Daryl Davis is an accomplished R&B and blues musician, having played with the likes of Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and B. B. King. And he’s also an African-American man who’s persuaded more than 200 members of the Ku Klux Klan to leave their robes, hoods and hateful beliefs behind.
In this first episode of Unfiltered, a new, weekly Yahoo News interview series documenting real, unflinching and unapologetic American voices, on topics ranging from the judicial system, to gun control, to the sex industry, we take a look at one man’s mission to understand hate and prejudice within his country. “It was beyond me that someone who had never seen me before, someone who had never spoken to me before, someone who knew absolutely nothing about me, would want to inflict pain upon me for no other reason than the color of my skin,” says Davis. “How can you hate me, when you don’t even know me?”
The search for the answer to his question began one night in 1983, when Davis found himself playing in a country music bar. A white man approached him and offered to buy him a drink. That’s when the man told him, “You know, this is the first time I’ve ever sat down and had a drink with a black man.” Davis asked him why. “He looked back at me just as plain as day,” recounts Davis, “and he said, ‘I’m a member of the Ku Klux Klan.’
“I realized, maybe I’d found the way to get the answer to my question of: How can you hate me, when you don’t even know me? Who better to ask?”
In time, Davis learned that the guy at the bar, and others like him, “were just human beings”: “At that point, I decided: I need to go and interview other Klan people,” he said. “And I’ll go around the country and I’ll do that. And then put it all together, and I will have a book.” Titled Klan-destine Relationships: A Black Man's Odyssey in the Ku Klux Klan, Davis’ book about his experiences was published in 1998.
Ever since, Davis has made it his mission to befriend members of the Ku Klux Klan, not only to better understand them but, more importantly, so that they can better understand him. Several hundred members have left the Klan as a result, and he has amassed roughly 40 robes and hoods from people who used to rank as high as Imperial Wizards and Grand Dragons in the Klan. “I’m glad that I have these things, because it means the people who wore these things, who believed in what these things stood for, no longer wear them, and no longer believe in them.”
After his decades-long, cross-country experience interacting with KKK members and neo-Nazis, Davis says the “new” face of hate known as the alt-right is, in fact, not new at all: “They’ve changed the name from white supremacy to white separatists, to white nationalists, to alt-right. It’s the same thing. A rose by any other name is still a rose.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, ethnic and racial minorities will make up the majority of the United States’ population by the year 2042, in what white supremacists refer to as the “browning of America” and “white genocide.” Davis warns that as we get closer to that point, more racist incidents are likely to take place. “The neo-Nazis and Klan people tell me, ‘Daryl, I don’t want my grandkids to be brown.’”
Even then, however, Davis remains hopeful. He believes that President Trump’s election win is one of the best things to have happened to the United States. “That cancer known as racism has metastasized through our society, and in the past, it’s been a taboo to talk about it. But now, during this current administration, people are talking about it, people are coming out and forming groups to address these issues.
“Now that we’ve had all this experience, shame on us if we don’t put it to good use and say: ‘OK, now what can we do to keep us together?’”