By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Back when I was a young buck, enjoying those University days and convinced I’d change the world in some way, any way, I was part of an organization that brought Daryl Davis in to speak. Of all the interesting, social issues-oriented speakers we had, his story might have stuck with me most.
As this sort of thing would.
Now, almost a decade later, mark pretty solidly unmade, I ran across Davis again as a part of the decidedly unserious beer and movie website I run, this time in documentary form, and found the ensuing years have only made his message more relevant. Accidental Courtesy lets the black man who listens to, befriends, and converts the people who hate him only for the color of his skin, the KKK, Alt Right, and White Nationalists, tell his own story and philosophy.
Daryl Davis is just a straight up fascinating person to spend a couple of hours with. His experiences with racism (from bottles chucked at him in a Cub Scout parade to working the Country Bar circuit as a pianist) informed his approach early on. This embassy kid who grew up around all races and creeds, and who went on playing music with just as diverse a crowd, couldn’t believe that people could hate somebody just because of the color of their skin. Daryl’s such a gifted orator that he easily conveys the pure absurdity of a mindset that informs so much of American history and psychology. “How can you hate me if you don’t even know me”, indeed.
Who could hate someone this awesome?
Davis is clearly braver than your average bear, but it’s the strength and rightness of his convictions that really impress. Keeping lines of communication with your enemies open, trying to understand why they do what they do, what could be more important in these polarizing times? Finding what little common ground exists, be it Rock ‘n Roll or peanut butter, is the first step, but a first step needs to be made, or we’ve no chance in ever walking down the same road.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Daryl gets the most resistance from the head of the Southern Poverty Law Center, who tells him “You’re working retail strategy, we’re working wholesale”, and especially Kwame Rose and the Baltimore Black Lives Matter folks, an exchange which gets incredibly heated. As a white man, despite growing up in a predominantly black neighborhood, I can’t speak to the complexities of their viewpoint. What I can notice, though, is their message of separation and furthering the interests of your own race taking precedence sounds an awful lot like the other side’s rhetoric. Daryl’s clearly had this conversation before, and approaches it with the same equanamity he has with every conversation he’s had with those opposing his viewpoint. He doesn’t back down from his stance, but he does try and keep the conversation going, no matter how angry it gets.
What Accidental Courtesy does best is allow Daryl to articulate his message and back it up with cold hard numbers.
Numbers of KKK robes from folks who have left the hate group because of him, that is.
This message of, just, listening, of trying to understand, presents a beacon of hope and a way forward for this country, but there is just so much history, so much blinding anger, so much opposition for it to overcome. But… there is hope.
Director Matthew Ornstein structures this film almost free-form, touching on history, Daryl’s music, his other professions (he acted in The Wire!) and much more, although not so much on his post-childhood personal life. He supplements this all well with news and stock footage, but it would have been fascinating to get his (white) wife’s or birth family’s point of view on what he does. That’s a nitpick for a film already so full of thought-provoking angles and events, though.
Perhaps no more than at any point in our average readership’s lifespan, the United States needs to listen to an dembrace the logic and the morality of men like Daryl Davis. Accidental Courtesy should be required school viewing, even if you can get the genuine article to stop by and speak to boot.
Last Call: Stick through the credits for some unfortunately timely Trump-related analysis from Daryl, as well as this quote:
“Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”
– Abraham Lincoln
Accidental Courtesy (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for Ku Klux Klan or Confederate symbols
Take a Drink: every timeDaryl Davis keeps those lines of communication open
Take a Drink: for each KKK member Daryl wins over because of this (not all… but most)
Do a Shot: whenever Daryl tears it up on the piano