Thursday, June 25, 2009

S/R Report 04: Hatred Is Learned

It was 1949, fifteen years before the Civil Rights Act would be passed, fourteen years before Martin Luther King, Jr, shared his dream in Washington. It was a time in America of unrest. Joe McCarthy had the nation looking for Communists behind every front door. "White Only" signs were enforced with threats of axe handles. America was in a state of social flux with thousands of troops having returned from the WWII war theater; and, industry was converting from a powerful war machine back to the manufacture of plow-shares.

Onto this scene, on Broadway, ."South Pacific" opened for a run that would not stop until January 16, 1954. For 1,925 performances the audience thrilled to "Younger than Springtime" and "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair". Rodgers & Hammerstein had done it again.

But the love story took place on a island in the South Pacific not far from where Japanese forces were stataioned. A Navy ensign, Lt. Cable was stationed there and fell in love with Liat, the daughter of a Tonkinese trader, Bloody Mary. Cable was torn by his racial prejudice and his feelings for Liat. He resolved his dilemma by deciding racism is "not born in you; it happens after you're born". Then he sings these lyrics:

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!

These words probably would not attract that much controversy today but sixty years ago they raised legislative challenges and were even suspected of being Communistic.

While [South Pacific was] on a tour of the Southern United States, lawmakers in Georgia introduced a bill outlawing entertainment containing "an underlying philosophy inspired by Moscow." One legislator said that "a song justifying interracial marriage was implicitly a threat to the American way of life". Rodgers and Hammerstein were pressed to remove this song from the play, but stubbornly refused--even if it meant shutting down the production.*

Of course, this musical and the words of that song only played a small part in the change of America's feelings about relations between the races. But they did play a part. And many other expressions stood up to the hate-filled prejudice until finally the political will of the American people became law in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But, hatred still speaks out of fear, anger or injury. Ultimately hatred punishes the one who expresses it. It has been said that hatred is a boomerang which is sure to hit you harder than the one at whom you throw it. (anonymous) Touching the roots of that hatred with sensitive care can bring a measure of healing to the hating person's hurt.

Hatred will continue to grow or diminish depending on whether you and I express words of love and truth, wherever and whenever we hear lies directed at gender, sexual orientation, age, race, religion, disability or political affiliation.

SR Snips:

Hate--Hall Turner, a former talk-show host, was arrested at his New Jersey home for threatening to assault or murder three Chicago-based judges for refusing to overturn local ordinances banning handguns. An internet posting by Turner said "These judges deserve to be killed." A map showing their courtrooms was posted with a promise to post maps to show their homes later. San Antonio Express News, 6-25-09, p.A2

Gay Rights:--A group of current and former Mormans have created a website that calls upon leaders of the church to end hurtful anti-gay policies.

Defense Spending The White House has threatened to veto a $680 billion military spending bill if it contains funds to continue building the F-22 fighters. Secretary of Defense Gates and the Pentagon say they do not want the planes. San Antonio Express-News, 6-25-09, p A11. But production sites for the fighters are in over thirty states, and Senators don't want to lose jobs--whether we need the planes or not.

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*Amy Most, The Politics of Race in . . . South Pacific, Theater Journal 52, no3, 306 (as quoted in Wikipedia copied 6-23-09)