You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught 

A very, very long time ago before political correctness became part of the unattainable standard of language, people would make insensitive comments about people based only on their race and face. These well-learned, family influenced conversations were shared with more innocence than venom in those days. The content of the conversations were steeped in warped historical knowledge based on one experience as adults were trying to explain the irrational actions of their different looking neighbours. Primarily these bigoted comments were severely limited to neighbours who were not born in their country of origin.

The inappropriateness of this accepted view of all things foreign can be illustrated by the proceeding made up news item from the 1950s.

A popular jewelry store in Milwaukee experienced a robbery during on, oh lets say, April 12, 1952. (It is so hard to be accurate with facts when you make things up). The 1950s was a time that had yet to progress from the learning of the impending civil rights movement the next decade would provide. The Milwaukee police department issued an alert to help the people identify a robber in their midst. The bulletin that aired on local TV and radio stations said only this. “Our suspect is of slender build, 5′ 6″, dark black hair, wears glasses and is Chinese, and probably very good at math.” The math comment wasn’t a comment on cultural stereotype, but was added because the jewelry thief had left a note that shared both the retail, and the wholesale prices of his haul that was accurate within 4 cents of the actual diamonds he had stolen. Perhaps the police could have resisted the stereo type and simply added “cocky” as another descriptor of the suspect.

Well this description caused an uproar by the yet to be called Asian community, and hundreds of Chinese men from this of respected population, entered the Milwaukee police department, to voice their concern of the sweeping generalization, published in the bulletin. Unfortunately all the men who came down to the station that morning, looked exactly like the suspect, because we were not yet an enlightened society. The police had no option but to arrest them all, and hold them in crowded cells as possible suspects of the crime. Because foreign suspects were made to conform to the current stereotypical views, the imprisoned men conceded to do all the police laundry while they were waiting for their Jewish lawyers to get them out of jail. Now there were hundreds arrested, but thousands showed up, however the well understood poor driving and parking skills of this immigrant group was demonstrated. Most of the angry protesters could not get out of their cars to get into the station to air their legitimate grievances.

The point of this very dated, inappropriate example laced with prejudicial stereotype is as obvious as the nose on your face, unless your face is not perfectly white. Parking between the lines at the malls during Christmas, which is a holiday celebrated by a lot of people, is an important expectation when bringing your foreign manufactured vehicle to a complete stop. The other obvious critical point I am trying to make with this story is that most jewelry stores severely over charge you for their trinkets. With a greater than fifty percent divorce rate, men who are considering proposing to the loves of their lives, should consider a more prudent approach to their proposals. Investigate the long-term rental agreement options with engagement rings retailers, with convenient monthly payments and only finalize that purchase as a celebratory gift on the tenth wedding anniversary.

So why do we choose to use sweeping statements to describe the faces of people we do not know? The answer is open to interpretation, like Springsteen’s Blinded by the Light or Tolken’s Lord of the Rings. The confusion lies in man’s inability to interpret the hidden symbolism in metaphotric teachings. This explains why we still believe that too many cooks spoil the broth, when the truth is, it never matters how many cooks are spoiling the broth, because if you don’t add meat and potatoes no one is going to notice the taste of your broth.

There is even greater confusion for expanding bigotry these days, as plane travel has allowed so many more people from even more foreign countries to move into your neighbourhood. How do you know who to hate these days, when you don’t even know what country your foreign enemies are from? To demonstrate prejudice properly you are going to have to do a lot of research my friend.

This ever increasing confusion of where to direct one’s prejudice really hit home many years ago, when an Indian family moved into my childhood neighbourhood. I was taught by the vintage western reruns on TV that Indians had bows and arrows and relentlessly terrorized cowboys who wore beautiful white hats. Well this Indian family had no feathers and just to confuse me, wore beautiful silk garments, and talked with an accent that even a seven year old child could mimic. Racial discrimination was starting to get very complicated.

Beyond the look of a face, the colour of skin is the easiest way to make immediate conclusions about people. The more different the colour, the less patience you should display with these pigmented people. Fortunately there have been wars fought to support this unexplainable inclination human beings display when faced with fear of a foreign face. This truth of this lesson was taught to me by a friend’s Archie Bunker like father who had years of foreign fear to tap into, as he flawlessly explained to me why the Negro population will never be able to perform well at his favourite pastime… golf.

Parents have a vital role in helping their offspring in determining who they should fear, and why liberal legislation favoured everyone but them. This long generational narrative helps to easily explain why the Korean at your local variety store, who works 18 hours a day, is stealing employment opportunities from the Billy Bob’s nephew.

