Bigotry – you’ve got to be carefully taught

For those of you who have seen the play or movie “South Pacific” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, you may recognize part of the title as a pivotal song in the story – “You’ve Got to be CarefullyTaught.” The play involves a woman who falls in love with someone and then realizes his children are half islanders. She has a hard time coming to grips with her bigotry as according to the song, we are not born hating; hatred has to be carefully taught. A sample of Hammerstein’s lyrics follow:

“You’ve got to be taught, to hate and fear. You’ve got to be taught, from year to year. It’s got to be drummed in your dear little head. You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

“You’ve got to be taught, before it’s too late. Before you are 6 or 7 or 8. To hate all the people your relatives hate. You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

This play was written in 1949 based on excerpts from James Michener’s novel “Tales from the South Pacific.” Rodgers and Hammerstein knew precisely what they were doing with this novel and lyrics as America was full bore in its civil rights crisis and more reasonable people were questioning why? Bigotry, hatred, bias – it has to be drummed into you before it’s too late. Before you can think for yourself.

Yesterday, I saw a picture above a story about the Boy Scouts and their delaying a decision to allow gays in their ranks. As a father of three, this picture was very disheartening as it showed young scouts holding up signs which were derogatory to those who are gay. For all the good the Boys Scouts does for young boys, teaching them to be bigoted toward others who happen to have different sexual preference, is not something worthy of a merit badge. For all of the teachings about responsibility, accountability, advocacy, and civility, to carefully teach them it is OK to hate these people because they are different from you is not in keeping with the mission of the Boy Scouts, nor is it in keeping with the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus said it in many different ways per the bible I learned from. The two that are burned in my memory are “love your neighbors as you love youself” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” There are no exceptions about being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. And, for that matter, there are no exceptions about them being Atheist, Muslim, Jewish or Agnostic. Words are easy. I have seen people who can inspire with words. Yet, the proof is in the action. What do you do each day? How do you interact with others? I see people everyday treat customer service people or perceived subordinates poorly and treat others in more cordial way.

However, these scouts are learning from us adults, both parents and leaders. I have noted many times before, it disturbs me greatly when spiritual leaders promote bigotry. This is one of the greatest betrayals of their responsibilities I know. Yet, our civic leaders are not much better and tend to be worse on occasion. Right now, Congress cannot pass an act which will make it easier to protect those who experience Violence Against Women. The primary hold up is the inclusion of gays and lesbians in the bill.  Violence against anyone is crime, unless it is self-defense. To distinguish who should be protected more than others based on sexual preference is the height of hypocrisy, especially since the push comes from the evangelical right.

Hatred has to be carefully taught. The Congressional leaders who are against the bill to stop violence against loved ones, should truly be embarassed to be on the wrong side of this issue. Domestic violence is a horrible crime because it happens routinely and consistently until a tipping point occurs. Unfortunately, the tipping point may be a death of a loved one. Women and children are the primary targets, yet others are impacted and should be protected. I have written before about an acquaintance whose sister was killed by her husband and he and his siblings had no idea she was being beaten. They learned the kids, on occasion, would have their father pick them up and beat their heads into the ceiling. What difference does it make if the target is gay or lesbian? This is not right and those Congressional leaders who are against the inclusion of all are “not on the side of the Angels.”

What should and can we do about it? We need to strongly encourage our leaders to think like parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts on most issues. Stop thinking like politicians. When GOP Governor Bobby Jindal says “we need to stop being the stupid party” this is an example of what he is talking about.

But, if we cannot alter the bigotry of the adults, please let’s focus on teaching the kids not to bigoted in their views. By word and deed; by encouragement, mentoring, or by corrective action or admonishment, please encourage people to do their best to follow Jesus’ examples and treat others like we want to be treated. The most important thing of all, is to walk the talk. Do everyday what you are telling them to do. That is what they will remember most.

