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”
Oscar Hammerstein II & Richard Rodgers


It was a beautiful sunny day in Southern California, so I decided to take a leisurely drive north up Pacific Coast Highway. With the top down in my car and the wind in my hair, I was happily listening to my new James Taylor music from his, American Standard album.

I’ve been listening to Taylor’s music for the past five decades and I was excited to hear that this man’s voice has not changed. All the songs on the currently released album are classics that I was familiar with. There’s one song he sings from the musical South Pacific, You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught which I can remember as a child but the words never really sunk in until now.

For those not familiar with the 1949 Broadway musical, South Pacific, it’s a story adapted from the 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by James A. Michener titled, Tales of the South Pacific. The novel is a collection of Michener stories he wrote about the Pacific campaign in World War II. The stories focus on the interactions between Americans and native islanders and deal heavily with the issue of racism.

The music and lyrics for South Pacific were written by the famous team of Rodgers and Hammerstein also responsible for musicals Oklahoma! and Carousel. When the song, You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught was written for South Pacific, the pair were dealing with the racial tensions sweeping the nation. So much so, that there was an attempt to cut their song, Carefully Taught from the show because of its controversial lyrics.

While the show was touring in the Southern United States, lawmakers from Georgia actually introduced a bill outlawing entertainment containing “an underlying philosophy inspired by Moscow.” One legislator went so far as to say that a song justifying interracial marriage was a threat to the American way of life. Thankfully, Rodgers and Hammerstein defended their work and the number was kept in the show.

It’s hard to believe this beautifully poignant written song was a threat to our society during the 1950s. We’ve come a long way since then but still have a lot of work to do when it comes to racism. Because as the lyrics so appropriately point out:

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

Shine On

2 thoughts on “Carefully Taught

  1. Imagine that we have survived this long with subversive music like that. Can we outlaw philosophy too just to be on the safe side ? ! ? Play it again Sam ! Now if we can just be a little more careful about that teaching part in the classroom of life.

    Liked by 1 person

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