“You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear…”
Small children will generally play with anyone and anything they find. They do not know about hate and fear until they are taught. Another three-year old is just another three-year old, unless an adult grabs him away and admonishes the child not to play with the other child because he or she is “different.” That can mean many things to many people but passing along hate and fear is what society is good at doing. If it was not good at it, then why is there prejudice and hate? The three-year old can learn to become the schoolyard bully by the age of 8 if given enough instruction.
Teaching fear and hate does not need specific lessons or a handbook. Adults can simply pass it on through mean jokes, name calling and hateful talk amongst one another. Kids will get the idea real fast who they should hate. They want to fit in with their relatives and the social circles they find themselves in, so they will quickly learn to mimic the hate and name calling they hear. By the time they are teenagers, they might be so full of hate, they are able to beat someone to death.
‘You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear…”
Perhaps mom or dad will be quite pleased when they learn their little Johnny can repeat some of the evil jokes they themselves have told. It might be amusing to hear their boy ridicule someone he met at school that is different. They may feel a sense of pride that their son is just like they are. This only reinforces the prejudice and hate. Everyone wants to be accepted for who they are. Imagine the good feeling a child can receive when they realize that parroting back the hatred they hear brings joy to the adults around them.
“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…”
There are a whole variety of things that children can be taught to hate. I could put quite a list here if I think about it long enough. It’s not just skin color or different eyes, it might as well be hair color, or glasses or clothing. We can type, or should I say stereotype, just about anything. Maybe if you just sound a little different you are someone to hate. Your speech might indicate you are from another part of the world or the country or perhaps just another part of the city. If a child learns early enough, he/she can hate a wide range of people. It has to be done early, however, before a child learns to think for himself. If you wait too long, the child may learn to rebel against the hate. He may end up to be one of those teenagers who brings home different types of friends. He may speak about peace and love. He may join alliances at school that promote tolerances. He may also be bullied
rather than be the bully. What would some parents ever do with a child like that?
“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!”
When I was in high school our class put on the play, “South Pacific.” It is the 1949 musical about fear and prejudice on a south Pacific island in World War II. When it seems nurse Nellie can not love a Frenchman on the island because of his colored children, she can not explain why. It is just something she feels. When the Frenchman comments to a Lieutenant that he does not believe these feelings are born in you, Lt. Cable replies, “It’s not born in you. It happens after you’re born.” He then sings the song “Carefully Taught.” I thought the song was way ahead of its time, even decades later when I first heard it. Emile de Becque who left his homeland to escape prejudice tells the lieutenant, “This is just the kind of ugliness I was running away from. It has followed me all this way.”
The play was an important lesson for me. I had already started to learn the damage of hateful jokes and hateful people. I guess many of our generation did learn the lesson, but apparently not enough. Prejudice and hate continue to get passed down. High profile hate crimes, hate crimes legislation and Public Service Announcements can not begin to eradicate the hate and fear that begins in the home.
I thought all about these things during this past week when I realized that the anniversary of one of the most brutal hate crimes of our times had passed by on October 12th. It was 1998 when Matthew Shepard was beaten bloody with a 357 Smith and Wesson, “pistol whipped,” and left in a field to die. The sheriff of Laramie, Wyoming, tells the story of the crime, not for sensational reasons, but because it needs to be told. Matthew was one of those people who was different and consequently, others were taught to hate him. What was different about Matthew that brought out the hate others had learned? Matthew was gay. He was also a young man who should have had a long life ahead of him. Hate took that away.
- Remembering Matthew Shepard, Fourteen Years Later (thinkprogress.org)