In the classic 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific, the character Lieutenant Cable sings a song called “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.”
It starts like this:
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.
This simple song about racism was controversial in its time. The show’s composers and producers were accused of Communist sympathies. Legislators in Georgia introduced a bill to outlaw entertainment containing “an underlying philosophy inspired by Moscow.”
Some of us may be surprised to learn that racism was so openly defended and advocated by elected officials as late as the mid-20th century. But recent events remind us that racism and ethnic hatred continue to infect our society in disturbing ways.
I’m referring specifically to the march by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., who rallied to protest a decision to remove a statue of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
Americans were shocked to see images of about 250 young people in khaki pants and white polo shirts marching with tiki torches through a university campus founded by Thomas Jefferson as they shouted racist and anti-Semitic slogans. Comments made afterward by the President of the United States unfortunately did not calm the waters.
More recently, the President stirred the pot again with his decision to end the program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA.
DACA is broadly seen as a reasonable policy to protect young people who were brought to America as children but have obeyed our country’s laws as they build careers and families in pursuit of the American Dream.
For the most part, the President’s supporters in this action insist they oppose DACA on purely legal grounds. They emphatically resent being called racists. And yet I can’t help wondering how much of this opposition was motivated by a desire to rid our country of “foreigners” who don’t look like “us.”
We’ll see how this shakes out as Congress considers restoring DACA protections for “Dreamers” in the next few months. The President certainly deserves credit for announcing his support for such legislation.
In the meantime, I take comfort in learning that a comment by former President Barack Obama has become the most “liked” tweet of all time.
Invoking the late South African President Nelson Mandela, Obama wrote:
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion…”
Yes, you’ve got to be carefully taught.
I try my best to be careful about what I teach my three children. I teach them to respect, appreciate and cherish all human beings, in all their many varieties.
That’s the American way.