US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Do we need more conversations about race, or just more conversations?

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

The radio show Snap Judgment has a knack for catching me off guard with a story that has fascinating, surprising, or almost unbelievable elements. This weekend’s episode featured one that had all three: the experience of black musician Daryl Davis in getting to know members of the Ku Klux Klan.

Davis tells the story of how, while playing piano in a country band, he met a KKK member who was taken with Davis’ musical talents. Specifically, the Klan member couldn’t believe a black man could play piano like Jerry Lee Lewis (despite Davis trying to convince him that Lewis actually patterned his style after black musicians). The two developed an unlikely friendship over time, as the KKK member brought friends with him to the club where Davis and his band played on a regular basis.

Years later, Davis reached out to another Klan leader and requested an interview (without revealing that he was African American) for a book he was writing on the KKK. The two had a very tense moment when they met in person, but the interview proceeded and—spoiler alert!—after a literal ice-breaking moment the two found they actually enjoyed each other’s company. I can’t really do justice to the story, so it is worth a listen to hear Davis recount the experience in his own words.

The story made me think of all the division we see nowadays—not just when it comes to race, but over a whole host of issues in society, politics, and religion. I’m often troubled by the overreliance on labels that people use to define themselves and others as a way to neatly divide up who is on their side and who is the perceived enemy. Such labels only serve to highlight our differences, leaving little room for finding common ground.

In July we published an essay by Anthony Walton that called for a new conversation and a new language when it comes to discussing racial divides in our country. But sometimes what we need most is just to start having a conversation, any conversation, with people who are different from us. No matter how large the things that come between us—whether they be racial prejudice, political views, different conclusions about what the gospels call us to do, etc.—we might be surprised at the things we have in common, even if it starts with something as simple as the enjoyment of some good piano music.