“How can you hate me if you don’t even know me?” Daryl Davis asks in the new documentary “Accidental Courtesy.”
Daryl Davis, an accomplished keyboardist who has worked with Chuck Berry and Little Richard, has quite the side interest.
For the past few decades the black musician, actor and author has made it his mission to befriend people in hate groups like the Klu Klux Klan by calmly confronting them with the question:
“How can you hate me if you don’t even know me?”
His quest is the subject of the new documentary “Accidental Courtesy,” directed by Matt Ornstein and released on Dec. 9.
Though Davis’ approach may seem dangerous, he has explained his logic.
“The most important thing I learned is that when you are actively learning about someone else you are passively teaching them about yourself,” Davis explained in explained to the podcast Love+Radio via The Atlantic.
“Give them a platform. You challenge them. But you don’t challenge them rudely or violently. You do it politely and intelligently. And when you do things that way chances are they will reciprocate and give you a platform.”
In 1983, after Davis played a gig in an all-white venue in Frederick, Maryland, an audience member approached him to compliment him on his piano playing. The two struck up a friendly conversation, and Davis was surprised to discover the man was a card-carrying member of the KKK. Through this man, Davis got in touch with Roger Kelly, the former Imperial Wizard of the white supremacist organization. Over time, Kelly and Davis became close and Kelly eventually quit the hate group.
“He no longer believes today what he said,” Davis told Love+Radio. “And when he quit the Klan he gave me his robe and hood, which is the robe of the Imperial Wizard.”
Davis says that 12 other Klansmen followed suit.
Over time Davis has collected a garage-full of ceremonial robes given to him by friends who no longer hold their prejudicial beliefs. Rather than get rid of them, Davis intends to use items to start a “Museum of the Klan,” noting the importance of a nation confronting its history.
“People always say to me, ‘Daryl, how can you have this stuff? Why don’t you burn it?’” Davis says in the film, “Accidental Courtesy.” “As shameful as it is, you don’t burn our history.”
Davis’ actions are not without critics in the African-American community.
Among them is Kwame Rose, an African-American activist who protested after the death of Freddie Gray — the unarmed, 25-year-old black man who died in police custody in April 2015. Rose sat down for a drink with Davis in the film.
“You’re uneducated about the reality of most of the people who look like you,” Rose tells Davis. “Stop wasting your time going to people’s houses who don’t love you, a house where they want to throw you under the basement. White supremacists can’t change.”
Though not everyone agrees with his approach, Davis is undeterred.
Talking to Klansmen “has worked for me and I’ve proven it,” Davis told the Los Angeles Times. “I appeal to people’s common sense. I don’t seek to convert them but if they spend time with me, they can’t hate me. [The Klansman] sees that I want the same thing for my family as he does for his … if you can work on the things in common, that’s how you build friendship.”