Some people enjoy gardening and collecting stamps as hobbies. Daryl Davis, a black man, musician, and believer in Jesus, befriends white supremacists.
Daryl Davis’ first encounter with racism came at the age of ten while marching in a Cub Scout parade. A white crowd threw bottles, rocks, and pop cans at Davis, the only black person in the parade. formulating a powerful question in his mind.
That day a question entered his mind that has never left:
“How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?”
His interest in white supremacy only grew after his first encounter with one in 1974. In a high school class on 20th Century issues, the head of the American Nazi party pointed at Davis and another black student and said, “I’m going to send you back to Africa.” That shocking interaction drove Davis to research supremacist groups.
Davis soon realized the best place to learn about this hateful ideology would be talking directly to leaders espousing the movement’s leaders. Davis has attended KKK rallies, eaten with leaders in their homes, and engaged them in conversation. He begins relationships by building on the question he has asked since childhood:
“How can you hate me when you don’t even know me? Look at me and tell me to my face why you should lynch me.”
He not only asks this tough question, he lends an open ear for their answers. He seeks to understand their reasoning and then challenge their logic and consistency.
The results of Davis’ work are astounding. Hundreds of KKK members have left the group due to their relationship with Davis, even the former leader of the Maryland KKK chapter, causing the KKK chapter to fall apart.
“I never set out to convert anybody,” Davis said. “In my quest, some of them wound up converting themselves.”
To celebrate men leaving the Klan, Davis collects their old robes and hoods.
Respectful Discourse: Something Sorely Needed in America Today
We need more people like Daryl Davis in our world today. We have so many examples of how responding to hate with hate only makes things worse. This is true for racial issues, political ones, and in dealing with those who oppose Christianity.
“That’s the problem I see in our society today,” Davis said in an interview with David Pakman. “We have a lot of people on all sides of the fence who will talk to the media about the other person and then the other person will reply…by talking to the media about that person. But the two people do not sit down and talk with each other.”
“We have a lot of people on all sides of the fence who will talk to the media about the other person and then the other person will reply…by talking to the media about that person. But the two people do not sit down and talk with each other.”
Discourse of all kinds seems to have left the American vocabulary. We receive information from the echo chambers of social media that only tells us what we want to hear instead of honestly considering other viewpoints. Fake and biased news headlines get tens of thousands of reads and retweets more than factual retractions or balanced journalism, deepening the divide in our country and fueling outrage.
The major issues plaguing our sin-bent world have no easy solutions, but we each can play a part in helping the situation.
Listening In Spite of Differences
Love can do what anger and hashtag activism can never dream of. But it’s hard. It’s messy and often slow work. And it often comes with criticism.
After being chewed out by a leader of the NAACP for “putting [African Americans] twenty steps back,” Davis silenced his detractors by pulling out his robes and hoods: “Look, this is what I’ve done to put a dent in racism… How many robes and hoods have you collected?”
“Look, this is what I’ve done to put a dent in racism… How many robes and hoods have you collected?”
Christ also faced ridicule and criticism for dining with tax collectors and sinners. Engaging people who are different is countercultural, and something our divided world doesn’t understand. We may not have the same calling as Davis, but we can seek to engage people different than us.
Whether it be a different political bent or someone fighting against Christianity, we need to engage actual people, not just ideas. We need to remember our shared humanity (Genesis 1:26-27). And like Christ, we may need to sacrifice much—if not everything—to truly show His love.
“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
The story of Daryl Davis is told in the documentary Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America.
Fun fact about Daryl Davis: he is a celebrated musician who has played with Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, B.B. King, and Bill Clinton.
Visit Daryl’s website to learn more about his music, acting, and life.
- Pakman, David. “Black Musician Befriends White Supremacists.“
- The Atlantic: The Audacity of Talking about Race with the Ku Klux Klan
- The Independent: Black man convinces 200 Ku Klux Klansmen to leave white supremacist group by befriending them
Photos are screenshots from YouTube video “Black Musician Befriends White Supremacists.”