Bigotry – you have to be carefully taught (from “South Pacific’)

I have often cited these words, but the following is from a post I wrote several years ago. I repeat it here due to its relevance today.

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 yourself” 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 Black, White, 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 embarrassed 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 West-Eastern 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?

Today, these words remain very relevant. I am encouraged by parents of all colors taking their children to peacefully and civilly protest the ongoing wrongs which are heightened by George Floyd’s murder. Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor are just the most recent notable deaths. And, for those who offer a rebuttal of “All lives matter,” that word “all” must include “Black lives matter.” Sadly, for some in our country, the latter group is omitted from their thinking.

* Please refer to Ellen’s comment below for a quick history of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (I have made your correction on the name).

34 thoughts on “Bigotry – you have to be carefully taught (from “South Pacific’)

  1. Such a beautiful and relevant post, Keith. Yes, the bigots, the homophobes, the racists … they were all taught to hate ‘other’, taught the myth of superiority right from the cradle. We must break this chain, else we are doomed to forever be broken.

  2. Brilliantly put delving on several facets. Appreciate you for having the courage to express about bigotry, discrimination, violence against women in an objective manner.
    Thanks for sharing

      • Yes, travelling the highways is part of getting to & from the job. Missing the journey nowadays though I prefer to write under this pseudonym much before due to my fascination for ads and travel pu together

      • Thanks. I used to drive to clients all over the Carolinas. I miss some of that. My wife and I are missing our day and weekend trips, so we can’t wait to do more after COVID-19 is more under control. Keith

  3. You aren’t born anything, for as far as that goes. Until you learn to think for yourself, providing you haven’t learned to think exactly like the authority figures in your life think, there is no reason for a lot of the things people think they have to feel. The problem is, as children, we don’t know what we are learning. Parents especially say a lot of things without considering how their words will affect their children.
    And then there are those that do, on purpose.

    • Rawgod, as a parent, we always wonder if we are doing or saying the right thing to our kids. Being human, we do make mistakes. But, if we can impart the big lessons through action and deed, we feel we are ahead of the game. Thanks for your comments. Keith

      • Rawgod, I feel sorry for those kids. I was thinking of the movie “42” when the boy saw his father deride Jackie Robinson and then followed suit. Then, his father’s hero Pee Wee Reese walked over and put his arm on Robinson’s shoulder. Teaching moments like that don’t come around very often. Keith

  4. Please forgive me for making a correction to your post, but the correct name of the orchestra that you mention is The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. The orchestra was founded in 1999 by two friends, Daniel Barenboim and the late Edward Said. I was privileged to have been present at two of their concerts at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. The first in December of 2006 and the second in January of 2013. Elena Cheah, a musician and assistant to Barenboim, authored an excellent published in 2009 “An Orchestra Beyond Borders : Voices of The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra”. Bigotry does not pass through the genes, it must be taught and that is easily done as children first learn from what they hear and see in their homes. Thank-you!

  5. Reblogged on my site, with this intro.: I could not have said this better myself, so I am happy to share the words of the blogger who goes by the name of ‘Old Fart’. A misnomer in my view since his/her blogs frequently, as here, bring a good deal of fresh air to the blogosphere.

  6. Dear Keith,

    Your blog gives me hope.

    This racism has infected the GOP big-time to were it needs to be called out for what it is.

    Hate, intolerance, prejudice, against others (fill in the blank) are all signs of troubled souls, and this ugliness can be passed down through generations unless there are those who intervene by shining a light on this cancer of the soul while providing a path for healing.

    But this time its those young folks from all walks of life who I’ve seen participating in recent protests who are making a dent in the hearts of those who suffer from this sickness.

    This time, maybe hearts are changed for the better along with some laws.

    Hugs, Gronda

    P.S. Thanks for being a good friend through thick and this.

    • Gronda, thanks for stopping by. I miss your posts as you offer well-researched opinion. You are right on how racism has infected a large swath of the GOP. Those who are not so impacted tend to pretend its not there. As we speak, instead of bringing the country together like we would hope a president would, he is exploiting yet another wedge to divide. Not only does he lack a sense of decency and compassion, as conservative pundit David Brooks describe, but he acts is a vile manner that is unbecoming in an elected leader.

      The GOP leadership has opened Pandora’s Box and, as conservative George Will says, not only must Trump lose, but the GOP needs to lose the Senate to repair the damage Trump has done.


  7. This is an excellent post, Keith. My fear in the struggle against bigotry is that people are taught to hate in the home by the people they love and trust the most. Other leaders and teachers in society can teach the children that bigotry is wrong, but is that enough to overcome what was ingrained in them by their families? All of us need to clean up our acts – everything from our words to our actions. Life is short and precarious – the pandemic brought this lesson home. This opportunity to begin a meaningful change in the world cannot slip through our fingers as other opportunities have.

    • John, well said. One of the first and hardest reality checks is to learn your parents are fallible. So, it is a harder hurdle to realize they may be bigoted.

      Yet, change does happen. Many have softened hard views toward gays and lesbians when a relative or friend comes out. The same softening happened when interracial marriage occurred in their family or friends.

      Now, some do not change, but it truly is their loss, as their friends and family will move on.


  8. Bigotry is toxic. It pollutes the mind and the soul. Folk who have embraced this have lost the true message of their Faith.
    Bigotry leads to suppression and in turn this leads to downfall. It will destroy the nation that holds to it
    There is only one valid intolerance and that is the intolerance of intolerance.

      • Thanks Keith.
        I have tried but it always ends up a vitriolic tirade, which tends to defeat the purpose of the notion.
        Whether it’s just me, or some sort of folk memory left over from WWII it’s hard to say.
        In my defence I am very broad-minded in my targets, be they Left, Right, Capitalist, Marxist, Theist, Atheist, etc, any extremist peddling intolerance comes my way, sarcastic anger goes up to 11.

      • Maybe you should put a disclaimer at the beginning. This post is rated R for Adult Language. By the way, my latest post includes Boris in an unhealthy trio. I would love and value your opinion on this. Keith

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