01:44:41 pm on
Wednesday 21 Nov 2018

Teach Your Children Well
AJ Robinson

In high school, all those years ago, I worked on many plays and musicals for the Venice Little Theatre. I have clear memories of almost all that I did at the Venice Little Theatre. I remember how a song in one show, South Pacific, surprised me; right in the middle of this happy cheerful story, set on a South Pacific island, they sang about racism.


Their mother was Polynesian.

South Pacific takes place during World War II. One of the plot lines concerns, Emile de Becque. He’s a French plantation owner, a widower with two children, two mixed-race children; their mother was Polynesian. Emile starts a relationship with Nellie Forbush, the female lead, an American nurse stationed on the island, during the war.

Everything is going great until Nellie meets the kids. She freaks and leaves. Emile asks his friend, Lt. Joseph Cable, a US Marine also stationed on the island, where does “it” come from; this hate of people that are different. Joseph tells him it’s not something people are born with. No, they have to be taught, careful taught, which that leads to the song, “You've Got to Be Carefully Taught.”

Some years later, watching a documentary on Rogers and Hammerstein, the men who wrote South Pacific, I found out there was an effort, in 1949, to remove that song from the show when the show premiered. In fact, the Georgia state legislature went as far as trying to outlaw that and other songs deemed subversive and detrimental to the American way of life.

I can attest to the truth of the song. I’m a foster parent. I see this part of life manifest in a number of ways.

I know a little boy, only seven years of age, talk of killing. Granted, it was hunting, but he was very enthusiastic about it. It was clear his father had been indoctrinating him from a young age on killing animals and a number of other very negative beliefs.

The other negative beliefs included reading and learning were bad, women were to be subjugated and dominated; anyone that was different was the enemy. In fact, my foster son was surprised I didn’t hit my wife, Jo Ann, on a regular basis. Think of that, what home life has a child known to consider physical abuse normal.


Distrust and suspicion due to skin colour.

Another foster child I know is quite the opposite. He’s very open and accepting of others, but he’s a bit nervous with new places. His previous life was one of confinement to home and family. He has been on the receiving end of distrust and suspicion owing to his skin colour; he’s Black. Thus, store clerks and others have viewed him as a potential thief the moment he entered a shop, for example.

I’d say both children learned lessons, carefully taught. I’ve seen the polar opposites manifest in my own family. My father could be a decent and reasonable man. Occasionally an ethnic, racial or sexist remark would remind me he had his faults.

One time, when he visited me in college, he saw the framed picture of the girlfriend of my roommate. He asked if my roommate was Asian. The girl was Japanese. I jokingly said, “I don’t know, I’ll ask him.”

That totally confused my father. I laughed and explained. “No, my roommate is White.” My dad made no further comment and I’m sure he felt no negativity toward my roommate, his girlfriend or their relationship. It was one of his attributes that he tended to see people in ethnic stereotypes.

My mother has always been the most open and accepting person I’ve ever met. The first time she saw a picture of Antonio, our current foster son, her comment about him was that he was quite tall. Antonio is Black.

Given the fact that my mother grew up in fascist controlled Italy, I have to say that it’s quite amazing how fair and open-minded she is, always. Although, I admit she can make disparaging remarks about some people, namely, other Italians. It seems the folks in Florence have or at least had rather low opinions of the people in Naples.


Oh, to be immune to such ideas.

  •  

I guess no one is immune. I’d like to think we’ve come a long way toward ending teaching children such lessons. I hope the “class” one day be discontinued due to a lack of interest.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

More by AJ Robinson:
Tell a Friend

Click above to tell a friend about this article.