You’ve got to be carefully taught – one more time for emphasis

With yet one more racially motivated mass shooting, this time toward Asian-Americans, the need to bring out this old reference to carefully teaching bigotry seems sadly, still appropriate. Fear of the unknown has been a powerfully seductive and horrific teacher. We need to call it out and teach the opposite, the stuff that Jesus fellow taught.

For those of you who have seen the play or movie “South Pacific” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, you may recognize part of the title as a pivotal song in the story – “You’ve Got to be CarefullyTaught.” The play involves a woman who falls in love with someone and then realizes his children are half islanders. She has a hard time coming to grips with her bigotry as according to the song, we are not born hating; hatred has to be carefully taught. A sample of Hammerstein’s lyrics follow:

“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 head. You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

“You’ve got to be taught, before it’s too late. Before you are 6 or 7 or 8. To hate all the people your relatives hate. You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

This play was written in 1949 based on excerpts from James Michener’s novel “Tales from the South Pacific.” Rodgers and Hammerstein knew precisely what they were doing with this novel and lyrics as America was full bore in its civil rights crisis and more reasonable people were questioning why? Bigotry, hatred, bias – it has to be drummed into you before it’s too late. Before you can think for yourself.

Yesterday, I saw a picture above a story about the Boy Scouts and their delaying a decision to allow gays in their ranks. As a father of three, this picture was very disheartening as it showed young scouts holding up signs which were derogatory to those who are gay. For all the good the Boys Scouts does for young boys, teaching them to be bigoted toward others who happen to have different sexual preference, is not something worthy of a merit badge. For all of the teachings about responsibility, accountability, advocacy, and civility, to carefully teach them it is OK to hate these people because they are different from you is not in keeping with the mission of the Boy Scouts, nor is it in keeping with the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus said it in many different ways per the bible I learned from. The two that are burned in my memory are “love your neighbors as you love youself” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” There are no exceptions about being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. And, for that matter, there are no exceptions about them being Atheist, Muslim, Jewish or Agnostic. Words are easy. I have seen people who can inspire with words. Yet, the proof is in the action. What do you do each day? How do you interact with others? I see people everyday treat customer service people or perceived subordinates poorly and treat others in more cordial way.

However, these scouts are learning from us adults, both parents and leaders. I have noted many times before, it disturbs me greatly when spiritual leaders promote bigotry. This is one of the greatest betrayals of their responsibilities I know. Yet, our civic leaders are not much better and tend to be worse on occasion. Right now, Congress cannot pass an act which will make it easier to protect those who experience Violence Against Women. The primary hold up is the inclusion of gays and lesbians in the bill.  Violence against anyone is crime, unless it is self-defense. To distinguish who should be protected more than others based on sexual preference is the height of hypocrisy, especially since the push comes from the evangelical right.

Hatred has to be carefully taught. The Congressional leaders who are against the bill to stop violence against loved ones, should truly be embarassed to be on the wrong side of this issue. Domestic violence is a horrible crime because it happens routinely and consistently until a tipping point occurs. Unfortunately, the tipping point may be a death of a loved one. Women and children are the primary targets, yet others are impacted and should be protected. I have written before about an acquaintance whose sister was killed by her husband and he and his siblings had no idea she was being beaten. They learned the kids, on occasion, would have their father pick them up and beat their heads into the ceiling. What difference does it make if the target is gay or lesbian? This is not right and those Congressional leaders who are against the inclusion of all are “not on the side of the Angels.”

What should and can we do about it? We need to strongly encourage our leaders to think like parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts on most issues. Stop thinking like politicians. When GOP Governor Bobby Jindal says “we need to stop being the stupid party” this is an example of what he is talking about.

But, if we cannot alter the bigotry of the adults, please let’s focus on teaching the kids not to bigoted in their views. By word and deed; by encouragement, mentoring, or by corrective action or admonishment, please encourage people to do their best to follow Jesus’ examples and treat others like we want to be treated. The most important thing of all, is to walk the talk. Do everyday what you are telling them to do. That is what they will remember most.

