My 3 Cents

My 3 Cents     “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught”


Misinformation in this era has taken on a life of its own. Though the specifics may vary, the realities are hardly new. Books have been banned or burned or blacklisted since the invention of the printing press. Talking heads debate “cancel culture” vs “consequence culture” ad nauseum. Basic life concerns like health, clean air, food access, and now medication availability are proclaimed loudly through podcasts, the latest version of supposed   “instant knowledge” spewed by voices who may have little credibility beyond the ability to negotiate a contract promising “followers.”

In 1949, seventy-three years ago, composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein followed their first Broadway hit, “Oklahoma” in 1943 with “South Pacific” based on the James Michener novel, “Tales of the South Pacific.” *

Boycotts of the musical were threatened south of the Mason-Dixon line because of the fictional characters possible interracial relationships which, luckily, the creative team ignored. The song, “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” still rings true in 2022 even more than ever.

Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to travel internationally. (Those were the days.) And in discussing my itineraries with strangers on a plane or in a coffee shop several “warnings” have been instilled in my memory.

I sat next to two young men from Finland on my way to Europe who warned me to “avoid the Swedes as they aren’t too bright.” A young woman in Thailand was appalled that I was bothering to visit Cambodia, as she told me “they are basically uneducated peasants.”  Neither their unsolicited judgements proved to be true, but given the current tenor of the times, I started thinking.

You don’t have to go to a foreign country to hear or feel the sting of racial or ethnic ignorance. The loud vitriol of hatred can be heard (or read on social media) any day in the United States. Whether it’s regional bias or political derision, our country, that supposedly welcomed “… your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” has quite a history of blocking people and then not necessarily making it easy on those who are allowed to enter.

So, how do we change what we’ve “been carefully taught?” Pay attention. Read. At this stage of my life, I don’t want for anything, but if I could make a wish, it would be for more time to read. In the past two weeks I’ve read “The Line Becomes a River” by Francisco Cantύ. I knew nothing about the challenges of the Border Patrol on the Rio Grande or the reasons people crossed. At least now, I have more knowledge than a two-minute news clip showing children in cages. I’m currently reading “The Loneliest Americans” by Jay Caspian Kang, a third generation American whose family is originally from Korea. His revelations about belonging to the Asian-American community (a term which includes, by the way, dozens of unrelated homelands) in America have been illuminating.

The stack of non-fiction books on my nightstand is augmented by “fun” reading as well, but I want to learn. I want to understand. I know I’m lucky. My parents didn’t “teach” me to differentiate people by the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes or the language they speak. I hope I can keep an open mind regarding differences, not only when I once again travel internationally, but here at home as well.

Seventy-three years is more than enough time to write a new lyric, to change a tune. We’ve got to be taught before it’s too late.

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


*In between the two shows they wrote and produced the musicals “Carousel” (1945) and “Allegro” (1947).