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).

Hate exists, but we get along much better than the news would imply

Many of us have highlighted the hate rhetoric and racism that has come more to the surface. Domestic hate groups are on the rise and we have a president whose former attorney and fixer called a “racist” under oath to Congress.

Yet, we should not lose sight of most Americans are getting along much better than indicated. They are coming together to help people during this virus. Good news stories do make the news, but they occur in greater number than indicated by coverage.

“If it bleeds, it leads,” the saying goes, so news tends to focus more on the bad stories, as does the president. The president looks for stories to exploit, as do many pseudo-news outlets. They make a story national to call attention to a point they want to make. That is why the president made such a big deal out of Colin Kaepernick, as he knew he could divide people with it.

What we need more of is the silent many to condemn the actions of the newsmakers on the negative side. They need to be spotlighted. The words of a recent post ring true – “Mr. president, if you cannot add value, please stop talking.”
The same goes for relatives spewing hate filled rhetoric.”Uncle Bob or Aunt Sally, I would appreciate you not condemning folks like that.” Or,” I am sorry you feel that way, as I do not” and leave the room. If we leave the room on enough folks citing a brief reason why, it might make them take notice.

True story. My father-in-law lived in the country and kept a loaded rifle in his closet, which I did not know he had until my boys saw it. When I asked him if it was loaded, he said yes. I asked him if he would unload it, as we cannot allow his grandchildren to be around a loaded weapon. He did so. It was an earnest and respectful request that he heeded.

Children learn bigotry from adults, so we can do the same when a relative or friend goes off on a group, as I did with the rifle. We just need to be straightforward and not chew anyone’s head off.

So, yes we have hate and it seems to be more open, but we need to not tolerate it and tell people so.

Here, there and everywhere

A lesser known Beatles’ song penned by Lennon/ McCartney was on the Revolver album – “Here, there and everywhere.” Using this song as a title to a potpourri post seemed appropriate. In no particular order:

A stark difference in the reactions to briefings that Russia is continuing to meddle in our elections was provided this week. Senator Bernie Sanders told Putin to back off, while the president of the United States fired the acting director of the Department of National Intelligence. Former Senator John McCain said in an editorial after Trump’s kowtowing to Trump in Helsinki, that he never thought he would witness a US president taking the word of a Russian leader over that of his own intelligence people. He still is. I have shared with multiple senators for many months that we have a national security risk in the White House. His name is Donald Trump.

Wells Fargo was fined $3 billion for their actions that led to the fraudulent creation of accounts and the failure to address these issues. They had been fined hundreds of millions earlier, but they still did not realize the severity of their screw up. Something this big is traceable to the top, whether it is explicit or implicit. Implicit means they created an environment that tolerated such bad behavior.

After yet another hate inspired mass shooting, this time in Germany, it troubles me that our leaders here are not condemning this in the harshest terms as German Chancellor Angela Merkel has done. Bigotry has to be carefully taught, so the only way to teach its counterpart is to condemn bigotry again and again as wrong. Our president fails to understand this point.

On the good side, the Taliban, Afghani and US negotiators are headed for an agreement which may end hostilities and allow for the exit of more US troops. Mistrust on all sides abounds, but let’s wish for a tangible and sustainable agreement.

Finally, from mythology, people who got too close to Medusa were either shot by arrow or turned into stone. US Attorney General is realizing now he has gotten to close to Medusa damaging his reputation. So, unless he leaves the building, he will end up being shot by the proverbial arrow or turned to proverbial stone. I guess the snakes are hiding in the combover.

Have a great rest of your weekend.

Jo Jo Rabbit – a weirdly profound parody

After its Oscar nomination and attention, my wife and I watched “Jo Jo Rabbit” yesterday. While it is an unusual film, it is entertaining and will take you through a range of emotions. Did I say it was unusual?

Without giving too much away, the story is about a Nazi brainwashed boy of ten whose imaginary friend is his version of Adolph Hitler. The boy discovers his mother is hiding a Jewish teen girl in the attic who helps him pick away at what he has been erroneously taught to dehumanizs Jews.

The film is a parody, but is poignant and powerful as well. It is written by Taika Waititi who also plays the imaginery Hitler. It should be noted, Waititi won the Oscar for his screenwriting. Newcomer Rowan Griffin Davis stars Jo Jo with Thomasin McKenzie starring as Elsa, the Jewish girl. Scarlett Johansson plays Jo Jo’s mother Rosie with Sam Rockwell playing an odd mentor role. Rebel Wilson offers an over-zealous Nazi instructor. Johansson waa nominated for Best Supporting Actress in the role.

Strange as it sounds, the movie is worth watching. Its mission is to reveal how hatred is taught and how interaction with people can change even the most strident of beliefs. There are several poignant moments between mother/ son, Jo Jo/ Elsa and Elsa/ Rosie.

If you have seen it, please let me know what you think (caution to those who have not to beware of the comments for spoiler alerts).

