Speaker shares views on racism

Published: Wednesday, January 21, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 21, 2004 at 12:57 a.m.
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Daryl Davis speaks Tuesday at the Reitz Union about his experiences with the Ku Klux Klan.

CHRISTINA STUART/The Gainesville Sun
One of the most effective ways of accomplishing racial tolerance in the United States is by people of different heritages interacting with and learning from one another, author Daryl Davis told a crowd of more than 100 people Tuesday in the University of Florida Reitz Union Auditorium.
Davis, 45, spoke to UF students and Gainesville residents for more than an hour about his experiences with racism and his firsthand dealings as an African American with white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.
"People don't change their views overnight," said Davis, who is black. "Racism is a learned behavior."
Davis, who was the only son of officers in the U.S. foreign service, traveled the world, moved frequently during his childhood and befriended people of all races, but never saw in Europe the kind of racial intolerance he experienced in the United States.
He said that when he was young and in school in the United States he didn't understand why people hated others because of their skin color or why supremacist groups existed, because he was never exposed to it during his childhood. He later learned about racism as he went to college and experienced life in the United States, he said.
This unique perspective of the black experience immediately following the height of the civil rights movement led Davis to research all types of racial supremacist groups and later to write a book about the Ku Klux Klan, he said.
His book, "Klan-Destine Relationships," chronicles his exploration of racism and his experiences as an adult as he met and became friends with some Klan members, including the former Klan grand wizard.
Interviews and research for his book led him to listen to the stories and try to understand the ideas of Klan members, and in the process he taught them about his way of thinking, he said.
"One of the most important lessons I've learned is that while you are actively learning about someone else, you are passively teaching about yourself," Davis said.
Davis showed video clips of news coverage about him and his friendship with Klan members and talked about how some of them quit their association with the group after meeting him.
Gerald Irving, a UF graduate student and member of the Black Graduate Student Association, said he admired Davis for his daring and willingness to confront issues that most would not and agreed with Davis' message that the best way to reach racial tolerance is by interaction between all types of people.
Davis was speaking as part of UF's Multicultural Awareness Week.

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