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.


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 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 with a diverse group of people, you see that everyone, regardless of race, nationality or religion, shares your life experience. Most importantly, 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.

I guess isolation from different religious and ethnic groups leaves you susceptible to hate and fear.

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!

Categories: Ellin Curley, learning, lyrics, Music, Video

Tags: , , , , , ,

31 replies

  1. I recently saw South Pacific in the theater. It was the 60 anniversary of the movie. When you consider that the play came along a few years earlier, you can see how far ahead its time this story was. It is brilliant in its perception of societies and where hate comes from.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. When I grew up there were only white people of English background predominantly in Canada. Later when I saw a coloured lady on a bus I thought she was chocolate and I found that most intriguing. I later had a friend, that I walked to school with, from Bermuda. We were good friends.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes, hatred/prejudice is taught.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t even like the huge emphasis on “the other,” which is something done across the political spectrum for different reasons. It keeps the whole thing going. But that’s just me. I don’t know why we constantly have to label everyone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We shouldn’t have to label people, but when you are talking about us and them, you need to find a way to label them that isn’t pejorative, racist or otherwise bigoted. The wording gets difficult, but at some point, you have to choose a word. “Other” is about as neutral as you can get.

      Liked by 2 people

      • The more we see people as ‘other’, the more we exaggerate the differences. There are cultural differences between every group. But some are seen as dangerous or toxic and others are seen as positive or neutral. Italians and Irish and Polish people were reviled in America when they first came over. Now those nationalities are just cute ethnic quirks. The fodder of comedians.


      • When people are asked to ID a criminal suspect, they’re often asked if he wore a hoodie. Enuf said…


    • Good point. Labels are unhealthy. Even political labels are toxic today. But at least your opinions are a choice, not an accident of birth.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I grew up in Southern California, a pretty diverse area, with (in the 40’s and 50’s) lots of Hispanics and African Americans. I think you are absolutely right that when you are in contact with different groups you begin to understand that they’re really still people with the same needs and wants — and you learn to overcome, or at least deal with, the natural fear of the differences. In all parts of the country, there are immigrants from one country or another — if you’re not used to people being different, it can be very frightening!

    Liked by 3 people

    • With each move, we chose a mixed neighborhood — and this was before I married Garry. I really wanted the diversity, both for cultural reasons and so Owen would never be afraid of “others.”

      Liked by 4 people

      • I think it really stands to reason, too, that the people most afraid of immigrants are those who live in the center of the country, away from the entry points where there tend to be more heavily concentrated groups.


        • Totally agree. Familiarity breeds comfort. You only fear the unknown – or some bigoted garbage you are taught about people who are different. I can’t believe how much antisemitism still exists. I’m Jewish so I’m sensitive to it. Jews have assimilated so totally in America, I don’t understand how we still seem foreign to some people.

          Liked by 2 people

          • I was just discussing this very topic with other friends since my nephew just entered a bi-racial marriage which involved family from both sides, mine being the traditionally disapproved of group.

            I’ve found that Kids, when left to their own devices, will get along just fine with other kids. When adults become involved, either directly or just by personal behavior, kids will learn to discriminate. We tend to pass on our convictions but we can only hope that a child will learn to choose his own path.

            Liked by 2 people

      • Good for you, Marilyn! I grew up in New York City so diversity was a given. I never thought about race or ethnicity. It wasn’t an issue, just a fact of life.


      • Marilyn, you did well with Owen.


    • The most bigoted areas are ones with no diversity. The mixed areas are comfortable with diversity and don’t fear it. This proved true in the Brexit vote in England too!

      Liked by 3 people

  6. Hatred won’t go away unless we stop teaching children. Our bias is not theirs.

    Liked by 3 people

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