Somewhere in the deep-red part of Missouri, someone is stacking ammo boxes next to MREs. In a dark-blue part, someone else is tweeting the need for riots in the face of systemic racism.
It’s been more than 100 years since the end of the Civil War, but recently the country’s been on edge. Police shootings, riots, a pandemic and a flailing economy have brought us to each other’s throats. There can be no middle ground when fascism or socialism is at hand, some claim. Internet freakouts are used to depict ideological opponents as vicious and unhinged.
And therein lies the problem: opponents.
In these trying times, it’s easy to forget our collective accomplishments. In the same decade Americans landed on the moon, we also reckoned with our segregated schools and Jim Crow laws. In those trying times, a Black man had a dream and was killed for it. To claim we haven’t made strides toward that dream is equally incorrect as claiming we’ve achieved it.
Perhaps now, we need the advice of another Black man. In a time where we define ourselves by our divisions, Daryl Davis stands as a boon of civility. As a boy, Davis joined an all-white Scout troop, only to be pelted with objects. As a man, Davis meets with Klansman to have a dialogue.
In a recent Reddit Ask Me Anything thread, he consistently downplayed the media’s portrayal of him as someone who converts racists away from the error of their ways. He simply sets out to answer a question he’s had as a kid: “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?”
Throughout the thread, Davis maintained that the best way to combat bigotry is by trying to understand it, and to do as much as possible to garner the respect of those who adhere to harmful ideologies.
In the Reddit thread, Davis goes on to talk about how his own preconceptions about Klansman were incorrect, and how meeting with them demonstrated their own diversity and willingness to change.
While Davis’ work is focused on racists, this concept can be applied to anyone with different views than our own. Rather than look at our ideological opponent as such, we need to endeavor to understand how our fellow countrymen arrived at those conclusions.
“Learn as much as you can about the person whose views are so virulently different from your own. Even sit in the privacy of your room and take that person’s position and argue in his favor with yourself,” Davis said.
This is no small task. This presidential election is filled with intense emotion on both sides. Either way, large swaths of our fellow citizens will wake up on Nov. 4 disappointed but that line of communication must remain open if our union is to remain civil and intact.
“It is when the talking ceases, that the ground becomes fertile for violence,” Davis wrote.