Let me leave you with an encouraging story, which I may write more about later. The Western-East Divan Orchestra is a highly successful orchestra. But, that is not newsworthy by itself. The news is the orchestra consists of Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians, Iranis and Iraqis. The news is the orchestra is right in the hornet’s nest of danger. These teens and young adults come together at great risk to play and collaborate. Many of their friends and relatives judge them harshly for so doing. Yet, they continue because it is important. By working side by side toward a common purpose, they see that the person they are supposed to hate is just like them. They are being carefully taught, this time not to hate, but to get along and play as a unit. We could learn a great deal from these young people and those who lead them.

You’ve got to be carefully taught. My question as a parent – what do you want to teach them?

38 thoughts on “You’ve got to be carefully taught – one more time for emphasis

  1. Right. Reduce racial bigotry. That’s the ‘what’. I’m all in. Judge not on the colour of one’s skin, but the quality of one’s character. Some really smart person said that at the foot of a statue while speaking to millions… a statue that others are now toppling around the country in the name of ‘owning up to our past’ and so are the frontline warriors ‘fighting’ racism.


    Now, as to the ‘how’ we teach the next generation not to be bigots.

    Hey, here’s an idea. What better way to reduce racial bigotry than bringing race to the forefront in all aspects, bringing race to bear on every conceivable disparity that can be found between groups (well, but only for ‘people of colour’ and not those ‘white-adjacent’ Jews and Asians, of course), using race for ‘diverse’ graduation ceremonies, using race as a consideration for enrollment, for placement, for leadership, for access, for jobs, for medical treatment, for social status, for lifelong moral guilt? Accept our racism! Yup, we need to embrace racial makeups in all things, reshape curriculum in public education to tell the ‘story’ of how race was a founding principle (1619 Project) and reward this with a Pulitzer Prize, rename any schools named for the wrong race of people, see race everywhere in everything, use race for all considerations and bring it to the forefront… in order to… umm… reduce it… to, to, to eliminate… umm… racism…


    Why do I think this may not be a solution? In fact, it may be how one promotes racism. Hmmm… how might we ever know? Oh well, let’s just go with it and see what happens…

    • Tildeb, very thought provoking. To your point, the Hall of Famer Frank Robinson was the first African-American manager in the baseball Major Leagues. He said something telling. He said what will be important is when I am the first African-American manager fired for lack of success. Only then, will I be treated equally to white managers. I found that profound.

      To me, we achieve greater racial parity when race is not an issue at all. One of my theses is from personal experience. I went to school in a multi-racial environment for years. To me, this prepared me better to live in a multi-racial world. Do I see race, of course I do? But, I feel I am at least better prepared to act in a non-racial way. Yet, like everyone, I need to work at it.


      • I think people ARE being carefully taught today to elevate race and give it meaning and power… all the while saying and actually believing they are dismantling it in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

      • Tildeb, I wish this were less true. The ones who think this way need to be drowned out. A saw a terrific discussion with five black men in my community who said we need more to be “anti-racist” not just be against racism. Keith

      • Yeah, as much as so many earnest and well-meaning people wish it to be otherwise, anti-racism guarantees the promotion of racism. Accepting the idea that there is no room for ‘not racist’ or ‘against racism’ because both mean racist is not a solution or even a path to reducing racism, Keith. It’s a guaranteed way of thinking that elevates and promote racial considerations to be central. The term ‘anti-racist’ reflects the core tenet of critical race Theory, namely that “racism is ordinary and pervades everything. As may be seen in Kendi’s use of the word “inequities,” antiracism is to be thought of in terms of equity, not equality.” (source)

        That’s why we see race become central in all public policy by such ‘anti-racist’ advocacy and why the use of disparity – what diversity actually IS – used as if evidence for ‘racism’. That’s why we hear and see critical race Theory proponents talk incessantly not about equality but about ‘equity’, to eliminate disparity.

        I grow frustrated that so many people work hard and with good intentions to try to reduce and eliminate judgements about character based on the colour of one’s skin by doing EXACTLY the opposite, working hard and with good intentions promoting judgements (using disparity and calling for equity of results) based on the colour of one’s skin… but calling it ‘anti-racism!

        Well, I guess as long as we can feel good about doing exactly what ML King said we shouldn’t do – because, hey, it’s ‘anti-racist’ – we’re not racist even though we exercise and support and promote racism in action!

      • Keith, you said you “saw a terrific discussion with five black men in my community who said we need more to be “anti-racist” not just be against racism.”

