Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America

Matthew Ornstein's Accidental Courtesy aims straight at the heart of the post-election debate over how to deal with the racist groups emboldened by Donald Trump's victory: Is it best to engage in conversation and try to change hearts and minds, or to simply work to defeat them? The documentary follows African-American musician and self-appointed race ambassador Daryl Davis as he befriends members of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups. Davis has been engaged in this experiment in radical friendship for nearly 30 years, and he proudly displays roughly two dozen Klan robes that were given to him by former members of the KKK, convinced that his friendship was an important factor in causing their change of heart.

Ornstein raises more questions than he answers, an approach that works well in scenes like an explosive encounter between Davis and two young Black Lives Matters activists, Tariq TourĂ© and Kwame Rose, in Baltimore. The normally self-confident Davis is visibly unsettled by the conversation. He tries to shut the two young men down mainly with ad hominem attacks while they ask why he wastes his time with people who hate him. He’s not accomplishing anything, says Rose; he's just making friends. An older BLM member, JC Faulk, later refutes one of Davis's proudest claims: that Maryland shut down its KKK chapter after its leader left the Klan thanks to Davis's friendship. Maybe they did shut down one chapter, Faulk says, but all it takes is a quick Google search to see that the Klan is still operating in the state. Interviewed by the filmmakers later about the encounter, Davis makes the point that he couldn't articulate in that conversation, asserting that BLM members and other anti-racism activists can never achieve their goal as long as they refuse to believe that white racists are capable of change. Read the rest in Slant Magazine

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