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).

You have to be carefully taught

On the news today, I saw the UK Labor Party has been accused of having a few anti-Semites. Not to be outdone, the UK Conservative Party has been accused of Islamophobia. And, as I wrote last week, hate crimes are on the rise in the US largely due to a rise in white nationalists who feel more empowered these days.

People are not born hating. They have to be taught. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein wrote a key song in the musical play and movie “South Pacific” called “You have to be carefully taught.” The lyrics are noted below, but I wanted to mention the context of the play first.

“South Pacific” is a play about the idiocy and harm of bigotry. It was written in the 1949 as a clever metaphor to address the Jim Crow period in the US. Rodgers and Hammerstein knew they had to use a different setting to get their point heeded.

These lyrics are powerful. Please let them sink in as we all need to counter bigotry and racism we see and understand some of our own prejudices.

“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 ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!”

Let’s use this Thanksgiving to be thankful for and embrace our diversity. In fact, the first Thanksgiving brought two different groups together.

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.

To make art look effortless…takes a lot of effort

While watching a documentary called “Six by Sondheim” on the career of Stephen Sondheim, the famous Broadway musical play composer, he said something I found very applicable to anything worth doing well. Sondheim said “To make art look effortless, takes a lot of effort.” Here is a link to more on the documentary, which is worth seeing.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/12/09/sondheim-on-sondheim-american-musical-theater-in-six-songs.html

During the documentary, Sondheim notes that he learned a lesson from his mentor Oscar Hammerstein about not to overwrite a song. The song can say something very profound, yet it needs to have a beginning, middle and end, and not get ahead of the audience. They need to hear and listen to the lyrics. Sondheim’s gift is to write lyrics that come out of the preceding and abet ensuing dialogue. He would actually comb through dialogue for words to highlight in the songs. His songs resonate with this context whether it is in  “Send in the Clowns” or “I’m Still Here” or just about anything from “Westside Story” where he wrote the lyrics in concert with Leonard Bernstein’s music.

However, if you step back and look at his quote, you can see its applicability with anything worth doing well. In business, if you prepare for a big meeting to give the factual impression you are on top of things where facts and appropriate anecdotes come easily, it takes a lot of effort. When I have done my homework and anticipated the questions we might get asked, it is much easier to respond. Someone may ask “how do you know that?” or “where did you get that tidbit from?” It is equal elements of perspiration and preparation. Plus, experience builds upon your experience. So, a good meeting may come from a cumulative set of experiences over time.

In sports, exceptional athletes spend 95% of their time to prepare for 5% action. They practice to improve so that when they do play a game, they are making it look effortless. The famous golfer Gary Player once responded to a question about a “lucky golf shot” he had hit earlier in the day. Player said “I find that the more I practice, the luckier I get.” But, the same could be said about any successful athlete. During Sunday night’s football game, the announcers spoke of the methodical practice habits of New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. He can alter who he would throw the ball to under pressure as good as any quarterback, sometimes throwing to his third choice. A key reason is he would practice this very thing.

In his book “Outliers” about successful people, Malcolm Gladwell notes through numerous examples the following observation. Successful people have four traits:

they are smart enough, but need not be the smartest;

– they are given opportunity;

– they recognize opportunity and take advantage of it; and

– they work hard – he cites practicing a craft for at least 10,000 hours.

He said Bill Gates was one of the best programmers in the world by the time he was 21.  Why? He was given the opportunity to write programs online at the University of Washington after 1 am in the middle of the night. But, as Gladwell points out, he got up out of bed and went to program all night, so he seized the opportunity. And, through his efforts, he made programming effortless and took it to a new level.

“To make art look effortless, takes a lot of effort.” Sondheim’s words ring so true. So, prepare for that test. Prepare for that interview. Prepare for that athletic contest. Prepare for that recital. Prepare for that drawing. In the end, you will be the one who is rewarded as you have done your best. And, someone may take notice.