Race: who taught you to hate?

“End racism.”

We hear the cry daily, but how? Where does racism begin? We are not born with it. Are we?

Protest against racism. (Photo: Chicago Tribune)

“South Pacific,” a 1949 musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein, was one of the first to explore racial prejudice.

Set during World War II, the plot concerns a U.S. Navy nurse, Nellie Forbush, who falls for middle-aged French plantation owner Emile De Becque, on a South Pacific island (actually Hawaii’s Kauai).

But Nellie is from Arkansas and she recoils when she learns Emile has two mixed-race children.

Another character, an American Marine, is similarly trapped. He is in love with a Tonkinese girl he knows he can never bring home to the Main Line, where he lives. He sings the unforgettable song, “You’ve got to be carefully taught” to hate.

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.

And that song brings me to a video posted on the Facebook page of African-American actress Viola Davis, and elsewhere.

In it, a father asks his son questions about four sets of children playing, each black and white. The son, about 5, never mentions skin color, even when his father prompts him to look for differences. 

I noticed the same when my children were very young, just starting school at the predominantly black Mann Elementary school at 53rd & Berks. After we moved from all-white Balwynne Park into integrated Wynnefield in 1969, they were transferred to the integrated Samuel Gompers school, 57th & Wynnefield.

We moved into Wynnefield to take advantage of the white flight that depressed real estate prices. I had no money, but with a no-interest loan from my parents, was able to buy a stone, 10-room house for less than 30K.

The block was integrated and my children played with black children and white children.

When I was first learning the kids’ names, I asked my kids who was who. Terry was the girl with the big smile. Queenie was the girl with the laugh. Paul had red hair. No child was ever identified by skin color. When my kids were even younger and played in the playground of our housing project, none of the kids — white, black, Hispanic — ever made reference to color.

I don’t think that is conclusive, but — OK. Let’s say the song from “South Pacific” is right. You have to be taught to hate,

Who does the teaching?

My children’s mother and I successfully inculcated in our children a spirit of openness to everyone that was planted in us by our Jewish (liberal) parents. I am not saying anyone  used these very words, but here was the message: Jews, among all people, know about being the “outsider,” the minority who is ostracized,  beaten or murdered. We must never allow this to happen to anyone else.

I know my children haven’t been infected by the virus of racism, which still exists, but is diminishing.

I believe babies are not conscious of race. If they are conscious of race by 5, then the culprits are largely parents — or the culture.

But our culture — music, TV, film, sports — is generally pro black, but in being pro, it admits differences between races. 

My feeling is you can be conscious of race, as you might be of height and weight, without it having any more meaning than hair color.

Whether kids are race conscious or not, they can and should be guided by parents toward an understanding that it just should not matter. And if parents don’t do it, friends should.

And that, among other things, is what the protesters are doing and maybe that is how we help to end racism. 

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14 thoughts on “Race: who taught you to hate?”

  1. The elephant in the room that no one wants to discuss is that negative feelings about those of certain races are often taught by negative experiences with members of that race.

    I intentionally never taught my kids anything about it one way or the other. They came to their own conclusions after being robbed and jumped by kids who called them cracker snd honky.

  2. Isn’t it possible to be prejudiced and not be racist? I grew up in West Philly in the 50’s and 60’s. I played sports against black kids and also played on the same teams later in high school. I went to high school with black kids and served in the military also. I didn’t hate any of them because of their color. Did I invite them to my house for dinner, no. They didn’t invite me either. We got along. I just think racist is very strong term that is really misused. Are there racist people yes. I just don’t believe having prejudice makes you racist.

  3. I don’t know or care what you call it, but I can’t help that I see skin difference. I won’t lie to myself.
    I will not walk into a neighborhood known for crime. If it is a black one does that me racist? Or prejudice? I think it makes me smart. Simply put, racism is hating because you believe you are better, superior, to another race or ethnicity.
    Like Albert said racist is a strong word used too often.

