Howard Fast, contributor of "A Method for Tolerance," is a veteran of belles-lettres at twenty-nine and one of America's foremost historical novelists. He started out to be a painter but, he claims, discovering that writing was more lucrative, sat down and ran off his first novel - in five weeks flat. He was eighteen at the time. He lives in New York and is currently doing most of his writing for the OWI.
July, 1944, pp 31, 82
A METHOD FOR TOLERANCE
The teacher in the third grade class asked Ellen Donato to repeat her name -- then to spell it. The little girl did so. The teacher asked her, "It's Italian, isn't it?" The girl shook her head uncertainly; her paternal great-grandfather had come from Italy, but her parents had never given her to understand that she was anything other than an American. After school, that day, a half dozen of her playmates called her a wop. She arrived home in tears.
Frank Smith, who was eight years old, asked his mother one day, "Is it true the Jews killed Christ?" His mother was busy; she said, "I suppose so," and went on with her housework. That afternoon, Frank Smith and Johnny Fried were playing together. The two boys had been friends ever since they were babies. They had the regular and heated arguments of childhood; but now Frank Smith had discovered a new and enticing convincer. Losing his temper, he cried, "You dirty Jew, you killed Christ!"
Jackie Morrison had taken to playing with a little colored boy who lived three blocks from his home. The colored boy was warm and gentle and thoughtful, and made the most comfortable playmate he had ever known. The fact that his skin was darker made no difference at all; this was a world of fascinating variety, and why should all skin be the same color? And then, one day, Mrs. Morrison said, "I don't like you to play with that boy." "Why?" Jackie wanted to know. His mother answered, "Because he's a Negro."
At the age of nine, it did not make much difference to Tommy Crane whether another child was a Methodist or a Buddhist -- until he overheard his mother and father regretting the fact that so many Catholics were moving into the neighborhood. From then on, it became an interesting game to discover which of the new children were Catholics, and to impress upon them the status of inferiority he had heard voiced by his parents.
Those are only four instances of a pattern of child indoctrination which, insidious as an evil cancer, has eaten into the whole body of democratic America. It does not matter that these things are not done willfully, that they are done thoughtlessly, that they are done carelessly; what matters is that they are being done, that children by the million are being taught racial bigotry, racial intolerance, and race hatred. What matters is that thousands of American children are being scarred -- and that those scars bode an evil promise for the future.
And it would be so easy to have it otherwise; it would be so simple for mothers and fathers to teach their children not to hate, not to despise, not to hurt. Anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, Jim Crow, and all the other varieties of minority persecution are political weapons; but they cannot be successfully used as political weapons unless people have first been made ready and receptive for them. And that making ready, that tilling the ground for the hate Hitler preaches -- that is done in the home, in the schools, and in the church. That is a terrible thing to say; unfortunately, in America today, it is still true.
And, as I said before, it need not be so. A child can be raised for tolerance, free from race hatred. And such action, in terms of children, will help the parents too; what they are, the child will mirror; they must change themselves if they are to be successful.
To start, let me list a few simple rules. Put into application they will soon become habit, and soon, too, they will change the nature of a household for the better.
Firstly: Never use derogatory terms; never think them if possible, never permit them to be used in your home. A Negro is simply that, or he's a colored person. A Jew is a Jew, not a kike, not a sheeny. An Italian is an Italian, not a wop. An Irishman is that -- not a mick. A Pole is a Pole -- not a hunky. I could go on with every nationality, every minority; it's not necessary. Make that rule the first and foremost in your home, and keep it yourself.
Secondly: Don't discriminate in your casual conversation. If you know a Jew, don't refer to him as "that Jew." If you have Irish neighbors, don't refer to them as "those Irish." If you speak of a Negro to a third person, refer to him by his name, not as "that Negro, Jones."
Thirdly: Don't suggest religious or race differences to your children. If Johnny is playing with a new boy, don't ask Johnny whether the boy is a Baptist or a Catholic; Johnny will find out soon enough, and if he thinks it of any importance, he will tell you. Don't refer to "those Poles" who live down the street; the children speak the same language as Johnny, and he considers them to be Americans. Don't try to isolate Johnny; he's going to live in a country of Negroes, Jews, Italians, and a dozen other minorities; and he wouldn't play with their children if he didn't feel that they were fit associates.
