Crossing the Racial Divide

DD-at-KKK-Rally-in-Maryland-650x589Everyone gravitates toward people and people groups that are “like us”. We see it in all facets of life. The tendency to associate with our “own kind” begins early in life, on the playground. Kids tend to form cliques. They give themselves names like, jocks, nerds goths, burnouts,  and so on. Consider the classic “no girls allowed” sign under the treehouse.

This tendency is very human. The athletes stick together; the smart kids stick together; fraternities and sororities stick together; Italians, Irish, Mexicans, whatever people make up the current immigrant wave, stick together. The poor associate with the poor, and the rich associate with the rich.

The racial divide is, perhaps, the most ugly example of this tendency in our country, and one that we still deal with after many years of “equal protection under the law” and civil rights movements and ant-discrimination statutes.

I have always been suspect of attempts to legislate morality, let alone changes of human nature. We are complex creatures. Not that we should give up trying, setting standards and enforcing laws, but something else need to take place to change the ingrained racial issues that unfortunately are part of the worn fabric of this country, and one which we have only begun to tackle with national urgency in my lifetime.

We have made strides. We elected a black president.

But, there is still prejudice, as demonstrated by the TV show What Would You Do. In one episode, a young white actor was instructed to act like he was trying to take a bicycle that was chained to a tree and to leave an impression that maybe it was not his. No one seemed to bat an eyelash. They shrugged and walked on. When a black actor was put in the same position, a white man responded by challenging the young black actor. We have heard the stories of black friends who say they are watched in department stores. I do not see it, but then… I am white.

On the flip side, people still cannot disagree with the politics of a black man without someone calling them prejudiced. Unfortunately, some people are prejudiced and disagree only because the politics are espoused by a black man. We have a long ways to go.

The black community has a long way to go too. Yikes! Easy for me to say, but I think I am right. Yes, there is still prejudice, but the laws are now in your favor, the opportunities are there, seize the day! Do not play the victim. I believe Barack Obama was elected in no small part because many people wanted to vote for a black man, regardless of the politics. It was time. There are many people of good will.

I think some people use race and prejudice as an excuse. Some people take advantage of it because it sells. Some people make a living off of racial tensions. The media, for instance, seeks opportunity to exploit racial issues. We (white people) need to be reminded that our country is not where we should be. At the same time, exploiting racial issues can be like picking a scab: if you keep picking the scab, the wound will not heel.

That is why I love people who take a different turn from the tired ruts we have gotten used to. A poignant example is Daryl Davis, a black musician and befriender of Klansmen, as in Ku Klux Klan, a/k/a KKK. What?!! Yes!

This turn of direction began one night when Davis was the only black person in a country bar. He was in the band. A Klansman approached him, and Davis engaged him. Davis was raised oversees. His father was in the foreign service. He grew up in an environment of diversity and did not experience prejudice until he came back to the States. He did not carry the baggage or have any experience with the “popular” ways of responding to prejudice. He did not act the way others act because he had not learned how to act that way. What he did was tackle the issue in a new and bold way by holding his hand out, greeting the personification of racial prejudice and hatred and disarming it by befriending that Klansman in the bar. Read about it in the Las Vegas Guardian Express article by Rebecca Savastio.

Daryl Davis did not stop with one befriended Klansman; he kept going, and he has written a book about his experiences with KKK members. (Klan-Destine Relationships: A Black Man’s Odyssey in the Ku Klux Klan) He did not stop there; he is still seeking out Klansmen, and he is working on another book. He is single-handedly responsible for many people leaving the Klan and eliminating prejudice one person at a time. He breaks down racial barriers not by complaining to the media, getting angry, calling out racists and bringing attention to racism; he simply disarms racism by befriending racists. Once friendship is established, there is no room for racism.

Daryl Davis says, “Ignorance breeds fear. If you don’t keep that fear in check, that fear will breed hatred. If you don’t keep hatred in check it will breed destruction.” Davis shows that the way to attack racism, which is hatred, is not with more hatred, but with friendship.

What this man has done and is still doing is inspirational. It is a bold, new approach to the race issue. I am not suggesting that everyone should do this. I doubt most people could pull it off. It does say something, however, about how human nature is changed. It is changed by breaking down and crossing barriers with a hand of friendship. Person to person and heart to heart contact can do what no law can do – it changes people.

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