The election of Donald Trump has emboldened the white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and everyday jerks among us. Who knew so many folks would hear Trump’s repetitive, simplified, small-word vocabulary and exclaim, “He says what we’re thinking”? Many of us were sure, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, that the arc of the moral universe had been bending toward justice. However, it turns out that a significant number of our countrymen were chafing at the notion that they couldn’t say what they really thought because “political correctness” made some notions impolite to share outside of certain audiences. With an uptick in post-election hate incidents behind us and years of uncertainty and dread ahead, we could use stories of radical anti-racism efforts to cheer our worried hearts and help push back the specter of fascism.
Luckily, the world contains people like 58-year-old, Grammy winning blues musician Daryl Davis. His mission drives him to travel across America and meet with members of the Ku Klux Klan. Why would a black man do such a thing? Davis explains, “Give that person a platform, allow them to air their views, and they will reciprocate.” It’s much easier to hate an entire out-group when you don’t know them as individual people, and have no experience hearing their side of an issue.
The strength of Davis’s approach is in the way he meets his opponents personally, and, hearing them, allows them the opportunity to know him as a person as well. The meetings can be blunt. “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?” he asks. “Look at me and tell me, to my face, why you would lynch me.” With the courage of Daniel in the lion’s den, Davis’s radical anti-racism efforts have won over more than 200 Klansmen. Speaking the universal language of music, he finds common ground that lets the traditional enemies see each other in a new light. Davis collects their robes and other memorabilia as they experience changes of heart and set them aside, which he says are as American as apple pie.
This Black Musician Explains Why He is Friends With White Supremacists, by Fusion
From another corner altogether comes Dave Strano. In a 2015 interview with the Hampton Institute (a working-class think tank), Strano talked about organizing in ways that suburban liberals would consider to be radical anti-racism efforts. Strano and his friends proudly self-identify as rednecks and engage in outreach via gun clubs and by staffing tables at gun shows. They produce literature aimed at working class white people, urging them to rethink their “their kneejerk racism and allegiance to whiteness and to instead build alliances with working class brown and black folks.”
Strano understands that oppressors use a divide and conquer strategy against groups that should naturally form alliances with each other. Working class people of all colors have more in common with each other than differences between them. Strano also has a message for the sort of white, suburban liberals who push away potential allies that they see as ignorant, beneath consideration. “The last thing a poor or working class redneck that is a paycheck away from being evicted from their rundown trailer wants to deal with,” says Strano, “is some upper or middle class college educated kid from the burbs talking down to them because they use an offensive word.” Excluding people with the same ideals and goals because they don’t use the approved language merely pushes them into the waiting arms of people who will accept them, such as white supremacist groups. Thus, classism allies itself with racism.
Still new, 2017 is the beginning of a potentially dangerous time for those who value equality and freedom. In a disturbing video released just after last November’s election, Richard B. Spencer, who coined the term “alt-right” to describe the ragtag alliance of neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups who formed part of Trump’s support coalition, addresses a group of Bellamy-saluters with a speech full of white supremacist language that may be a harbinger of things to come:
‘Hail Trump!’: Richard Spencer Speech Excerpts, by The Atlantic
In response, we mustn’t normalize this sentiment. Hear them out, like Daryl Davis, or talk to them in their own context, as Dave Strano does, because this era calls for radical anti-racism efforts. And if possible, be like August Landmesser, the brave man who did not salute fascism, even when everyone else around him did.