Longest Table Tips for ‘Impossible Conversations’

Screen shot from a Zoom meeting, with Daryl Davis gesturing toward the screen.
The Longest Table 2020

By Katie DiSalvo-Thronson

Are you heading into some holiday conversations you already dread? Or wishing you could talk to someone about a position they hold that you deeply disagree with, but feel unsure how to do it? 

When you think about someone who voted differently than you in the last election, are you wondering, “can I even talk to them?”

Last month, Howard County Library System held The Longest (Virtual) Table with Daryl Davis, an exceptional man with a lot to say about having hard conversations. Davis is an internationally celebrated blues musician who has also led more than 200 KKK members to leave the organization through personal relationships and dialogue. He is motivated, as a Black man, by the question: “How can you hate me if you don’t even know me?”

Davis is the author of Klan-destine Relationships, the topic of a movie Accidental Courtesy, and an excellent podcast interviewee (see “The Silver Dollar Lounge” from 2014 and “How to Argue” from 2017).

At the Longest Table, Davis shared parts of his amazing story, reflections on recent events, and ideas on how to talk someone out of hate. His experiences can help us see that people – even those holding extremely problematic positions – are capable of change. His ideas can help us connect with people whose beliefs feel impossibly different than our own.

So what does Daryl Davis suggest? Here are some of his top points, paraphrased:

  • Remember we all want the same five things.
    People want to be loved, to be respected, to be heard, to be treated fairly, and they want the same things for their families that you want for yours.
  • Give respect and get respect.
    Ask questions. Listen. “While you are actively seeking information from someone else, you are passively teaching them about yourself at the same time.” On social media, find a positive way to respond. The way you listen and respond will help people listen and respond to you.
  • Plant seeds as you engage in a long game.
    Give someone something to think about that troubles their world view. Then, engage again: “You must come back and water the seed – that’s the key.”
  • Lower their walls and keep them down.
    If you listen respectfully first, they will feel the need to listen to you next. “Defend yourself but don’t attack them,” and “keep your emotions in check.”

Davis’s approach demands intensive time and skill as well as self-control, and it may not be one we can all use all the time. His focus is not everyone’s: some people think it is more important to change policies and systems than to convert individual racists. However, we can all honor and appreciate that he has dedicated decades of his life to “putting a dent in racism,” along with his courage and selflessness in following this path. 

Like good music, Davis’ messages resonate well and widely. How could your ‘impossible conversations’ change by remembering shared humanity, showing respect, and teaching others with the example of how you live? Watch/listen to Daryl Davis in his own words today!

Katie is the Community Education and Engagement Manager for HCLS. She loves people, the big questions, the woods, and chocolate.

The Longest (Virtual) Table with Daryl Davis

There’s a place for you at the Longest (virtual) Table on Saturday, October 17 from 5:30 – 8 pm for some great conversation with folks in the community. We really look forward to our annual dinner date and didn’t want to cancel altogether, so for all the 2020 reasons, the event is going virtual. And, it’s FREE!

This year, we are excited to introduce a guest speaker: Daryl Davis, acclaimed jazz musician and race relations expert. Through interactions with a fan, Davis gained access – as a Black man – to meeting with Ku Klux Klan members. He eventually became the recipient of robes and hoods from Klan members who came to rescind their beliefs after getting to know him. Davis has received acclaim for his book, Klan-Destine Relationships, and his work in race relations from many respected sources, including: CNN, CNBC, Good Morning America, The Learning Channel, National Public Radio, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, and The Baltimore Sun. He is the recipient of the The American Ethical Union’s Elliott-Black Award, The Washington Ethical Society’s Bridge Builder, and the Search for Common Ground Award, among others.

After Davis talks to us about his encounters, we connect with new friends to discuss issues facing our community in small breakout rooms with no more than 10 people (probably fewer). Other elements enliven what promises to be an exciting evening. You can enter the online event at 5:30 pm to watch HCLS’ art instructor Jereme Scott’s video demonstrating drawing techniques.

