“Every racist that I know—and I know a lot of racists—every racist that I know voted for Donald Trump,” Davis said near the end of the interview. “However,” he added, “that does not, and I expressly repeat it, that does not mean that everybody who voted for Donald Trump is a racist. There are plenty of people, including good friends of mine, who are not racist, and who voted for Trump. A lot of people wanted a change from what they were accustom to for the last decades … they wanted a change of the status quo, a changing of the guard. And they were willing to overlook his misogyny, his racist or bigoted comments. They just wanted that change. They were are not racist people. But every racist I know did vote for him.”
He attributes that to a campaign focused on fear of outsiders. “They got the most powerful man in the world to say the exact same thing that they've been saying for decades. For over a century,” he said. “You know they're going to vote for him.”
Racists now feel emboldened, he said—“stuff that this country has denied for so long has come to surface. We can no longer deny racism exists in abundance in this country.”
How does one counter fear or hatred of outsiders, whether from the leadership of the KKK or an otherwise wonderful neighbor with ugly prejudices toward Syrian refugees? For that matter, how does one talk about any subject despite deep moral disagreements? There is no substitute for listening to Davis’ advice in his own voice here.
For now, a sample of his advice.
- “Gather your information. Get an astute knowledge of the other person's side before meeting them. Review it in your head. Be as familiar with their position as you are with your own. That way you know what to expect and how to react. You might hear things that frighten you. You might hear things that make you angry or make you sad or hurt you. But these are words. And you go in there because that person has an opposing point of view. That's what you're looking for. To find out why they think that way, why they want to do these things.”
- “Invite them to have a conversation, not to debate. A debate is I want to make my point, you want to make your point, and we're going to fight it out. That tends to get their guard up. You say, hey, I want to have a conversation with you. I want to understand why you feel the way you feel. I want you to convince me that I need to change my way of thinking. And I appreciate your sharing your views. I'm interested in how you feel. And that's what a lot of people want. They want to be heard. They want to be able to speak their mind freely without fear of retaliation or somebody beating them over the head for their views or ramming their own views down the person's throat. So give them that.”
- “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.”
- “When two enemies are talking they're not fighting. They might be yelling and screaming or disagreeing or beating their fists on the table to drive home a point but at least they're talking. It's when the talking ceases that the ground becomes fertile for violence. So you want to keep the conversation going. And the more you keep the conversation going, even though you might be disagreeing, the more commonalities you will eventually find. When you can't talk to one another you're laying the ground work for trouble.”
- “Patience is a virtue. My method worked for me, because I've taken the time and had the patience to learn about the other side. I've read tons of material on the Klan, on the neo-Nazis, on white supremacy, on black supremacy. So I know how the mentality works. And when I go in there I tend to be a little more disarming than someone who does not have that knowledge.”
- “I know there comes a point in time when you say, okay, enough time, now things have got to change ... if you need to legislate something or force something, then fine, you have those tools available. That's why we have lawmakers. But the day the law changed to when black people could ride in the front of the bus, or not have to give up their seat, the day that law changed did not necessarily change the minds of the white riders. You can legislate behavior but you cannot legislate belief. Patience is what it takes. But patience doesn't mean sitting around on your butt waiting for something to happen. Be proactive. And don't just sit around and talk with your friends who believe the way you do. Invite other people who have differences of opinion.”