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Daryl Davis, the KKK Whisperer

Jaine Toth | Jan 22, 2018

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Jaine Toth | Jan 22, 2018

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

Does the news make you cry?

It certainly isn’t unusual for tears to fall from my eyes when watching, listening or reading the news—yes, I do all three, I’m a bit of a news junkie. Usually I cry because my heart aches when reports depict man’s lower nature and detail actions I find painful or ugly.

Every now and again tears of joy descend, as they did when I read a CNN report about Daryl Davis, a black blues musician whose forebears were slaves and who the CNN reporters have dubbed “The KKK Whisperer.”

On reading it I thought about Abdu’l-Baha, and how he never retreated from danger or let the animosity of others deter him. One story, related at the fifteenth annual U.S. Baha’i Convention, shows the power of true love to completely alter a person’s heart:

In Akka there lived a man who so hated Abdu’l-Baha that he would turn his back when he met him, fearing lest he lose his hatred. One day they met in such a narrow street that the enemy was forced to meet Abdu’l-Baha face to face. Abdu’l-Baha tapped the man upon the shoulder and said, “Wait a few moments, until I speak. However great may be your hatred for me it can never be as strong as is my love for you.” The man was startled, awakened, and made to feel the unconquerable power of love. – recounted by Jinab-i-Fadil-i-Mazindarani, Star of the West, Volume 8, p. 69

In the same way Abdu’l-Baha did, Daryl Davis actually intentionally puts himself in harm’s way in order to try and reach people in the Ku Klux Klan, and engage them in deep and sincere conversation. He’s been verbally and physically attacked, but keeps going back for more because his successes have far exceeded his failures.

The article states: “His questions started as a 10-year-old in the 1960s, when he was confronted by racism in the Belmont suburb of Boston and wondered “How can you hate me? You don’t even know me.” Children seem to see things with more clarity and logic than do grown-ups who’ve had years of indoctrination, intentional and unintentional, mire their thoughts and warp their beliefs.

Davis understands that prejudice is predicated on ignorance. So he determines to break down the myths and misunderstandings that lead white people to fear and despise black people.

His successes are evident in the items he’s collected in his apartment: KKK robes and memorabilia given to him by former Klansmen who’ve told him they no longer need or want them. They each took the time to listen, and his wisdom and sincerity helped dissolve their prejudice.

Indeed, Abdu’l-Baha stated:

One of the great reasons of separation is colour. Look how this prejudice has power in America, for instance. See how they hate one another! Animals do not quarrel because of their colour! Surely man who is so much higher in creation, should not be lower than the animals. Think over this. What ignorance exists! White doves do not quarrel with blue doves because of their colour, but white men fight with dark-coloured men. This racial prejudice is the worst of all.

The Old Testament says that God created man like unto His own image; in the Qur’án it says: “There is no difference in the Creation of God!” Think well, God has created all, cares for all, and all are under His protection. The policy of God is better than our policy. We are not as wise as God! – Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 55

Davis doesn’t only put himself in the crosshairs of those he approaches, whose first inclination won’t be to listen to him, but he also draws the wrath of those who feel that his efforts are wrong—and whose hatred for members of this organization with such an infamous history of abuse and torture, both physical and emotional, rivals that of their antagonists. Hate for hate only exacerbates and pours fuel on the fire of hatred, which can cause it to burn in perpetuity.

Abdu-l-Baha told us that “[Baha’u’llah] pronounced prejudice … the destroyer of the body-politic.”The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 124.

Davis knowingly and willingly puts himself between these two opposing forces with faith in what is right. I don’t know if he’s ever read any of the Baha’i writings on the essential oneness of humanity, but he definitely is in sync with them. Abdu’l-Baha said:

Eyes are now open to the beauty of the oneness of humanity, of love and of brotherhood. The darkness of suppression will disappear and the light of unity will shine. We cannot bring love and unity to pass merely by talking of it. Knowledge is not enough. Wealth, science, education are good, we know: but we must also work and study to bring to maturity the fruit of knowledge. – Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 54

Davis selflessly and bravely establishes trust and friendships with those who most think wouldn’t, and indeed couldn’t, ever trust him or be willing to befriend him.

If and when I come in contact with people filled with prejudice or hate, I’ll try to keep Abdu’l-Baha’s admonitions in mind, and also think of Daryl Davis and how his efforts emulate those of Abdu’l-Baha himself.

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  • Rosslyn and Steven Osborne
    Jan 25, 2018
    Excellent article Jaine. Naturally seeing and reading about the hate groups happening in the USA of late makes this very important to me to know how to understand some of the negative comments thrown either way. I am totally over the President 'bashing ' plastered all over our news as well as yours too I gather. I try so hard to find answers in Baha'i Writings to to guide some friends and family on this horrendous racial and political judgements that freely flow in many conversations, in both countries.
  • Alan
    Jan 24, 2018
    I have recently engaged a person from high school years who appears, on the surface of FaceBook post to have views that are the antithesis of those I hold as a Baha'i. Yet, he says we both want the same thing. Your article is timely and gives me the courage to continue my dialogue with him. Thank you.
  • Jan 24, 2018
    Indeed... This is different of course then when addressing the body-politic, a swath of the population that - AS A GROUP - hold to a destructive ideology. The ideology must be attacked as it 'powers' and 'informs' that population. In attacking Breitbart i call into question the population that accepts Breitbarts ravings. However when I engage even the most foul mouthed person I NEVER respond in kind. I try to break through the hate, fear, mindless anger and if I see a glimmer of light i invite them to discuss "Treat compassionately humankind. Kindness cannot be shown the tyrant, the ...deceiver, or the thief. Far from awakening them to the error of their ways, it maketh them to continue in their perversity as before. ~Abdu'l-Baha'
    • Nov 1, 2018
      So helpful in this hate filled climate of today’s politics.
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