You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught


In the 1949 Broadway musical South Pacific Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers dealt with themes of racism in ways never brought to the stage beforehand. Stationed in the Pacific during World War II a young lieutenant and a precocious nurse both must deal with their own prejudices and the prejudices of others as they consider relationships with persons to whom they are very attracted. Lieutenant Cable sings these words in You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.

          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 different 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.

South Pacific was not without its share of vocal critics. Many asked the composers to consider removing this song from the musical. They felt it was divisive. Richard Rodgers simply laughed away the concerns, saying, “This is what the whole thing is about.”

Recently we have learned that teenagers in our community have posted incredibly mean and hateful things in an Instagram group. Their inflammatory racial posts have been aimed at African Americans. They were discovered by a young black woman disappointed to see the things posted by classmates. It is seventy years after the premier of South Pacific, and we are still beset by the evils of racism and prejudice. Who taught these young people to hate?

I have no idea who to blame. Could it be family? Could it be media influences? Could it be online tutors? Could it be the peer pressure from racist friends to join in their hateful speech? Could it even be behavior learned in some churches? Could it be reinforced by increasingly segregated schools? Is it some combination of these or other factors?

What I do know is that in 2019 someone is somehow still teaching racism to our youth. And, it is not harmless. It is not funny in the least. It is hurtful. It is destructive to the targets of racism, and, it is also destructive to those who harbor these thoughts and who put them out on social media.

I am committed to doing all I can to be an alternative voice to the teachers of hatred. I hope our church can truly be a place where it is crystal clear to our young – prejudice toward persons because of their differences from us is a problem to be addressed and a sin to be confessed. If we cannot be clear about this, we don’t deserve to be called a church of Jesus Christ. We have to be committed to teaching our young how to love, how to respect, how to stand up for what is right. The voices of racism must be confronted and challenged. There are and always will be persons willing to teach hatred. The question is, will there be those willing to teach that hatred is wrong?

The church of my childhood taught me to sing another song:

          Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world,
          Red and yellow black and white they are precious in His sight
          Jesus loves the little children of the world.

While the song probably overstated the difference between our skin pigments, the good point it made was significant. Jesus loves everyone, regardless of race. Will you help me teach this to our young?

– Jack Glasgow