You’ve Got To Be Taught

Opening on Broadway in 1949 the Tony Award-winning musical South Pacific addressed the cultural differences of World War II, specifically those related to romance and race. Rodgers & Hammerstein’s You’ve Got To Be Taught is a song about the intolerance bred into us at an early age by our parents, relatives, friends and early societal interaction.

I am fortunate to have played in the pit orchestra for a high school production of South Pacific under the excellent baton of Barb Kitts; it was a wonderful grade 10 experience. True confession, it was not until many years later did I understand the meaning of the words and the dark message associated with them.

You’ve Got To Be Taught references the malleable nature of the childhood mind. The seeds of prejudice are sown at a very young age and the belief systems inculcated are typically beyond reproach. The teachers of intolerance (parents, etc.) are unaware of the potentially damaging lessons being taught and, even if questioned, would be clear-conscienced regarding their views. Such is the nature of systemic racism; it happens without forethought, ill intent, or even an awareness that it exists. Views and opinions are entrenched, often presented at a level of confidence that would make Dunning-Kruger proud (that is, if a research paper could be proud).

Today the lyrics seem profoundly prescient and applicable to not only systemic racism, but also a variety of attitudes in systemic-isms relevant to religion, employment, sexual orientation, gender, appearance, and both familial and societal relationships.

It is a beautiful song. Find below the lyrics and links to recordings by James Taylor and John Pizzarelli.

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 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
You’ve got to be carefully taught

James Taylor
John Pizzarelli