The torch passes to us

Our friend Jill wrote an excellent post (see link below) called “Why do we need bigotry?” In the comments, she and I discussed the passing of Holocaust survivors, at a time when white nationalism is on the rise along with hate crimes.

The torch passes to new generations to speak the hard truths about history:

– the Nazi movement purposefully captured Jews, intellectuals, gypsies, homosexuals and expunged multiple millions of human beings calling them less than human. This is genocide.

– the American settlers committed genocide, as well, on Native Americans first claiming rights to land and killing the Native Americans when they rose up in protest.

– Slavery has never been right dating back to the bible. It matters not who is being enslaved. It is wrong. Watching the movie “Harriet” about Harriet Tubman, the cumulative asset value of the slaves could exceed the value of the land, which is why people wanted to maintain this sinful way of life.

– Then, there are the enslavements and genocides around the world and over history. Sometimes the enslavement is tying low wage jobs to people at risk. This is economic slavery. This occurs today in the US and other countries and is not restricted to the Jim Crow period. Whether it is sex trafficking or suppressed migrant workers, it is wrong.

– Finally, we had the Lavendar Scare in the US, where homosexuals were fired from government jobs, even if they were highly proficient and experienced. This is after Brit Alan Turing helped shorten WWII, but had to hide that he was gay. He was arrested and humiliated before he died after being outed after the war.

Bigotry is not right. It is also unwise. If people are treated as possessions or suppressed then their intellectual capital cannot be allowed to flourish. Countries that suppress women and girls are competing in a world with half of their talent.

Let me leave you with the key line from Oscar Hammerstein in “South Pacific.” “You have to be carefully taught, by the time you are seven or eight. You have to be carefully taught to hate the people your parents hate.” Bigotry is not DNA driven. It is taught.

Why Do We Need Bigotry?

Dog whistle racism

My wife suggested that when I use the term dog whistle racism it may not resonate with everyone. In short, it means implying racism without resorting to actual racist words.

“Send her back” is a prime example as countless minority groups of all colors have been told to go back where you came from. Defenders of the president have said he did not say racist remarks, but they did not hear the dog whistle. His remarks were directed at four women of color with non-WASP like names.

Variations of this are “we don’t need your kind around here” or the more innocent version of “where are you from?” It also applies to athletics where black and brown athletes are not defined as “heady athletes” as white athletes are. Even a famous sportscaster said a black quarterback could not be successful because they had to read and react to complex coverages implying blacks could not do so. Times have indeed changed.

Alabama Governor George Wallace was not the forerunner of racism in politics, but he was the face of white supremacy as he stood in the doorway trying to deny entry to young black students. He used dog whistle racism as well as the old fashioned racist rhetoric when he ran for president following the various civil rights movements.

He did not win, but Richard Nixon did using a southern strategy that reeked of dog whistle racism. His purpose was to take advantage of what LBJ feared. LBJ predicted the Democrats would lose the south following his push for the civil and voting rights laws. Ironically, these laws were passed with the help of several Republicans, but that did not matter. Nixon and his strategist Lee Atwater made sure of that.

Scrolling forward, Senator Jesse Helms routinely used dog whistle racism to get elected. But, one of his tougher races was against Harvey Gantt, the first black mayor of Charlotte and first black student at Clemson University. Helms ran commercials that implied racism, one in particular focusing on a pair of black hands as a negative message was spoken.

Dog whistle racism uses code words to imply inferiority or difference. Trump’s attacking four elected women of color denouncing their right to criticize our country is flat wrong. His using more code words to attack Congressman Elijah Cummings also is racist with references to rat infested areas. It should be noted the president had to settle two court cases over discriminatiory rental practices.

Dog whistle or not, we cannot condone and must condemn the president for his racist and xenophobic remarks. Racism is a part of our history, but it represents the worst of our nature. We must guard against it, especially when it comes out of the president’s mouth. We need to hold up our better angels.

That white privilege thing

Usually when Dr. Phil comes on, I leave the room. Seeing people yell at each other is not therapeutic for me. Yesterday, my wife said you need to see this one as it was an interesting group discussion on race relations and white privilege.

In one powerful, illustrating exercise, young adults of both genders and several races, religions, sexual preferences, and countries of origin stepped forward or backward based on answers to a series of questions. At the end of about thirty or so questions, white people tended to be at the front of the room, while other races tended to be at the back.

As a now 60 year-old white man, I can pretty much go anywhere I want without repercussions. And, I need not have to worry for my life when I am stopped by the police or state patrol. A black man in his Sunday best has to move very slowly and visibly when stopped, thinking if he does not it may be the last thing he does on earth.

The show’s panel was a mixture of various races and invited audience guests offered their input. Listening to each other is a key takeaway. Understanding more about micro aggressions is also important (unintended slights). A white police officer said we should not use our badge as a threat, but as a heart to reach out to others.