Let me leave you with an encouraging story, which I may write more about later. The Western-East Divan Orchestra is a highly successful orchestra. But, that is not newsworthy by itself. The news is the orchestra consists of Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians, Iranis and Iraqis. The news is the orchestra is right in the hornet’s nest of danger. These teens and young adults come together at great risk to play and collaborate. Many of their friends and relatives judge them harshly for so doing. Yet, they continue because it is important. By working side by side toward a common purpose, they see that the person they are supposed to hate is just like them. They are being carefully taught, this time not to hate, but to get along and play as a unit. We could learn a great deal from these young people and those who lead them.

You’ve got to be carefully taught. My question as a parent – what do you want to teach them?





10 thoughts on “Bigotry – you’ve got to be carefully taught

  1. Yesterday I realized that I had unjustly judged the fisherman who lives downriver from me; Strictly based on the fact that he is poor and lives off the land, I have been guarded not to encourage a friendship – to keep a ‘wall’ up. We smile, wave to each other, but I don’t cross that barrier — It’s not just because he is poor – it’s one of my unwritten codes of being safe that i keep my guard up until i am sure that someone is genuine. but i’ve kept my wall up for years – recently, I have crossed paths with him twice on land’ and realized that he’s a very interesting and unique person. it’s my loss that i’ve been so guarded. I plan to ask a friend to go with me to his ‘home’ and interview him, find out more about his life and then, of course, write a post about Jaime.

    You are right; we teach others by our actions, and the children are the ones that soak in those experiences. Thank you for the very wise counsel of this post.

    • Thanks Z. We are all guilty of what you described. Recognizing it when it happens and doing something about is courageous. Not everyone would. I once started chatting up a grizzled, unshaven motorcycle rider in a McDonalds (he was riding to or from a big biker rally). He said he was returning home as he needed to fly off and play Pine Valley with one of his clients. Pine Valley is one of the most exclusive country clubs in the world. It was a lesson I never forgot on pre-judging people. Best wishes on your interview. BTG

  2. This post is beautiful. It reminds me of one of my favorite children’s songs (written by Carol Lynn Pearson, who I am always raving about on my blog):

    If you don’t walk as most people do,
    Some people walk away from you,
    But I won’t! I won’t!
    If you don’t talk as most people do,
    Some people talk and laugh at you,
    But I won’t! I won’t!
    I’ll walk with you. I’ll talk with you.
    That’s how I’ll show my love for you.
    Jesus walked away from none.
    He gave his love to ev’ryone.
    So I will! I will!
    Jesus blessed all he could see,
    Then turned and said, “Come, follow me.”
    And I will! I will!
    I will! I will!
    I’ll walk with you. I’ll talk with you.
    That’s how I’ll show my love for you.

    Interestingly, she wrote this with gays in mind along with everybody else who may get made fun of. Thanks for a great post, which made me teary again. 🙂

  3. Unfortunately BTG your Bible doesn’t stop with … “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (which predates Jesus by at least 500 years). It goes on, in gory detail, on how we are to feel about and treat the “other” among us. The witch burnings, the slaughter of millions of “pagan” native americans in God’s name are but two examples.

    Quite frankly, without The Bible there would never have been an excuse for slavery in America… other than “We are just selfish greedy bastards”. Without The Bible what would be the Boy Scouts excuse?
    “You’ve got to be taught, before it’s too late. Before you are 6 or 7 or 8.”

    ….Hammerstein’s lyrics? May be… but he stole the idea from Ignatius of Loyola

    Good read though
    Mrs. N.

    • Hammerstein likely borrowed a lot of good lines created by others. They still resonate. There is an old line, if you ever want to create an Atheist, have them read the bible. I would wager over 95% of Christians have not really read the bible. If they did they would have many questions. We study Job as literature in college and I recall a young lady putting her hands over her ears shouting I cannot listen to this. I do think the teachings of Jesus give us some good lessons to live by. If we would only heed them.

      The other reason I chose this song is the timing. Jim Crow was supported by many from the pulpit. It is very similar to some evangelicals with the LGBT folks. If ministers would be brave and uniformly preach against bigotry (some do and should be admired), then some of our prejudice could abade.

      Thanks for writing.Very good comments. BTG

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