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Racism and Bigotry

September 14, 2016

We are hearing much talk about racism and bigotry in the political rhetoric today, reminding us that racism is still a keen reality in our society, even 150 years after the Civil War. Rogers and Hammerstein’s hugely successful 1949 Broadway musical South Pacific (I myself saw it on Broadway in the 1950s with Mary Martin) has Lt Cable sing this hauntingly beautiful song that I’ve always remembered.

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 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.

We now know that in our DNA each of us also has a survival instinct that is common in all life, and that can create in us an instinctive fear of strangers that makes it so easy for us to be racist or bigoted. It’s something just below the surface in all of us. No wonder that it is so prevalent in society. As parents and teachers, therefore, we must make special effort both in teaching and by example to counter that instinct not only in young children, but also to everyone around us. That’s why our Christian commandment to “Love!” is so important. For all too often, we do just the opposite, as the song explains.

Loren Bulllock
September 14, 2016

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