You’ve Got to Be Taught

Song: You’ve Got to Be Taught.  From the musical South Pacific.  Music by Richard Rodgers.  Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.

“You’ve Got to Be Taught” from South Pacific hits you as being a song about a culture of racism.  The message is that you have to be taught to be a bigot.  You have to be taught to hate others.  The point is that someone has to teach you to be intolerant of others.  I’ve been thinking about this a lot.  I’ll try to make sense of it.

Psychology teaches us that the greatest influence on a child is their parents.  If you grow up with racist thoughts and hatred of different people, you may become racist.  That is what the song teaches us.  Unlike the song, I don’t believe that the teaching has to be a conscious act by the parents or family.  It can be as easy as hearing racial epithets over and over.  Theories of learing tell us that even small actions over time can teach someone a behavior (ie. racism).

I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania in the 80s and 90s.  In 2000 I moved to Long Island and learned that I was somewhat racist.  I had never thought of myself this way, but I was.  My parents didn’t teach me to be racist.  It could have been hearing racial slurs from my grandparents who grew up in an age where certain language was acceptable.  I can’t blame them.

The real test was being able to change.  It took me very little time to learn to work with people that are not caucasian.  I learned to be not care about the color of one’s skin.  I didn’t have to do that.  I was smart enough to be able to overcome those thoughts and feelings.  Ashamed.  I was ashamed of myself and am glad that I turned out better in the end.

The song really helps us reexamine our lives.  Rogers and Hammerstein slap you in the face with something that is still a huge issue in our society.  The song falls short is in cases of ignorance.  How you handle ignorance of black issues, LGBT issues is the measure of your upbringing.  That said, it’s a song that made me think about this important issue.  I’m glad to embrace all people regardless of age, race, sex, creed, medical status, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression…