Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race, and America
We are living in a time of shocking hatred and intolerance.
I am talking about college campuses, of course.
I imagine that you know what happened at Middlebury College last month. It made the national news. Charles Murray – a semi-famous, blandly mainstream political social philosopher – was invited to give a talk.
In Charles Murray’s 1994 best seller “The Bell Curve,” there were a few chapters that suggested that different races have different average IQs.
My first thought is that his conclusion is unverifiable and stupid. Middlebury’s first thought was that Mr. Murray has forfeited his right to speak and to even step foot on a college campus.
Never mind the fact that “The Bell Curve” was published before any of the students were born. Never mind the fact that Mr. Murray was there to talk about his new book “Coming Apart.” The Middlebury Thought Police concluded that students needed to be protected from the scourge of alternative ideas and free debate.
The anti-debate fanatics threatened Murray with physical harm if he didn’t leave and one of the professors was injured by the mob as he helped usher the speaker to safety.
I feel very fortunate to have been able to get my education during the easygoing 20th Century. Times have changed in a bad way. Is there any group of people more hateful and intolerant than a mob of brainwashed college students? Maybe the KKK?
In this strange new world where progressive children aren’t allowed to talk to their ideological enemies, Daryl Davis stands out. He is either an angel among devils or an unforgivable apostate, depending on your perspective.
He makes his living as a rock’n’roll piano player, but Daryl Davis’s claim to fame is his unique circle of friends. Mr. Davis is a black guy who likes to befriend White Supremacists.
If you recently received a liberal arts degree, then “Accidental Courtesy” is guaranteed to offend you. Not only is it a film about people with differences having civilized conversations with each other, it dares to present Klansmen as…people.
In fact, it is the non-Klansmen who give Mr. Davis the hardest time. A trio of #blacklivesmatter activists brutally lay into him for being an Uncle Tom turncoat. Davis gets treated a little more respectfully when he visits the Southern Poverty Law Center. But when Davis suggests to them that they try to engage White Supremacists in dialogue, a civil rights worker laughs in his face. “All those people do is hate,” Davis is told.
But that isn’t true. No one just sits around and hates all day, obviously. It shouldn’t need to be proven, but Daryl Davis has proven it. In his thirty years of befriending White Supremacists, he has inspired dozens of Klansmen to rethink their values and leave the KKK. Mr. Davis proudly keeps the robes and hoods of the friends that he inspired to change.
Even the active White Supremacists who Daryl Davis sits down with act like respectable gentlemen in front of the camera (with one exception. Pastor Thomas Robb, who should probably be banished to South Sudan immediately).
The White Power kooks don’t seem all that angry. They are driven by one bad, outdated idea: the desire to be separate from other people. The Klansmen and Neo-Nazis agree that white people should live apart from non-white people and that they should not reproduce together.
This worldview is 100% wrong. But it’s not that different than the philosophy of Booker T. Washington. And it’s almost exactly the same as the racial separation theories of Marcus Garvey and Abraham Lincoln.
Daryl Davis’s life’s work is to demonstrate that a man can be wrong but not be a monster. And Davis continues to prove that it is more productive to talk with your ideological enemies than to demonize them.
I doubt it was Jewish director Matthew Ornstein’s intention to present Neo-Nazis as well-behaved conversationalists and progressive activists as mind-numbed fascists. But that is what happens in “Accidental Courtesy.”
Which is better? To be dead wrong and act like a peaceful gentleman? Or to be potentially right but demonstrate insufferable arrogance and intolerance? Young campus rioters need to look in the mirror and ask themselves that question.