  4. My best friend since 1976 (44 years for those with a Philadelphia education) is a Jewish guy from the projects in Brooklyn. But I’ve met Jews I do not like. My wife’s best friend in our old neighborhood was a black woman; they were like sisters; and I served a lot of years in the Air Force with blacks I admired. But I’ve met blacks, in and out of the military, I do not like. I’m of Italian descent and proud of it. But I have met a lot of Italians I do not like. My point is I live by what MLK preached: to judge someone by character, not skin color. To that I would add: ‘or ethnicity, or height, or weight, or education or whatever other facet of being human separates us from the herd.’
    My Uncle Joe and his wife, my Aunt Angela, ran a small grocery and butcher shop in an all-black neighborhood of West Philadelphia. They were friends for years with many of their black customers, and loved by them because they often extended credit until money to pay up was available. One day a couple of young blacks came into the store, put a shotgun into my Aunt’s mouth (literally) and stole all the money and a lot of food. My uncle closed the doors forever the next day. But when I talked with him about the incident, he blamed only the two thieves, not the entire race. A good man, my Uncle Joe.

  5. STILL HAPPY SUNDAY !!!
    On this Fathers’ Day, you could have picked a better subject. Maybe What is a father ? What is a broken home ? How many people grow up without fathers ? Do they still have homes for fatherless boys,e.g. Girard College ?
    We need more shows like south pacific and sesame street. The little ones are eager to learn and are quick to mimic. This is why good parenting is so important. We learn from our parents. We learn that saluting our Flag and saying the pledge of allegiance is a good thing. Some learn that getting up in the morning and putting on a explosive vest is also a good thing. A bit ironic ?
    I have come across many people who just absolutely hate everybody! Sometimes you can get inside their heads and show them the folly of such acts. We have to difuse the situation, if we expect this world to get any better.
    Tony

  6. Philadelphia, PA

    Dear Stu & readers,

    People tend to be shy of differences or anything with which they are unfamiliar which is a good part of the reason that we have emphasized over centuries the value of integration in American society. Looking at the history of national wars and ethnic conflicts in Europe, I think we have to consider even the social and political integration of our motely collection of (European) immigrant ancestors as a genuine cultural accomplishment.

    Racism or race hate, from this perspective is another variety of “us vs. them” thinking. Where it persists and is exaggerated, I suspect there must be “something in it,” some incentive for the perpetrators.

    Suppose you have a group of people who are about to make a deal of some sort, whatever it may be. As the thing is about to close and the benefit to be distributed among members of the group, it occurs to someone, that if they push out the weakest member of the group, then there will be more for all those remaining. The weakest member is just the guy with the least power or social support–the comparative outsider.

    I don’t know if this scheme encompasses the entire mess of racism or race hate, but it does at least suggest a mechanism –perhaps even a remedy. It stands to reason that race problems will be exaggerated by high levels of economic inequality of just the sort we have been building up over the past several decades.

    H.G. Callaway

    1. I believe there is something in human nature that requires us to have someone to look down on. It might be race, religion, gender, nationality. Having someone smaller makes you “bigger.”

      1. Philadelphia, PA

        Dear Stu,

        Buying a house in the city a couple of years back, we looked around quite a bit and in various neighborhoods. One thing that became clear, and this regardless of price and location, we didn’t want to buy the least desirable house on the block. That would be an unenviable location.

        H.G. Callaway

        1. Philadelphia, PA

          Dear Stu & readers,

          Registered independent here, no Trump fan –and 4th generation Philadelphian.

          Who’s been running up the economic inequalities in recent decades, the Republicans? the Clintonite Democrats? the go-go globalization folks? Have your pick.

          H.G. Callaway

  7. I am white, and grew up in a mostly black neighborhood, near 60th & Lancaster in West Philly. For most of my life, I was taunted and sometimes threatened because of my race- never by my neighbors, but by others coming and going from school. Often, neighbors would come out and tell them to leave me alone. I was never attacked or hurt. When I would tell my parents, they would tell me to feel sorry for those kids, because their parents had taught them to hate people not like them.
    When I was 19, we moved to a slightly better neighborhood, when my father purchased the corner drugstore where he had worked for 22 years. Twelve years later, four young black men walked in to rob the store; one of them shot and killed him. People would ask if the men who shot him were white or black- I would ask them why it mattered. It is foolish to hold the sins of one member race, or religion, or profession against the rest of the members of the group. I thought we had been moving in that direction, but apparently not.

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