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Carefully Teaching the Carefully Taught

What with the planet heating up, global relations melting down, and chasms widening everywhere, I hear the South Pacific song running through my head, “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.”

The song was written by the well-known Communist team of Rodgers and Hammerstein in 1949. A Georgia legislator said it promoted interracial marriage, “an implicit threat to the American way of life,” and so lawmakers introduced a bill outlawing all entertainment containing “an underlying philosophy inspired by Moscow” (Wikipedia).

It sounds suitably and decisively antiquated, that post-war Georgia legislature … except that it doesn’t. Our faith traditions uphold the inherent dignity of all persons and extol the virtues of simple respect as the essential glue holding a civil society together, but then along come those ever-present, eternally-persistent prejudices, hatreds, and fears fueling society’s underlying social, racial, and cultural divisions; only the external shape changes with the times.

We learn, or as the song says, we are carefully taught, our prejudices. Some (most?) will take great exception, and I don’t argue the point in any event, but I have always maintained that growing up American is to grow up racist as well. Depending on how carefully we are taught, we become at best “recovering racists,” our heads (reason) ruling our guts (emotion).

Carefully teaching the carefully taught, lifelong learning for individuals and wider communities alike. From “South Pacific,” a lesson in song:


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 diff’rent 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!