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you've got to be carefully taught

06/23/2022 09:12:45 AM


Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

I was listening to the news on the radio the other day when a shorter version of a prior evening’s broadcast was shared. The essence was a tragic story of a woman whose son had been pulled so far into the deep darkness of H that he was teaching his children the same, and she could no longer take it and kicked her son and family out of the house. Immediately the song from South Pacific, “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” came to mind, but not merely the words. It was the true bravery and strength of Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics that challenged American sensibilities in the 1950’s. Despite pressure from many quarters to remove the song from the musical, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein adamantly insisted the song remain. Many reviewers of the day criticized the song, no doubt revealing their deep-seated racism and discomfort with the truths that the song challenged.

In the musical, Lieutenant Joe Cable has a relationship with Liat and fathered two children, Jerome and Ngana. He and Emile De Becque are embarking on an intelligence mission on the neighboring island of Maria-Louise. Before leaving, they have a discussion about racism, and Joe states the following: Racism is not born in you. It happens after you are born.

I was thinking of those words and the story of this woman on the radio. Joe Cable would have had some very strong words in response. Here is what he sang, courtesy of Rodgers and Hammerstein:

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

H begins at the kitchen table, and we all know it. By the time a student is attending school, much of their attitudes towards society are molded by their parents. While it is indeed possible to change their point of view, and there are many successful stories, it is very difficult to contradict the teachings of ones’ parents, for every child naturally assumes that every word out of their parent’s mouths is the truth.

I offer the following revised words, with all due deference to Rodgers and Hammerstein, more as a question for each of us to ponder:

Why can’t we be taught to love and revere,

To honor all people both far and near

Why can’t it be drummed in our dear little ears

You’ve got to be taught to love.




Sat, July 2 2022 3 Tammuz 5782