — you name it,” said Davis. “All of that has shaped who I’ve become, and my perspectives and how I think — how I view different people.”

Although Davis was exposed to different cultures and all kinds of people, he recognized that there were many who had not had the same opportunities, “Because they have not had that extent of travel . . . that extent of exposure . . . their perspective is skewed, and they can speculate about [the world],” said Davis. He described how people used to ask him if lions roamed around his backyard, or if he saw Tarzan, having lived in Africa for a brief moment in his childhood. Davis said, “That’s their perception, and your perception is your reality. If you haven’t experienced racism, then you don’t know what someone is talking about.”

His experiences abroad also highlighted the differences in race relations in the U.S.; Davis said he experienced more racism in his home country than he ever had overseas. “How is it that people from all over the world treat me better than my own fellow Americans? How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?” Davis asked himself. 

He could not find the answer to his own question — “So, I figured, who better to ask that question — that would have the answer  — than someone who would join an organization whose whole history has been hating people who do not look like them, who do not believe as they believe?” This is what led him to face  KKK members, and present them with the question of why their hate was more important than the entirety of a person’s personality, their history, all because of their skin color. 

Davis believes that if anyone wants to address a problem, we have to know what it is first. In order to do that, we must gain perspective and knowledge of the opposite side, including their beliefs and logic, in order to sit down and talk with them. With this method of talking, Davis had several positive results that led to the surrendering of their robes, a symbol that they have forfeited their beliefs and were ready to further listen to the voices of those they have been shutting out. 

However, not all results were positive. “There are some people who are so deep-seated ... they will go to their grave being hateful and violent and racist. There is no changing them, whatsoever,” said Davis. Even so, Davis still values the success of having been able to talk with some of the members.

Even when the very action  of talking with Davis goes against what they believe, he manages to hear them out, tell them his truth, and leave what he described as a seed in their thoughts. “You won’t see the seed grow that day, but they go home . . . the more you nurture that seed — if you spend five minutes with your worst enemy — you will find something in common, maybe one or two things. You spend two minutes — you’ll find two more things. If you nurture those commonalities, you are then building a relationship [a friendship] based on commonality, the things that you have in contrast, like your skin color, those things begin to matter less.”

As Davis spoke about his encounters and growing relationship with KKK members, despite any sort of fear he had at the time, he presented himself to each member with dignity, composure, and professionalism. Davis had the understanding of the guard who stood beside their bosses, and an understanding that fear only sparks ignorance, and if he blocked out what they said, he would not understand their points of view.

“Together is how we grow.Unfortunately, we don’t think that way in this country. That’s because we compartmentalize everybody,” said Davis. 

Davis believes “by the year 2042, the country will be 50 — 50, white and non-white . . . When you have been in power for 400 years, like white people in this country have — now, don’t get me wrong, [there are] white people in this country who embrace the change that’s coming,” said Davis. 

During the lecture event, Davis presented many clips and photos of his interactions with KKK members, including himself present in KKK rituals — such as burning a large cross or park gatherings where a Grand Dragon ranking member of the KKK agreed that he and Davis both respected each other’s opinions and values. Davis came through, making dents in racism. Even though they are not total changes against the violence that spins into our news. Davis recognizes that what he does is considered “strange” — the word a news reporter used to describe his actions in one of the clips he played for the audience — and Davis said that if the lives he changed resulted from being “strange,” then everyone should indulge in being a little bit more “strange.”

By getting into the mentality and understanding groups such as the KKK and neo-Nazis, it can be easier to plant those seeds of change into their thoughts and bring them to a more understanding perspective of liberty and freedom. However, what he did say was difficult was reaching the person who becomes the “lone wolf” because they are not part of a group.

“The lone [wolf] is just one person,” said Davis. “As we get closer and closer to 2042, we’re going to see more and more lone wolves. They’re freaking out; they’re seeing the landscape change.” 

This change is what Davis calls “white flight.”Essentially, someone would step out of their home and find all their neighbors from all sides look like them, and be happy. A few years later, that person would step outside and find one of his neighbors does not look like him, but that person only decides they do not have to talk to them. More time goes by, and more neighbors do not look like that person, and eventually, that person is the one who doesn’t look like the neighborhood, so they leave. 

It is the lone wolf who causes acts of terrorism out of fear, not out of liberty or love of the USA. That is why it is important to understand what the power of listening can do for someone. 

Some people, as Davis said, would not change, but others can learn to listen if we choose to listen as well. Fear, just like fearing the KKKs’ hoods, is ultimately ridiculous. It’s materialistic. When we overcome that fear, we see that we are all human. Daryl Davis is a blues musician, and an activist for race relations. As one of the Feinberg Lectures speakers, Davis gave a lecture about dismantling the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) — his book is titled Klan-destine Relationships, published in 1997. When first approaching the idea of confronting KKK members, the primary question in his head was: “Why do you hate me when you don’t even know me?”

