Hating the Others

The air is thick with it here in America, a swirling mass just out of reach of reason, a nauseous wave of vague gray haze that reappears no matter how often we cleanse our collective lens: hate. This is not a new tempest, no, in fact, it is as old as humanity itself. Throughout history, there have been times when we have given hate more power than it deserved, and it rose up and roared. We are now in such a time.

Today, there is a particular team that has been inspired by a particular cheerleader to hate others. And to this team, “others” is a broad swath that claims non-whites, immigrants, Jews, Muslims, the media, gays, transgenders, liberals, Democrats. The list grows. And the team follows, blindly, because they get to legitimately hate: others.

Why do they so willingly choose to hate others, when given such valid permission? (The President of the United States, the leader of the free world, has called “open season” on hating others.) I surmise it is because of this: it makes them feel better about themselves; it makes them feel safer in an out-of-control world; it reassures them that they are right and “others” are wrong, and as long as they can condemn the others, their little world won’t change and they will always be right. And they’ve gotten used to their little, narrow, small-minded world, and the “others” threaten to change it; to make it better or to make it worse. Or to shine a bright light on the truth that their team is not right…at least, not always.

I was watching a movie on television, a movie that plays regularly while it is new, when I got very clear on this realization about hating others, and how hating others has been a popular sport forever. The movie was The Greatest Show, and it’s a very good movie starring Hugh Jackman, Michele Williams, and Zac Efron. Despite the fact that the film is  a musical and is filled with song and dance routines so joyous and hopeful that I caught myself sobbing with relief at times, it also contained scenes of the absolute opposite of this joy; the hatred of others.  A major antagonist in the film is the angry mob, the men, yes, white men, who yell angrily, and say “we don’t want your kind,” and throw bottles at the circus troupe of performers who are very different. The mob enjoys it. It makes them feel superior. They eagerly incite confrontations so they can physically assault the object of their hatred.

The mob scenes were suddenly so familiar to me. The hatred so recognizable. Why had I never noticed it before, when it is truly so prevalent? Why, I wondered? Why would they choose to do this?

We’ve followed the long arc toward justice, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it, for a long time and have gotten steadily closer. But now, but now…the most disheartening part is the number of Americans who don’t even care, who line up to follow the cheerleader, who want to be better than, not equal to, the others. According to our Constitution, this is wrong and massively un-American.

Our constitution got it mostly right: all men are created equal. (It should have said “all humans” but less us presume that “men” includes everyone.)

I’ll close with these lines from the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, South Pacific. Seventy years ago, in 1949, these lines were relevant, a signal of the level of racism in humanity, a warning, a hopeful plea. The song is spun in response to a character’s belief that her prejudice is “something that is born in me!” Another character disagrees, saying “it happens after you’re born.”

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!
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

I agree. You’ve got to be taught to hate. Otherwise, you probably won’t.

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