I remember as a child watching the musical South Pacific on TV, and being struck by the song, “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.” I was one of those kids who cried often about all the suffering and hatred in the world. I never understood why people couldn’t just follow the Golden Rule and treat others as they’d like to be treated. I still don’t. It seems so simple.
South Pacific was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s attempt to confront racism. The Broadway musical debuted in 1949, the movie in 1958. In the show, an American nurse falls in love with a French plantation owner, but isn’t sure she can accept his biracial children. And a young lieutenant falls in love with a local Tonkinese girl, another relationship that would have been frowned upon at the time. In the song I mentioned, the lieutenant argues:
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 . . .
This sentiment overwhelmed me as a child. Who would teach their children to hate, I wondered? Certainly my parents had not. What good could come from it? I remember feeling so sorry for kids whose families had burdened them with such heavy and harmful emotions.
I don’t have space to reflect in this simple blog post on what drives hate and prejudice (such as what we saw recently in Charlottesville, Virginia) but I have seen those emotions rear their ugly heads even in the industry I love, the arts.
But I’ve also seen artists confront bigotry, hatred, and fear in their works. And maybe, just maybe, if enough children are exposed to art which challenges hate and promotes love, peace, and understanding, we can serve as teachers too. Maybe some young child will observe our art, as I observed that musical, and question the negative messages being drummed in their “dear little ears.”
Art is not the answer, but it could be part of the solution. So please, reach into your creative souls and give us the encouragement to love and hope and do what is right in these trying times.
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