Davis has seen what most people never get to see with their own eyes, due to his parents being in the U.S. reform service, and being a musician who has played all over the world. “I’ve been exposed to a multitude of ethnicities, cultures, religions — you name it,” said Davis. “All of that has shaped who I’ve become, and my perspectives and how I think — how I view different people.”

Although Davis was exposed to different cultures and all kinds of people, he recognized that there were many who had not had the same opportunities, “Because they have not had that extent of travel . . . that extent of exposure . . . their perspective is skewed, and they can speculate about [the world],” said Davis. He described how people used to ask him if lions roamed around his backyard, or if he saw Tarzan, having lived in Africa for a brief moment in his childhood. Davis said, “That’s their perception, and your perception is your reality. If you haven’t experienced racism, then you don’t know what someone is talking about.”

His experiences abroad also highlighted the differences in race relations in the U.S.; Davis said he experienced more racism in his home country than he ever had overseas. “How is it that people from all over the world treat me better than my own fellow Americans? How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?” Davis asked himself. 

He could not find the answer to his own question — “So, I figured, who better to ask that question — that would have the answer  — than someone who would join an organization whose whole history has been hating people who do not look like them, who do not believe as they believe?” This is what led him to face  KKK members, and present them with the question of why their hate was more important than the entirety of a person’s personality, their history, all because of their skin color. 

Davis believes that if anyone wants to address a problem, we have to know what it is first. In order to do that, we must gain perspective and knowledge of the opposite side, including their beliefs and logic, in order to sit down and talk with them. With this method of talking, Davis had several positive results that led to the surrendering of their robes, a symbol that they have forfeited their beliefs and were ready to further listen to the voices of those they have been shutting out. 

However, not all results were positive. “There are some people who are so deep-seated ... they will go to their grave being hateful and violent and racist. There is no changing them, whatsoever,” said Davis. Even so, Davis still values the success of having been able to talk with some of the members.

Even when the very action  of talking with Davis goes against what they believe, he manages to hear them out, tell them his truth, and leave what he described as a seed in their thoughts. “You won’t see the seed grow that day, but they go home . . . the more you nurture that seed — if you spend five minutes with your worst enemy — you will find something in common, maybe one or two things. You spend two minutes — you’ll find two more things. If you nurture those commonalities, you are then building a relationship [a friendship] based on commonality, the things that you have in contrast, like your skin color, those things begin to matter less.”

As Davis spoke about his encounters and growing relationship with KKK members, despite any sort of fear he had at the time, he presented himself to each member with dignity, composure, and professionalism. Davis had the understanding of the guard who stood beside their bosses, and an understanding that fear only sparks ignorance, and if he blocked out what they said, he would not understand their points of view.

“Together is how we grow.Unfortunately, we don’t think that way in this country. That’s because we compartmentalize everybody,” said Davis. 

Davis believes “by the year 2042, the country will be 50 — 50, white and non-white . . . When you have been in power for 400 years, like white people in this country have — now, don’t get me wrong, [there are] white people in this country who embrace the change that’s coming,” said Davis. 

During the lecture event, Davis presented many clips and photos of his interactions with KKK members, including himself present in KKK rituals — such as burning a large cross or park gatherings where a Grand Dragon ranking member of the KKK agreed that he and Davis both respected each other’s opinions and values. Davis came through, making dents in racism. Even though they are not total changes against the violence that spins into our news. Davis recognizes that what he does is considered “strange” — the word a news reporter used to describe his actions in one of the clips he played for the audience — and Davis said that if the lives he changed resulted from being “strange,” then everyone should indulge in being a little bit more “strange.”

By getting into the mentality and understanding groups such as the KKK and neo-Nazis, it can be easier to plant those seeds of change into their thoughts and bring them to a more understanding perspective of liberty and freedom. However, what he did say was difficult was reaching the person who becomes the “lone wolf” because they are not part of a group.

“The lone [wolf] is just one person,” said Davis. “As we get closer and closer to 2042, we’re going to see more and more lone wolves. They’re freaking out; they’re seeing the landscape change.” 

This change is what Davis calls “white flight.”Essentially, someone would step out of their home and find all their neighbors from all sides look like them, and be happy. A few years later, that person would step outside and find one of his neighbors does not look like him, but that person only decides they do not have to talk to them. More time goes by, and more neighbors do not look like that person, and eventually, that person is the one who doesn’t look like the neighborhood, so they leave. 

It is the lone wolf who causes acts of terrorism out of fear, not out of liberty or love of the USA. That is why it is important to understand what the power of listening can do for someone. 

Some people, as Davis said, would not change, but others can learn to listen if we choose to listen as well. Fear, just like fearing the KKKs’ hoods, is ultimately ridiculous. It’s materialistic. When we overcome that fear, we see that we are all human. 

