In 1964, pianist and songwriter Tom Lehrer wrote a song called, “National Brotherhood Week.” It was a musical satire based on Brotherhood Week that grew out of the 1934 National Conference for Christians and Jews intended to close the divide between the two faiths. FDR said at the time, “We are fighting that the spirit of brotherhood which we prize in this country may be practiced here and by free men everywhere.”

How has this worked out over the decades? Lehrer was poking fun at the absurdity of a national brotherhood week to promote unity at a time when the country was still segregated, Jim Crow laws were in force, and lynching and other race related violence was a way of life, especially in the Deep South.

The recent national---and worldwide---protests against racial injustice in the United States ripped the bandage off of a festering wound. The country is as divided as it has been in my lifetime along not only racial lines, but anti-Semitic violence is on the rise, and xenophobia is out in the open. Just one illustration of the latter point, the number of assaults on Asian-Americans substantially increased following President Donald Trump’s blame on China for causing the world wide coronavirus pandemic. American Muslims, since 911, have been living in fear much like other minority faiths experienced over the past couple of hundred years.

I don’t have any solutions to what is happening today in our country. Anything I would try to add to the discussion would only be an attempt to reinvent the wheel, would be meaningless platitudes. But something’s got to give, because we can’t go on living the way we are if we have any hope of living in peace with our neighbors, of our children and grandchildren inheriting a better world than the current one.

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) represents the high water mark for political tone deafness and timing during the current domestic strife. The House passed an anti-lynching bill with four no votes. In the Senate, ninety-nine members voted for it, the lone dissenter being Paul. His reasons fly in the face of the research and vetting the overwhelming number of Republicans and Democrats did to reach unanimity on a bill that has failed to pass for a hundred years.

Tom Lehrer’s words are biting, but his message from more than half a century ago is sadly a message that hasn’t changed much---if at all. Hatred and divisiveness take on different forms as society evolves, but it is only the forms that change. To quote conservative columnist George Will, “Sometimes it does seem that history is not one damn thing after another, it is the same damn thing over and over.” 

"National Brotherhood Week"

All the white folks

hate the black folks.

And the black folks,

hate the white folks

To hate all but the right folks

is an old established rule

But during...

National Brotherhood Week

National Brotherhood Week

Lena Horn and Sheriff Clark are dancing cheek to cheek,

it's fun to eulogize the

people you despise

as long you don't let them in your school.

All the poor folks, hate the rich folks

and the rich folks hate the poor folks.

All of my folks hate all of your folks.

It's american as apple pie.

But during...

National Brotherhood Week

National Brotherhood Week

New Yorkers Love the Puerto Ricans 'cause it's very chique

Stand up and shake the hand of

someone you can't stand

you can tolerate him if you try.

All the protestants hate the catholics

and the catholics hate the protestants

and the hindus hate the muslims

and everybody hates the jews.

But during...

National Brotherhood Week

National Brotherhood Week its

national everyone smile at

one another-hood week, be

nice to people who are

inferior to you.

It's only for a week so have no fear

be grateful that it doesn't last all year!

On second thought, perhaps we can all do a better job of communicating, of listening, of talking to people different than us, talking about difficult subjects in the hope that somehow we can find more that unites us than divides us.

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