Carefully Taught

21 Kids' Books About Racism, By Age | MommyPoppins - Things to do in New York City with KidsThe music and lyrics from South Pacific (Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1949 stage classic and later a hit film) occasionally resonate in the current discourse concerning racial and ethnic relations. One tune, You Have to Be Carefully Taught, is preceded by a line saying racism is “not born in you! It happens after you’re born.” The lyrics offer simple, unusual insight:

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.

While the show was on a tour in the southern United States, lawmakers in Georgia introduced a bill outlawing entertainment containing “an underlying philosophy inspired by Moscow.” One legislator was quoted saying that “a song justifying interracial marriage was implicitly a threat to the American way of life.” Other critics asserted that the entire musical was simply too controversial and confrontational to be performed publicly.

The reception to Carefully Taught echoes current commentary directed toward BLM. Resistance to confronting carefully taught lessons leads to the indignity of being forced to recognize intrinsic racial animus. The former president expressed the reaction when challenged, declaring himself to be the “least racist” person one might know. That means, of course, only barely audible on the volume meter.

It does not matter how any individual may have acquired a perception of racial animosity or resistance hampering the recognition of racist views, however minimal or low in decibels. Recognition of the factual reality is the first step in detoxification and sobriety.

It does not matter how any individual may have acquired a perception of racial animosity or resistance hampering the recognition of racist views, however minimal or low in decibels. Recognition of the factual reality is the first step in detoxification and sobriety.

VoxFairfax recently noted that American colonial immigrants learned of the delights of popcorn from Native Americans at a thanksgiving celebration in New England . It would not be too far a bridge to characterize that small nugget as one of the very few favorably received by the newcomers and others who followed as perhaps the only cultural residuum adopted from Native Americans.

The Cherokee Nation is now situated in Oklahoma following its eviction from ancestral lands in the southeast in 1838. Force-marched in the “trail of tears” causing the deaths of thousands, the multitude included a large contingent of enslaved Blacks acquired by the Cherokee at the urging of southern Whites as part of the federal government’s “civilization” efforts. According to historians, the Cherokee Nation exceeded its counterparts in embracing White southern slave culture and profited the most from slave ownership. By 1809, there were 600 enslaved Blacks living in the Cherokee Nation; by 1835, the number had increased to 1,600.

The enslaved Blacks were known as “freedmen” and upon resettling in Oklahoma were excluded from participation in the governance of the nation. Functionally, the Cherokee engrafted Jim Crow laws into the nation’s constitution. Following a federal court ruling in 2017, however, that constitution was recently amended, providing the freemen all the rights and privileges of “blood” membership. The carefully taught Cherokee surrendered the fear of people whose skin is a “diff’rent shade.” 

The head of the Cherokee said, “The United States Government has broken all of its treaty obligations. The Cherokee Nation is better than that. We ought to be a nation that keeps its word. I think this just reaffirms that what we are doing is the right thing, which is achieving the equality our ancestors believed in 155 years ago.”

At the same time, the Cherokee have been petitioning Jeep, the auto manufacturer, to drop the use of the Cherokee name from its best-selling line. Acceptance and integration of previously excluded enslaved persons will add credence to the nation’s voice in seeking elimination of the commercial use of the name.

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.

The Cherokee are an example of what the recognition of persistent racial animus can contribute to ending the carefully taught lessons at ages six, or seven, or eight, that demand that you hate all the people your relatives hate.

Learning about popcorn ought not to be the sole cultural and social teaching we inherit from the indigenous first Americans. The United States has failed to abide by its claim that all are created equal. We must keep our word and be better. We are not limited by what we are taught, no matter how carefully and quietly such lessons are transmitted.

Although carefully taught, the Cherokee learned not to hate.

 



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