'You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught'

Roy E. De Brand, Professor of Homiletics Emeritus, Campbell University Divinity School
Jul. 21, 2014 @ 11:28 AM

Sometimes truth crops up in the strangest places. I mean, you wouldn’t expect to find, amidst the frothy lightness of such songs as “We Ain’t Got Dames,” “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Outta My Hair” and “Honeybun,” the profound truth that prejudice is bred in us, not born in us. Yet, there it is, right in the middle of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific.

“You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” isn’t one of the better known or more popular musical numbers from South Pacific, but its truth is astounding. Do you remember the setting? Nellie Forbush finds out that Emile de Becque had been married to a Polynesian. Hailing from Little Rock, Arkansas, her prejudices cause her to reject Emile because, she says, of something born in her. Emile can’t understand this and asks Lieutenant Cable about it. In answer, Cable sings to de Becque:


"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 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."


Wow! There it is, striking like a bolt of lightning. Prejudice and bigotry are not innate, they’re inbred. I believe this to be true. Therefore, if we can learn these vices we can surely learn to conquer them. Not easily. Not quickly. But as surely as we learn prejudice we can learn openness, toleration and understanding, even love for people of different races and nationalities. All of us.

According to the Bible we must do this. The biblical principle of love for God and neighbor demands it. See Luke 10:25-37, the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The Bible teaches justice and community among all people. It especially teaches that since God shows no partiality among people (Acts 10:34-48), neither should we. The height of Paul’s theology was reached in Galatians 3:28, when he wrote, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

So, while it’s true that “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” to hate and fear, let us also remember that it’s even more important to teach love and community. Let us be about this task day by day!