“YOU’VE GOT TO BE CAREFULLY TAUGHT” – BY ELLIN CURLEY

There’s a beautiful and poignant song in the musical “South Pacific”, by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. It’s called, “You’ve got To Be Carefully Taught”. It opens with the lines “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear, you’ve got to be taught from year to year.”

I’ve been thinking about those lyrics recently. I was struck by a common statistic in both the Brexit vote in the UK and our election of Donald Trump. In the UK, the voters who voted most heavily anti-immigrant and anti-EU, were from areas that had few to no immigrants. The open-minded, pro-immigrant, pro EU voters were clustered in the areas with the highest volume of immigrants. Interesting.

The same phenomenon repeated itself in the United States. Trump supporters accepted, if not endorsed his xenophobic, anti-Muslim, racist rhetoric and dog whistling. His voters were concentrated in areas that were most heavily white, with the lowest number of immigrants and other racial minorities. The cities, where immigrants and minorities are concentrated, were across the board Democratic and anti-Trump.

It seems that if you have contacts with minority groups, or people not exactly like yourself, you accept them and don’t fear them. If these groups of people are total unknowns to you, you’re open to believing all the negative rhetoric about them. You’re open to seeing them as dangerous and destructive to you and your way of life.

At first I thought this was counter intuitive. But I realized that it makes perfect sense. When you live among a diverse group of people, you see that everyone, regardless of race, nationality or religion, shares your life experience. Most important, you see all other people as individuals. To you, they’re not, nor can they be seen as, a monolithic, mysterious blob of humanity, threatening everything you hold dear.

On a personal note, I grew up in New York City. Even in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, I saw different races and nationalities everywhere. I also went to integrated schools. When I was four years old, I had an eye-opening experience that I still remember. I’m a Jewish caucasian. My beloved Nanny was a Christian black woman.

To me, Ethie was part of the family. She was just like me in every way. The first time that belief was challenged was when something came up about her going to church. It suddenly hit me that Ethie wasn’t JEWISH! She wasn’t just like me, she was different in some ways. It still didn’t register on me that her skin was a different color. That didn’t even show up on my four-year old radar. I just remember grappling with the idea that Ethie was not really family.

She was not JUST LIKE US. She was, in some crucial way, different. I didn’t love her any less. I learned something that day. That I could love someone who wasn’t exactly like me. Different was okay.

So, I guess isolation from different religious and ethnic groups leaves you susceptible to hate and fear. Here are the rest of the words to that touching and oh, so true 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!

9 thoughts on ““YOU’VE GOT TO BE CAREFULLY TAUGHT” – BY ELLIN CURLEY

  1. Many of the groups we deal with have grown up for generations with a basic mistrust/hatred of Western or American society. If we win a conflict in these areas, the people really don;t understand who we are, and thus don’t know how to trust our way of life.

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    • That may be a PR issue. Americans need to project ourselves apart from our government policies. People in other countries need to know that individual Americans, as a rule, are decent, caring, giving people, just like they are. Our macho policies tend to define us overseas, which is a pity.

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      • I’m sorry — I was thinking of the middle easterners who grew up in tribal settings, where the various tribes tend to mistrust each other and everybody else. When their ‘governments’ are overthrown by the great Americans, they don’t understand the democracy that is put in place, thus the discontent. I totally agree with you that we ned not to be the “ugly American”, either individually or as a whole.

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