        Well, careful who you want to drown out here. John McWHorter is an accomplished academic and teacher and writer. He is also black. And he argues vehemently that anti-racism is a religion that is harming black people. He says the people – regardless of skin colour – who support anti-racism are the CENTRAL problem here. He’s worth reading because he’s not wrong.


      • Tildeb, we must be operating under different definitions. The definition I am working under is if and when I can, I will point out racist remarks to those who offer them. That is exhibiting anti-racism to me and, I feel we need more of that, and not less.

        However, I would beseech you to please refrain from writing so many dissertations which well exceed the length of my post. You have passion and intellect, which I admire, but I must confess it can be offputting to see several lengthy comments. I can be lengthy, as well, but I would appreciate greatly some judicious restraint. Many thanks, Keith

      • Yes the definitions are very important. Now that the language has been hijacked, anti-racism means race-based polices. You yourself have used ‘not racist’ as insufficient. Why might that be?

        As for the lengths of my comments, fine. When my words seem to have so little effect that only their sequence length matters, I won’t bother. But please know all I’m trying to do is point out that being well intentioned but supporting and promoting race-based framing is actually adding to the problem. Like you, I agree that not seeing race, making race irrelevant, is a solution. Can’t do that when all framing places race front and center. I’ve pointed out several examples of you doing exactly this, falling into the anti-racist camp without any apparent concern that you are doing so, that perhaps with my words you may recognize how you’re being manipulated into doing what you are being carefully taught to do. Just like the OP warns against doing. Hence, the reason why I am commenting here, to raise awareness how easy it is when your good intentions are the engine.

  2. Bigotry is something I could never deal with and injustice or any discrimination I witness making me turn into a lioness. Either my kids are simply naturally honest and fair people or I have done something really right, but they all stick to their opinion and equality is part of their attitude for life. I am very proud of them.

  3. Unfortunately, humans love to feel superior to other humans. I heard a very interesting Hidden Brain podcast that talked about how relatively quickly we have evolved from discrimination against the LGBTQ community but how far we are from evolving the same way with regard to race and gender.

  4. I could not have stated it any better myself, Keith! I will never understand what gives some the idea that white is better than black, Christian better than Muslim, or straight better than gay. It is arrogance and in today’s world, there is no room for it. And yet, some have been so carefully taught that they will make room for it. Perfect post for the day, my friend, and I will re-blog it this afternoon. Thank you!

  5. Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
    On this day in 1965, 56 years ago, then-President Lyndon B. Johnson sent federal troops to Alabama to protect the planned Civil Rights march from Selma to Montgomery. This was the third time the march had been attempted and thanks to LBJ was successful, leading to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in August of that year. 56 years later, we haven’t come very far in that quest to end racism. Please read Keith’s thoughtful post on the topic of racism and where it starts, where the solution must begin. Thank you, Keith

    • Eight house are broken into. It turns out six of the eight homeowners were Caucasian. Does this make the break-ins ‘racially motivated’?

      This crime is then widely reported as a crime against Caucasians because, hey, six of the victims were Caucasian. Demonstrations arise in large urban centers decrying ‘racism’ and why it’s wrong to target people based on their race. Is this what we should teach to children, to view the world this way?

      I suggest we have to be carefully taught to frame the world this way, taught to pay attention to the racial aspect, taught to import and impose a racial framing. I claim that doing this teaching, going along with the framing, the imposing, is itself ‘racist’. More importantly, does importing the racial aspect in any way, shape, or form ‘reduce’ racism?

  6. Keith, you start off this post with, “With yet one more racially motivated mass shooting…”

    When we’re carefully taught to see race everywhere, see events through the lens of race-based framing, it’s no wonder that people see this shooting as race-based and presume everyone else does or should.

    But it’s not true.

    This shooting was not a racially motivated shooting. It was, if anything, a religiously motivated shooting in the sense that the shooter says he was wracked with guilt and anxiety over his sexual behaviour that was exercised at these places. To get rid of the ‘temptation’ he tried to get rid of the women, most of whom were Asian. The ‘Asian’ aspect was not the motivation so the shooting was not racially motivated. This is an imported assumption, imposed on reality, and then widely dispersed as if true.

    See how carefully taught you have been? See how carefully taught many of these commentators go along with framing? See how this framing doesn’t reduce but promote race awareness and importance? If we can’t get past seeing race and misidentifying its relevance to motivation for something like this, then teaching our kids to import and impose the same awareness is NOT going to reduce racism but elevate it.

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