Fourthly: Don't bear the anti-Negro or anti-Semitic or anti-Catholic story in embarrassed silence; talk up hotly and intelligently, and if it means losing a friend -- and not a too worthwhile one -- it also means shaping your listening children into better human material.
These are four ways to start.
Still, the child's world is more than the home, and even if you, as parents, are paragons of virtue, there is the school, the church, the community. Many schoolteachers are intelligent about this sort of thing; others are not. Some are simply careless, thoughtless; a few, fortunately in the minority, act as deliberate provocateurs of racial intolerance. They will torture sensitive children with the fact that they belong to a minority group, and they will feed others a constant stream of vicious falsehood. As for this kind, smoke them out. As a parent and a member of the community, you have a say in things. You can exercise that say -- through parents' associations, through boards of education. For the thoughtless kind, it is a matter of instruction, and certain communities have started tolerance clinics, places where teachers, churchmen, and community leaders meet to discuss a practical application of democracy. The famous Springfield Plan is one example of what has been accomplished by this sort of thing.
Racial and religious tolerance is not only a part of democracy, it is one of the main roots and supports; and a democracy exists only where the individual is willing to fight for it, in one way or another. And as an individual, there is much you can do.
The daughter of a friend of ours came home weeping one day; eight years old, she had had her first nasty encounter with anti-Semitism. Our friend sat up most of the night writing a playlet, pointing out, in a manner children can understand, the destructive and evil results of race hatred. The next day, he took it to the school and had a long talk with the principal. Our friend was not a writer, but his playlet made sense; the principal co-operated; children, black and white, acted it out. It was the beginning of a campaign against intolerance in his town.
Another friend of ours, a woman, also took matters into her own hands in her community. With the women's club, she organized a series of Saturday story hours, each of which dealt proudly and heroically with the historical past of one or another of the town's minorities; the theme was how each group had in its own way fought the good fight for human decency and freedom. The children came out of it, not only with added pride in themselves but with new respect for their neighbors.
We come to the church. Many good Christians will deny that the church has in any way fostered race hatred. Others will admit that the old and vicious accusation against the Jews of being "Christ-killers" most often had its origin in Christian churches. This is forthrightly admitted by over three thousand American ministers who took the following pledge:
"We free church ministers must speak plainly about the cowardly propaganda of anti-Semitism.
"Jesus was not murdered by the Jewish people, who followed Him in their multitudes and 'heard Him gladly,' but by their enemies, the Quislings of that day, hiding behind a synthetic 'Jewish Front' mob, just as today His spirit is being murdered again all over the Western world by similar betrayers using synthetic 'Christian Front' mobs....
"Whatever deflects from our own consciences the penetrating glance of God by making a scapegoat of the Jews or any other race must be stricken from our teaching and from our texts...."
Were there no fault, then certainly this pledge would not have been originated -- and certainly it would not have been signed by over three thousand ministers. If your minister is guilty of repeating the old saw about the Jews killing Christ, then this pledge might be a good thing to point out to him.
The few things I have set down here are only a beginning; in the last analysis, the children will be what the older folks are, and it is for them, the parents, to realize the responsibility. Before the war, there was much talk of what sober and industrious people the Germans were, but running all through the fabric of their lives was this vicious doctrine of race hatred; that is one of the reasons that they were such receptive material for the Nazis.
Fascist groups here at home were playing the same tune when war came and united all free peoples against the promulgators of race hatred and race bigotry. They are back in their holes now, and it is our business never to let them crawl out.
There was never such a place as this America of ours for real, practicing democracy. Let the children understand that -- that we are a combination of all peoples, all races, all religions, that we built this nation upon the principle that all men are equal, and that we have so far preserved that principle.
Put the lies and the old canards to death, once and for all. Let your children know that democracy is a way of thought as well as a way of politics; let them know that it is a way of living.