In their 1949 production of the musical "South Pacific" Rogers & Hammerstein included what was then a very controversial lyric. It was widely condemned at the time, even called Communistic and outlawed in one Southern state. The song included these lines:
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!
In retrospect it appears my own parents were woefully neglectful in teaching we three children to hate other people because of their race.
Maybe it was simply because the issue never came up. Until entering high school I never actually met a Negro (Dr. King's word). For all I knew the tribe of Judah existed only in the Bible.
Or, maybe it was because my great-grandparents had been hated for being Irish and my mother learned some different lessons.
I'd like to think, in the end, that my parents failed to instill prejudices either because they had none to give; or, at least, it wouldn't have been their nature to pass on such mindset to their children.
We, too, seem to have been derelict in teaching our children whom to hate.
When our daughter Susan was in grade school we happened to be watching a movie about the Little Rock Nine. She, of course, had no idea what the movie was about. If you don't, you really need to look it up.
At some point we had to stop and try to explain to our child exactly what integration was. This in turn led to explaining segregation.
Finally, in exasperation, she stood up and proclaimed, "That's silly; how could anybody live that way?" And she promptly walked out of the room.
No parent can monitor every action of any child, but as far as I am aware race was never a consideration in Susan's choice of friends -- or even boyfriends.
Perhaps as parents I failed her in direct proportion to my own parents?
Being carefully taught came to mind when attempting to read (finally skimming through) a book picked-up at a recent Yard Sale. Originally written in the 1920s by a well known industrialist of the time, the edition I'd come upon was a 1948 reprint.
Obviously dated and proven to be, at very best, unfounded by succeeding historical events, this book attempted to blame all evils of the world on the descendants of Abraham and specifically those of the Tribe of Judah.
The success of the author's premises is proclaimed in the introduction to the 1948 edition: "At the Nuremberg Tribunal, Baldur Von Shirach, Hitler Youth Leader, said he became 'Jew-wise' through (this author's) books." This declaration being a distinction of some dimension I suppose.
In my lifetime I have heard the arguments put forth by this book used with equal venomousness and inadequacy to blame all the world's ills on: "Catholicism," Communism, Secularism, Socialism, "Right-wing extremist," the ACLU, something called "the government", and most recently Islam.
Frankly I tend to be doubtful of any conspiracy theory which must pass through more than one generation.
One of the values my parents did instill in me is that knowledge is valuable for its own sake, and that books are the repository of knowledge. Because of this basic sense of rightness, it has always been difficult for me to throw a book in the trash. If there is anyone else who might ever use it, I try to see that it is passed on.
At the risk of going against something which I was carefully taught, think I'll just dispose of this 10 for $1 Yard Sale acquisition.
David L. Lewis is an observer of and sometimes commentator on life who may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.