Why Are These Adults Laughing At The Reactions Of These Girls Receiving Black Dolls?

Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein, in their 1949 musical, South Pacific, gave us a song entitled, “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught.” The musical was based on the novel, Tales Of The South Pacific, by James A. Michener and both deal with racism. The song is sung by the character of Lieutenant Joe Cable, who sings it to Emile de Becque as the former rationalizes his dumping of the Polynesian woman he loves because of her race. De Becque has two mixed-race children and is facing racism from the woman he is courting, Nellie Forbush. Cable sings that, he can’t help it, it’s just the way he was raised…

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.

At the time, the idea of a mixed-race marriage was abhorrent, especially in the American south. The play was accused of having a Communist agenda and the state of Georgia was moved to introduce a bill outlawing such entertainment. In the face of this bigotry and Red Scare backlash, Rogers and Hammerstein refused to cut the song, even if it meant the show failed. It didn’t, of course. Neither did the 1958 film version. But there were certainly many who refused to see either due to their bigotry.

This video of two little white girls receiving black baby dolls as gifts seems almost tailor-made to illustrate the idea of being carefully taught from a young age to “hate and fear.” In it, the little girls — whose ages aren’t given but appear to be around 7 and 4 — are told that their gifts from an aunt and uncle are in the bag. The younger one eagerly opens it and is prompted to give the older girl hers. The gifts are twin black baby dolls. The older girl, perhaps trying not to hurt anyone’s feelings, looks confused and embarrassed and smiles tersely. “What’s wrong?” an adult (Mom?) asks. The girl smiles tightly again and shakes her head, “Nothing.” She is asked if she likes it, which is met by a non-committal, “Mmm hmm.” But her face says otherwise. At this point, the two adult (I use that word loosely) women who are recording this start to laugh. The camera pans to the younger girl who has begun to cry. “What’s wrong?” the one voice asks in a tone which betrays that this is some kind of joke. The younger girl wails and throws the doll at the camera as the two women guffaw. Watch:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HSAgOks_wk&w=640&h=480]

Some might say that we can’t be sure that this was meant as a joke. Maybe the dolls were sent by a well-meaning aunt and uncle to teach the girls about diversity. Maybe. But it’s the reactions of the two unseen women that push this video over into disgusting. Why the snickering? The tone of voice tells the girls how they should react and the laughter validates that reaction.

To her credit, the older girl looks rueful and ashamed. Perhaps she has black schoolmates. Maybe she will grow up to accept them as equals. But with the sort of behavior that is being modeled by the so-called adults, I wouldn’t bet on it.

Featured Image via Screen Capture

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