Order and pick up dinner from one of our restaurant partners (place your own order directly with the restaurant) or make your own meal and join us at the table! “Secret menu suggestions” for our event:

  • Anegada Delights Caribbean Cuisine – Jerk Chicken (Spicy) w/ two sides – $12.99; side choices: rice and peas, mac and cheese, cabbage, plantains, zucchini, (jerk mac and cheese $1.99 extra)
  • Cured | 18th & 21st – Cedar Plank Salmon with bacon braised collard greens, sweet potato hash, maple glaze, crispy leeks – $27.21; large sides $8 each: paprika fries, house side salad, sweet potato fries
  • Roving Radish meal kit – Kit includes ingredients for two meals for four people – $38 ($18 subsidized); Week 26 menu options will include an Apple Cider Chicken meal and vegetarian meal. All orders must be placed before Sunday, October 4 at midnight and picked up by Wednesday, October 14. Please allow time for at-home meal preparation prior to the start of event.

Longest Table T-shirts are also on sale for $25; proceeds benefit HCLS’ commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity.

Reserve your place at the table today!

Discussing Racism with Children

By Laci R.

Racism isn’t a new issue. However, it is one that people all over the world have recently come together in order to take a stance against. How do you bring the conversation into your own home? Were you ever directly told about racism, yourself? 

I’d like to share some vital information: 

  • As early as 6 months, a baby’s brain can notice race-based differences.”
  • By ages 2 to 4, children can internalize racial bias.”
  • By age 12, many children become set in their beliefs—giving parents a decade to mold the learning process, so that it decreases racial bias and improves cultural understanding.”

(Authors Ashaunta Anderson, MD, MPH, MSHS, FAAP & Jacqueline Dougé, MD, MPH, FAAP 
Last Updated 7/29/2019 
Source American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2019) 
https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/emotional-wellness/Building-Resilience/Pages/Talking-to-Children-About-Racial-Bias.aspx)

It’s not always easy to provide an explanation to a child; whether it’s the mechanics of something (why a toy will no longer beep and light up), safety (why it’s important to hold hands and look both ways before crossing a street), or why some people are treated poorly, hurt, and killed based on nothing other than the color of their skin.  
 
Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story about Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano shows children as they discuss with their families the incident of a local black man who was shot by the police. These discussions look different in the home of Emma (who is White) and Josh (who is Black) but share a similarity in the feeling of injustice. The use of historical and present-day context is utilized in a way that promotes compassion and eagerness to learn. The story shows Emma and Josh applying what they learn when a new student from another country named Omar arrives at their school. This book provides general guidance for parents and caregivers full of vocabulary definitions, conversation guides, and additional online resources to visit to continue the conversation about racism.  
 
Opening up a safe space for children to learn about racism and how to be actively anti-racist is a necessary step in parenthood, guardianship, and adulthood in general. It’s crucial to be proactive during such an impressionable time.  
 
The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson is a story about Clover, segregation, and a determined friendship. Clover’s mom says it isn’t safe to cross the fence that segregates their African American side of town from the white side where Anna lives. The two girls bend the rules set in place by their grown-ups by spending time together sitting on the fence that separates their homes. This is where they are allowed to exist in the same space, one they have created themselves. A lyrical narrative and thoughtful watercolor images show how this friendship is formed during a time when it seems impossible. 

It’s important to keep in mind that these discussions and questions that arise will look different in every family based on a variety of details and factors, including race. Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness by Anastasia Higginbotham invites white families and children to become more invested in the reality that is racism and, in turn, to cultivate justice.  This story explains how each of us are affected by power and privilege from the very moment we’re born and offers an honest explanation for kids about racism, white supremacy, and civic responsibility. Pair these books with others about racism and segregation such as: Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh, Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey, and Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson (also available from Libby/OverDrive in eaudiobook format).
 
It can be daunting to know where to start despite the vast amount of resources flooding our social media accounts. Keep in mind that the conversation about racism can easily become a fruitful one, full of eagerness to learn and the desire to be kind. I strongly believe in the importance of embracing curiosity, including the tough questions. If you don’t have an answer ready for the child in your life, be sure to let them know you’ll have one for them soon- and then, follow up. Whether it’s just the beginning or you’re continuing the conversation about racism, don’t ever let the discussion end. No matter what.

Laci is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS. They love a wide variety of music, spending time in the garden, Halloween, cats, and crafting. Their “to read” list is always full of graphic novels and picture books.