If you ever dispute the importance of the teachability of cultural bias, go to your local day care and just watch the children play. Your observations will immediately contradict your well-learned family Face Values. You will see children just playing with children with undeniable joy on their unique, very differently shaped baby faces. These toddlers are not yet smart enough to determine who their family history designates as friendly.

Now toddlers will make immediate decisions on connectivity but these decisions have nothing to do with race, face or religion. There is an innate impulse, even for an uneducated three year- old, to make decisions on other human beings. The confusing part is the reason for those decisions. Friendliness is sadly, the only criteria that our naïve offspring will use to consider when socializing. Children, without parental guidance, will naturally avoid the bullies and the jerks. Children will avoid other children who won’t share or care. This unsophisticated rules for association, regrettably fails to acknowledge family feuds or generations of grudging. As babies age into smarter adults, the family embedded face values, begins to outweigh the decision of character as a “hanging out” criteria.

In the 1950s, Rogers and Hammerstein were testing the appeal of their new musical South Pacific in small test audience towns, before launching their play on Broadway. The feedback was, as always with these icons of the theatre, generally positive. The producers did have one little issue. They insisted that the song, “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” be removed from the script, because that kind of message would not sell in the South. With great courage and unbending conviction Hammerstein insisted that without that song there would be no play.

I appreciate this song was written long before many of us were born, so one can easily argue the time bound flaws of Mr. Hammerstein’s message. Seriously these lyrics were written before most of the Kardashian children’s parents were born, so that fact alone makes the song from South Pacific even more irrelevant for today’s finer tastes.

Important academics debate the well-researched topic of “What is the greater influence to our behavior nature vs. nurture”? I will conclude this commentary with Oscar Hammerstein’s anachronistic lyrics.

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!

Cue the Blong:  A song that pretty well captures all I have observed in life so far:

7 thoughts on “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught

  1. Dennis, your points related to the parental influence on children and their eventual repercussions on how one perceives “differences” in others throughout their lives, is certainly a timely topic. Its well founded and thrives in many cultures, societies and religions today. Did I say “religion”? Ah yes. Religion.
    A defining defamatory characteristic that any child can be taught is a difference in religion…
    The color of one’s skin by default is an easy characteristic to chase down and build a bigoted fence all around, but the most fundamental belief system we all possess, which defines us as human beings, and helps create the kind of individual we present to the world, is now by far the greatest source of separation and bigotry seen today. The sectarian violence propagated by ISIS in the middle east is not only targeting Christians and Jews, but Muslims of different faiths.
    I would bet that many of those Muslims and Middle Eastern Jews and Christians have identical skin color.
    Gladly, you are right. As parents we have a responsibility to teach our children that religion and beliefs are a right of life, and not something which should differentiate us to the point of hatred, bigotry and even death. I grew up in Christian community as a Protestant in the middle of the prairies in Canada in the 60’s and 70’s. My parents knew so little about Judaism, Muslims and any other religion. They barely understood Christianity!
    Luckily, by virtue their ignorance, (and the time) I was relieved of ever having to make a decision about someone based on what God they may have believed in.
    However, it was an easy jump to the color of one’s skin to come to irrational conclusions back in those times. So, looking back, unfortunately, we did that, instead.
    My wife on the other hand, was born back in the 60’s in the southern resort city of Eliat, Israel, which is only a stone’s throw from Muslim faith based countries of Jordan and Egypt. You can walk to those countries from Eliat. Yes, she was in Israel, right in the middle of the hotbed for religious sectarianism at its best.
    As a Jew, she had many little friends she played with, and went to school with, and grew up with, who were Palestinians or of Arab descent. They were all of the same skin color.
    However, when unsettling events like the 6 Day War happened, she was not allowed to play with those little friends anymore.
    She was too young to make that decision, it was made for her, by the parents of her friends, and her own parents. The point of this all, Dennis, is that as Canadians and coming from the generation which we do, our exposure to the differences in religion was much different, than those in the middle east who had been fighting over religion for thousands of years. Its only just getting here, and as a parent, we all have the responsibility to push our prejudices out of the way and give our kids the right message, the proper tools and sensitivity to make decisions for themselves.
    Thanks for your illuminating perspective, Dennis. The song is great.

    • Rory thanks for your comments and personal perspective. It is truthful and I appreciate your great examples on the religious side of the commentary here. It also gives me comfort to know this universal topic is worth talking about. Hope all is well.

  2. Hi Dennis, whenever I am feeling smart and want to read something that gets my wheels tuning I always come to your blog. Whatever the topic it is always brilliantly presented; intelligent, thoughtful, relevant and expressed humor in the right dose at all the right places.

    I find you fascinating, which is why I have nominated you for the Room 101 award. A fun little exercise that reveals people’s funny little quirks.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s