Tuesday, February 14, 2017

#worthassigning: Daryl Davis on Conversing with People Who Hate

Conor Friedersdorf, a conservative opinion writer for The Atlantic has a new post up (2/13/17) titled, 'Every Racist I Know Voted for Donald Trump' at http://theatln.tc/2kOWZEd.

It's worth a look.  Friedersdorf's title comes a quote by the man he profiles, Daryl Davis. Some of you might be familiar with Davis, but this is the first I ran across him and his project. He's a black musician who tries to persuade members of the KKK to leave that group. Friedersdorf provides a transcript of some of what Davis said in an interview with Love and Radio (http://loveandradio.org/2017/02/how-to-argue/). 

Here's a snippet of that, via Friedersdorf:

A Davis do:

“Look for commonalities. You can find something in five minutes—even with your worst enemy. And build on those. Say I don't like you because you're white and I'm black. You disgust me … And so our contention is based upon our races. But you're like, ‘how do you feel about all these drugs on the street, and all these meth labs that are popping up?’ And I say, I think the law needs to crack down on things that people can get addicted to very easily and it's destroying our society. So you say, ‘Well yeah, I agree 100 percent.’ You might even tell me your son started dabbling in drugs. They don't discriminate. So now I see that you want what I want, that drugs are affecting your family the same way they affect my family, so now we're in agreement. So let's focus on that. As we focus more and more and find more things in common, things we have in contrast, such as skin color, matter less and less.”

A Davis don’t:

“You can become argumentative but don't become condescending. Don't become insulting. You're going to hear things that you don't like. You're going to hear things that you know are absolutely wrong. And their opinion may be ridiculous. You will also hear things that are not opinions that they're going to put out as facts. ‘There are more black people on welfare than white people.’ Well, that's not true. And you should counter that and correct that. But don't do it in a manner that is insulting or condescending because you know they're wrong, and you're going to beat them over the head for being wrong. Show them the data, or tell them you'll get it, or if they really believe it, say, I know you're wrong, but if you think you're right then bring me the data.”

A lot of what Davis says you can find in a good argument or rhetoric textbook. But hearing someone say it who practices it, and speaks in a contemporary voice from compelling experience, might be useful. This is lived argument and embodied respect. Note how much of Davis's work centers on listening and accepting the other person as a person. It's not that one accepts a vile idea, or a bad reasoning, but that before moving to disagreements, one listens with respect. And patience. And then responds with respect and reason and persistence, but not rancor.

I can see using the Friedersdorf piece, or the link through it to the full Love and Radio interview, as preface to a conversation about how class discussions might go, especially in courses that will be touching on contemporary political policy issues or themes.  Or it might be used to supplement an argument course, or a course on civic responsibility or critical thinking or courses touching on things like fake news and media literacy.