Monday, October 13, 2008

You've Got to be Carefully Taught

Years ago I was a band called Emerald.  It was mainly a vocal band with some pretty rich harmonies if some pretty basic guitar.  We never really made any money, we had a few paid gigs but mostly we played for tips at this cool little coffee house/restaurant called The Daily Grind.  But we didn't really play for the money.  We just loved playing and singing together.  John Carlile, Rich Hill and I wrote most of the songs we sang all those years ago.  Whenever we wrote a new song, we couldn't wait to play and sing it for the others.  Everyone would add a little something.  A harmony, a little rhythm part.  If no one else liked it, we did.  

Anyway, we also played some covers.  I believe it was John who taught us this one.  We did it acapella  in three part harmony.  It came from a show tune called South Pacific, written by Rodgers and Hammerstein.  The whole show came under fire for its controversial views on race.  The lyrics before the song say something like, "Racism is not born to you.  It happens after you are born."

You've got to be taught to hate and fear
Day after day, year after 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 reach six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You've got to be carefully taught

I teach this song to most of the classes I teach.  Little kids, right?  Seven and eight year olds.  And they get it.  They understand what racism is.  They understand how it is spread and how we are not born to it but rather taught.  

I watched in horror how a woman at a John McCain campaign rally was just livid.  She didn't trust Obama... She had read about him and, "He's an ARAB [meaning Muslim]."  Even on its face that kind of remark is as racist as it gets.  Let alone the fact that the woman is totally uninformed and anti-intellectual.  

To McCain's credit he stood up for Obama.  "No, Ma'am, he's a decent family man that I just happen to have disagreements with."  But that woman and lots of Americans, had to be carefully taught.  Carefully taught.  Even some church folks I know are deeply prejudice about Muslims.

When I have conversations about race and social justice with my students, they have a depth of understanding that so many adults I have known don't.  It's not that they don't see race.  They love each other for their differences and see race as something that makes us different and unique, a cause to celebrate.

1 comment:

George said...


Doid you ever perform "I'm gonna' wash that man right outta' my hair"?