Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Taught How to Hate

What a pleasure to watch Michelle Obama interviewed by Stephen Colbert the other night.
Amongst other things, it was a reminder of how far we’ve fallen. The thunderous applause in the studio audience spoke of the gratitude people felt that a normal human being with simple and decent values could have been in a place of prominence in our culture. I love the woman to death, but she easily could be the second grade teacher in our school. Not a extraordinary super-woman who dazzles us with her intelligence, beauty, courage, enormously compassionate heart (though she has all four), but just one of millions of such people who live in this country—and of course, others as well. In short, just the kind of person we all should be without having to make Herculean sacrifices and walk the perilous hero’s or heroine’s journey. Like I said, she easily could be a teacher in my school who I’d laugh with at staff meetings and chat with over coffee in the kitchen.

And yet look at whose face haunts us daily in the news. Look at the parade of incompetents, fools, hard-hearted, mean-spirited people he’s surrounded himself with and then kicked out and replaced with others. Look at how we expect that when he talks it will be incoherent, confusing, filled with blatant lies, all about him and not the subject at hand. This has become the new norm and it’s good for exactly no one. Amidst all the real political threats to basic human rights, human dignity, justice, equity, health care and so on is the psychological toll it takes when public discourse sinks so low and we acclimate to it and come to expect nothing better.

At the end of the interview, Stephen Colbert asked what Michelle was most proud of in her years in the White House and she answered simply, “Giving hope to young people. You know, no one is born a racist, a misogynist, a hater, someone has to teach them that. So my job is to show young people that there’s another way to be in this world and one which will make them and the world much, much happier.”

Bingo! Just the kind of thing we say in our school staff meetings. My one regret is that she didn’t break out into song (and I’m sure Colbert would have joined her) and sung “Carefully Taught” from the Broadway show South Pacific. I’m working on some of those Rodgers and Hammerstein tunes at the moment, so I thought I should check out the movie again. It is far from a film masterpiece, but it is fascinating how it deals with inter-racial marriage—in this case, between a white woman from Little Rock and a Frenchman who has two mixed-race children from a previous marriage with a Polynesian woman. And then a white man from Princeton, N.J. head-over-heels in love with a Tonganese woman, but refusing to marry her. In both cases, it is the brainwashed white Americans who can’t see beyond their racist social conventions they inherited and let love have the last word. And it is the Frenchman who sings the song that gives them food for thought.

This play came out in 1949 and feels quite ahead of its time in this respect. (Sounds to me more like a song Tom Lehrer would have written in the 1960’s!). Check out these words below (with me changing the original word “oddly” to “differently”):

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 differently made
And people whose skin is a different 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.

That’s an important song. Wish I loved the melody more. But still I think I’ll teach it to the kids.

And if Michelle Obama ever comes to visit, we’ll invite her to sing along.

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