ACCIDENTAL COURTESY: DARYL DAVIS, RACE & AMERICA

“For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen. Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”

This excellent quote from Stephen Hawking represents how important simply talking to our fellow man truly is. We’re all different. A lot of us may share the same points of views, but people usually have distinct reasons on why they arrived there. Unfortunately, some points of views come from dark places and have a negative effects on others. What should we do when people have different points of view? Should we ignore them and tell them to shut up? Or, should we be listening to them first, in order to fully understand where they’re coming from?

Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America is a documentary featuring Daryl Davis, a blues musician, author, and lecturer. Davis is famous for being a black man who has engaged with various members of the Ku Klux Klan, going so far as to call some of them “good friends” and even getting some to denounce the organization. It’s as bizarre as it sounds. Over his 20+ year hobby of infiltrating the KKK, he has collected robes and other memorabilia from the denounced members, in hopes to open a museum. The film chronicles Davis’ life as a traveling blues musician, all while conversing with the various Klan members and other citizens of the country.

This film could not have come out during a more perfect time. After the results of the 2016 Presidential Election, more and more stories of black people being killed by police, and numerous universities instituting “safe spaces” and certain levels of segregation; racial tension and discourse is at an all time high in the United States. The problem is, a lot of it isn’t true discourse. It’s people offering their opinions, and when somebody offers a rebuttal, the other party doesn’t want to hear and either walks away, or worse, insults the other party. Everybody wants to hide in their echo chambers. This is a toxic mentality that I feel like I’m seeing more of. How can we truly understand somebody, if we never take the time to sit down and listen to them?

That’s exactly what Davis did. Due to his father’s profession, Davis spent much of his childhood traveling to numerous foreign countries, where he experienced a lot of cultural integration and inclusion. Upon returning home at the age of 10, he learned that the United States was not the same way, and Davis experienced prejudice for the first time in his life. It was at this moment that he learned that some people don’t like you, simply due to the color of your skin. That planted a seed in his mind. “Why do you hate me, if you know nothing about me?” is the question he asks his KKK acquaintances.

That’s the key, though. He asked why. He didn’t yell, scream, or assault. He didn’t understand how people could hate him for such a trivial reason, so he sought out to find the answers to that question. It’s fascinating seeing Davis interact with current and former KKK members, challenging their viewpoints, to where he truly understands their points of view. While Davis obviously doesn’t agree with them, he attempts to at least understand. It’s sometimes quite sad, as it’s revealed a lot of them are that way due to childhood abuse, brainwashing, and other unfortunate circumstances. Yes, as adults, they need to take responsibility for their actions and the things they say, but how they truly felt may not have not always been in their control.

That doesn’t make their behavior and viewpoints okay, and Davis certainly makes that known. When speaking with the Klan members, he’s able to twist their arguments back onto them, which usually makes them realize the hypocrisy of their ways. You can see the clear evolution in some of these people, where the archive footage of them in the past contrasted with their present selves is truly shocking. It shows it can be done, though. Unfortunately, not all minds can be swayed, as some of the KKK members stayed set in their ways.

The stubbornness is shown from the other side of the fence, too, as Davis has a conversation with some members of a Black Lives Matter group. They simply cannot fathom the idea of a black man interacting with, let alone befriending, members of the Klan. They say Davis’ effort could be better utilized actually helping the black community, instead of trying to fix the white one. Davis argues that the American history needs to be recognized, no matter how ugly it may be. He claims that his efforts showed that people can indeed change and that change can spread. This scene in the film unfortunately devolves into heated bickering at the end, with both parties talking over each other and eventually going their separate ways. You can see the disappointment in Davis’ eyes when he realizes he couldn’t reach these people, but you know he won’t give up.

Considering the subject matter, the film is actually quite funny. The entire concept itself is so absurd, that you can’t help but laugh at some of the events, such as Davis receiving a “Certificate of Friendship” from a KKK Grand Wizard. It’s absolutely cartoonish. Davis has a sense of earnestness about him, immediately coming off as charming and disarming. His wit and wisdom is the key to his success. Throughout his many conversations, he talks about his life, especially as a blues musician. There’s a theme of music and artistry that really carries the documentary, even offering the occasional insight into rock n’ roll and blues history. Race relations between white and black people in the United States played a huge part in the way that music was shaped and popularized at the time. Black people were usually the true pioneers, but the white people got all of the fame and fortune. This analysis of the music and the part race played in is the glue that holds this documentary together.

There is nothing more important than communication. Sure, as human beings, we’re definitely self-sufficient, but we didn’t get this far as a race just on our own. While some people were killing others who looked different out of fear, others were attempting to talk to them and understand them. Killing and violence normally doesn’t get us anywhere. It’s through this understanding why we have come so far as a species. Daryl Davis realizes that and we could all learn something from him. He knows that even if somebody has an opposing viewpoint, it deserves to be heard, no matter how vile. If you respect somebody and listen to what they have to say, they’ll do the same to you. Sometimes, something good can come out of it. Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America is an incredibly important documentary that I believe everybody should see. “All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”

9.5/10

PSA: This documentary is available to stream on Netflix.

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