Wednesday, July 3, 2013

You've Got to be Taught to Hate

The actor Kirk Douglas just published a blog post on prejudice at the Huffington Post called “On Jews and Justice.”

Mr. Douglas mentions the controversy over the Broadway musical South Pacific, which addressed racism head-on—in 1949. The play concerns an American nurse, stationed in the South Pacific during WWII, who falls in love with a French plantation owner. She has trouble accepting the fact that he has mixed-race children.

In addition there is a secondary romance between a U.S. lieutenant and a young Tonkinese woman. The lieutenant worries about what people will think if he marries the woman, and he sings the song “You've Got to Be Carefully Taught":
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.
Prejudice has to be taught. This is the key to compassion: a bigot’s thinking became twisted during his or her upbringing. This is the bottom-line of my book, We Are ALL Innocent by Reason of Insanity: The Mechanics of Compassion. All of us are confused in our thinking. All of us have been programmed to believe our particular culture’s reality. We all confuse our mind-generated reality with actual reality--this delusion is what makes us insane.

The South Pacific song made me think of a beautiful passage from Martin Luther King’s account of the 1956 Montgomery bus boycott, in his book Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story [Harper & Row, 1958]:
I tried to put myself in the place of the police commissioners. I said to myself these are not bad men. They are misguided. They have fine reputations in the community. In their dealings with white people they are respectful and gentlemanly. They probably think they are right in their methods of dealing with Negroes. They say the things they say about us and treat us as they do because they have been taught these things. From the cradle to the grave, it is instilled in them that the Negro is inferior. Their parents probably taught them that; the schools they attended taught them that; the books they read, even their churches and ministers, often taught them that; and above all the very concept of segregation teaches them that. The whole cultural tradition under which they have grown—a tradition blighted with more than 250 years of slavery and more than 90 years of segregation—teaches them that Negroes do not deserve certain things. So these men are merely the children of their culture. When they seek to preserve segregation they are seeking to preserve only what their local folkways have taught them was right.

 What an incredibly beautiful mind to have been able to perceive this truth, right in the midst of the struggle!

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