Daryl Davis believes the method he used to persuade many klansmen to defect from the hate group can help America to bridge its political divides.
As a hobby, the black musician Daryl Davis persuades members of the Ku Klux Klan to defect from the organization. Over the years, he has spoken with hundreds of white supremacists. And due to his work, a couple dozen people have left the organization, including at least two prominent figures in senior leadership positions.
Two years ago, after listening to his life story on Love+Radio, the peerless character-driven interview podcast, I wrote about his belief that “when you are actively learning about someone else you are passively teaching them about yourself.” In listening to his most bitter enemies, Davis heard words and ideas that chilled him to the bone—yet he found that by listening and conversing he could subvert them. Some men even handed over their Klan garb, as he reminds critics of his approach. “I pull out my robes and hoods and say, ‘This is what I’ve done to put a dent in racism,” he explained. “I’ve got robes and hoods hanging in my closet by people who’ve given up that belief because of my conversations sitting down to dinner. They gave it up. How many robes and hoods have you collected?”
This week, Love+Radio released a followup interview.
The show’s creator, Nick van der Kolk, felt that in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, Americans were having a hard time conversing. “I think when people feel scared they start arguing from this place of emotionality,” he said, “which is totally understandable, but it’s also not very effective in terms of converting people.” He called Davis to ask his advice—and his thoughts on Donald Trump.
“Every racist that I know—and I know a lot of racists—every racist that I know voted for Donald Trump,” Davis said near the end of the interview. “However,” he added, “that does not, and I expressly repeat it, that does not mean that everybody who voted for Donald Trump is a racist. There are plenty of people, including good friends of mine, who are not racist, and who voted for Trump. A lot of people wanted a change from what they were accustom to for the last decades … they wanted a change of the status quo, a changing of the guard. And they were willing to overlook his misogyny, his racist or bigoted comments. They just wanted that change. They were are not racist people. But every racist I know did vote for him.”
He attributes that to a campaign focused on fear of outsiders. “They got the most powerful man in the world to say the exact same thing that they’ve been saying for decades. For over a century,” he said. “You know they’re going to vote for him.”