A few white audience members felt they are victims and ostracized for being white. One woman lost her job for doing her job, as a video went viral with commentary that here was another white woman judging others. One woman grew up in a blue collar neighborhood and she felt disenfranchised as the blacks got more opportunities.

Perspective and context mean everything. A good example is captured in the movie about Jackie Robinson called “42.” Pee Wee Reese, the white shortstop for the Dodgers, went to see the owner Branch Rickey when he received a death threat for playing with a black ballplayer. Rickey said you got one threat and then proceeded to pull out gobs and gobs of death threats toward Robinson to illustrate his point.

Is there unfair back lash on some whites, absolutely?  But, people of a different color, religion, sexual preference, etc. have received gobs and gobs of discrimination over the years. And, lately under the divisive leadership of a certain US President, white supremacists, bigots and racists feel more empowered. Their hatred has become more normalized – and that is not good.

I often cite the lines written by Oscar Hammerstein about bigotry in the movie “South Pacific.” “You have to be carefully taught, by the time your are seven or eight. You have to be carefully taught to hate the people your parents hate.” We are not born bigoted, it has to be taught. By listening to each other, maybe we can teach the opposite. It should be noted a black man, who has convinced over 200 KKK members to give up their robes, did so by listening and asking questions. He heard them, which allowed him to be heard.

We are a potpourri of different people, but inside we are all the same. Let’s relish in our differences, but know we have the same foundation.

More candid observations

In keeping with the theme of my previous post, the following are some diplomatic candid observations:

– Help me understand why the people in the White House seem surprised that North Korea is not going to give up its nuclear weapons? I applaud their and the the South Korean’s effort and energy, but we seemed to be a little naive that Kim would cave.

– Saying something under oath in front of a judge who will sentence you carries a lot more gravitas than tweeting or saying something to a favorable interviewer. Under oath, Michael Cohen said he committed illicit acts at the direction of the candidate. I realize Cohen is not a Boy Scout, but his words under oath should carry some weight.

– A man of character died Saturday on what would have been my parents’ 67th anniversary. Senator John McCain was an imperfect man with whom I did not always agree, but he was very honorable public servant. Character and honor are two words that are not top of mind when I look to define a certain man in a US leadership position. I think it speaks volumes that McCain asked such a man to be excluded from attendance at his funeral.

– It is nigh impossible to stop bigoted thoughts or the teaching of children about bigotry. But, we must shine spotlights on behaviors that strip away at other people’s rights or promote one group’s rights over that of another. We must share our disagreement with hate speech. The easiest thing to do is vote with your feet and avoid people and places that enable bigoted thoughts. Confrontation is difficult, but listening, questioning and commenting can be done civilly with some. Or, it can take the form of openly applauding the efforts and successes of people who seem to be targeted with hate speech more than others.

– Finally, one’s reputation is the dearest thing we own. Rob Roy said your honor is a gift you give to yourself. This is why it is puzzling so many Republican legislators are spending their dear reputation supporting a man who daily brings dishonor to the Presidency and would throw them under the bus if needed. Please note my intentional avoidance of the use of “leader” in my descriptions.

We Americans and others around the world are craving an honorable leader. And, as said in the movie “The American President,” being President is entirely about character.

Candid observations

It is possible to be candid without condemning. To me, if you want someone to think about your observation, you need to season your candor with a measure of diplomacy. Here are a few random examples to ponder.

As a Christian, I try to follow the advice and deeds of Jesus. But, a thought for my more evangelical friends, it is highly unlikely Jesus looked like a WASP. He would look more like someone from Israel or Palestine.  In fact, if Jesus ventured from town to town in the US, he may not be welcomed with open arms in some places, just like it was when he did walk the earth.

When I see new discoveries of dinosaur fossils or a new hybrid human fossil as was the case during the week, I usually have an additional thought. The new hybrid human resulted from the seed of two different human strains and the fossil was noted to be about 90,000 years old. The dinosaur fossils are dated in the hundreds of millions and billions of years. So, help me understand how some religious education systems can waste kids time with instruction that dinosaurs walked the earth with humans and that the earth is less than 10,000 years old. If I was taught that and found out later what I learned could be scientifically proven wrong, would you fault me if I questioned most everything that school taught me?

Speaking of what we teach children, I am a firm believer that people are not born bigoted. They have to be carefully taught by their parents and family to hate certain groups of people. Or, if hate is too strong a word, they have to be taught that others are beneath them. I am reminded how the Nazi youth were taught Jews were animals and subhuman (they forgot to mention Jesus was a Jew). This enabled the Holocaust to happen. The same held true during the Jim Crow era in America and toward Native Americans before then. So, my observation is to question anyone (even a President) who uses animal names to define other human beings. “Help me understand why you would feel that way?” is a reasonable question. Or, you might say, “I am sorry but I do not feel that way.”

Returning to Jesus, we should pay more attention to his words and deeds rather than how he looked. Treating others like we want to be treated is key. And, that includes if they look unlike you or I do. We can pose questions that make others think about their positions.

What are your thoughts? Am I off base?