Davis has seen what most people never get to see with their own eyes, due to his parents being in the U.S. reform service, and being a musician who has played all over the world. “I’ve been exposed to a multitude of ethnicities, cultures, religions — you name it,” said Davis. “All of that has shaped who I’ve become, and my perspectives and how I think — how I view different people.”

Although Davis was exposed to different cultures and all kinds of people, he recognized that there were many who had not had the same opportunities, “Because they have not had that extent of travel . . . that extent of exposure . . . their perspective is skewed, and they can speculate about [the world],” said Davis. He described how people used to ask him if lions roamed around his backyard, or if he saw Tarzan, having lived in Africa for a brief moment in his childhood. Davis said, “That’s their perception, and your perception is your reality. If you haven’t experienced racism, then you don’t know what someone is talking about.”

His experiences abroad also highlighted the differences in race relations in the U.S.; Davis said he experienced more racism in his home country than he ever had overseas. “How is it that people from all over the world treat me better than my own fellow Americans? How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?” Davis asked himself. 

He could not find the answer to his own question — “So, I figured, who better to ask that question — that would have the answer  — than someone who would join an organization whose whole history has been hating people who do not look like them, who do not believe as they believe?” This is what led him to face  KKK members, and present them with the question of why their hate was more important than the entirety of a person’s personality, their history, all because of their skin color. 

Davis believes that if anyone wants to address a problem, we have to know what it is first. In order to do that, we must gain perspective and knowledge of the opposite side, including their beliefs and logic, in order to sit down and talk with them. With this method of talking, Davis had several positive results that led to the surrendering of their robes, a symbol that they have forfeited their beliefs and were ready to further listen to the voices of those they have been shutting out. 

However, not all results were positive. “There are some people who are so deep-seated ... they will go to their grave being hateful and violent and racist. There is no changing them, whatsoever,” said Davis. Even so, Davis still values the success of having been able to talk with some of the members.

Even when the very action  of talking with Davis goes against what they believe, he manages to hear them out, tell them his truth, and leave what he described as a seed in their thoughts. “You won’t see the seed grow that day, but they go home . . . the more you nurture that seed — if you spend five minutes with your worst enemy — you will find something in common, maybe one or two things. You spend two minutes — you’ll find two more things. If you nurture those commonalities, you are then building a relationship [a friendship] based on commonality, the things that you have in contrast, like your skin color, those things begin to matter less.”

As Davis spoke about his encounters and growing relationship with KKK members, despite any sort of fear he had at the time, he presented himself to each member with dignity, composure, and professionalism. Davis had the understanding of the guard who stood beside their bosses, and an understanding that fear only sparks ignorance, and if he blocked out what they said, he would not understand their points of view.

“Together is how we grow.Unfortunately, we don’t think that way in this country. That’s because we compartmentalize everybody,” said Davis. 

Davis believes “by the year 2042, the country will be 50 — 50, white and non-white . . . When you have been in power for 400 years, like white people in this country have — now, don’t get me wrong, [there are] white people in this country who embrace the change that’s coming,” said Davis. 

During the lecture event, Davis presented many clips and photos of his interactions with KKK members, including himself present in KKK rituals — such as burning a large cross or park gatherings where a Grand Dragon ranking member of the KKK agreed that he and Davis both respected each other’s opinions and values. Davis came through, making dents in racism. Even though they are not total changes against the violence that spins into our news. Davis recognizes that what he does is considered “strange” — the word a news reporter used to describe his actions in one of the clips he played for the audience — and Davis said that if the lives he changed resulted from being “strange,” then everyone should indulge in being a little bit more “strange.”

By getting into the mentality and understanding groups such as the KKK and neo-Nazis, it can be easier to plant those seeds of change into their thoughts and bring them to a more understanding perspective of liberty and freedom. However, what he did say was difficult was reaching the person who becomes the “lone wolf” because they are not part of a group.

“The lone [wolf] is just one person,” said Davis. “As we get closer and closer to 2042, we’re going to see more and more lone wolves. They’re freaking out; they’re seeing the landscape change.” 

This change is what Davis calls “white flight.”Essentially, someone would step out of their home and find all their neighbors from all sides look like them, and be happy. A few years later, that person would step outside and find one of his neighbors does not look like him, but that person only decides they do not have to talk to them. More time goes by, and more neighbors do not look like that person, and eventually, that person is the one who doesn’t look like the neighborhood, so they leave. 

It is the lone wolf who causes acts of terrorism out of fear, not out of liberty or love of the USA. That is why it is important to understand what the power of listening can do for someone. 

Some people, as Davis said, would not change, but others can learn to listen if we choose to listen as well. Fear, just like fearing the KKKs’ hoods, is ultimately ridiculous. It’s materialistic. When we overcome that fear, we see that we are all human.