Back in December, when The Daily Show's Trevor Noah had conservative host Tomi Lahren on to debate, a whole lot of folks wondered what the point was. "It seems fruitless to some," said Noah later, but "the alternative is to stay in those bubbles that you talk about, so why not have a conversation?" Exemplifying this same attitude, career musician Daryl Davis has made it his life's mission to build bridges by befriending KKK members—and who, since 1990, has collected tons of Klan memorabilia, including 20-odd Klan robes and hoods.
See, befriending Davis, a Black man, has shaken some of them—including former imperial wizard Roger Kelly and former grand dragon/gubernatorial candidate Scott Shepherd—to the point that they've left and renounced the movement. Davis believes that the key to resolving this nation's original sin lies in listening, civility, and understanding. "Always keep the lines of communication open with your adversaries," says Davis, lecturing at UC Irvine.
Like with last year's Washington Post story about Derek Black—onetime prince of white nationalism, now turned antiracist—Davis's story is compelling, and if it influences the unsure within that movement, young or old, then great. But it's three-quarters into the film, when Davis's symbolic, individualist mission rubs up against that of collective-minded frontline Black Lives Matter activists Kwame Rose and Tariq Touré, that things get truly interesting.
After they question how exactly his mission benefits Black folks, Davis's "courtesy" seemingly runs out. Condescending and disrespectful to their impassioned approach, he then gets read the riot act by an older organizer, JC Faulk. The cameras capture this skewering sharply—and afterward, silently show Davis shuffling into his garage, putting another robe in his collection. Touré's comment, that a 30-year mission to collect Klan robes is merely a "fetish," comes back to mind.
Davis's approach seems to value integration and civility above all—in contrast to the young activists' resistance and self-determination. It's the classic generational dispute on antiracist work, even if few of any age would willingly mingle with Klan members, much less invite them to their wedding, as Davis did. His message will likely be lost on anybody who doesn't believe in explaining themselves to, as dream hampton put it, "people who are committed to misunderstanding" them.
Accidental Courtesy ultimately left me dubious, and wanting to watch the video of Richard Spencer getting punched again—not the kind of hand-extending Daryl Davis has in mind.