You Have To Be Carefully Taught


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!

– Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II

The other day my 6 year old asked if you have to marry people with the same skin color you have. I told him no, you can marry whoever you fall in love with. He seemed relieved. He already knows that you can marry either boys or girls (at least, you can here in Maryland) and having the full rainbow of melanin options open to him made him happy.

Racism sign

Photo Credit: iStock

It’s easy to sit back and feel a little smug that my little bubble of a world contains a tolerant child, his diverse group of friends, and an environment that is hospitable to all of it. I want to sweep my arm across my landscape and say “Look! Look how far we have come!”

Enter Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling.

I mean, I know there are racist shitbags walking among us and that we are not post-racial. I know the history and I try to know the present day reality. I know the I benefit from the privilege of being white and I try to think outside my experience when I examine the world. I spend significant time inside my own head dealing with my feelings about race and studying the history of race relations so I can make sure not to be a racist shitbag or raise racist shitbags. But I don’t deal with actual racist shitbags on a regular basis so the words these two men spewed into the atmosphere were starkly shocking to me.

Racial tolerance and acceptance isn’t actually hard. I told my son that skin color isn’t important and he needs to talk to people and get to know them before he decides anything about them. He got it. Right away he got it. He was, like, 4. He continues to get it and I continue to reinforce the idea. I’ll do the same for his sister when she gets bigger. Maybe they won’t won’t usher in a true post-racial age but at least they will start from a place of acceptance. They are being carefully taught.

What were these guys taught when they were kids that resulted in this…shitbagness? Where did Bundy get his pronouncements about “the Negro”? What’s going on with Sterling with his objections to his girlfriend being seen with people of color, all the while he’s buying and selling athletes of color. Hell, even Papa Bear Bill O’Reilly got into it, saying Beyonce – BEYONCE – is a bad influence on teen girls of color because her song lyrics are sexy. Never mind that every white singer for the past umpteen years has been writing sexy song lyrics and Mr. O’Reilly has not a thing to say about how that affects white girls. No, these men are fixated on skin color and they put a lot of effort into finding reasons to dismiss and condemn and diminish people due to how they look.

They learned this somewhere, these racist old men. They learned, as the song says, the hate all the people their relatives hate. They learned it and, more upsetting, they’ve taught it. They are trying with all their might to make sure that someone, anyone, continues to hate the way they do.

I won’t learn it. I won’t let my children learn it. Here in my little bubble, my corner of the world, we are carefully taught to look people in the eye and shake their hands. We are taught to ask questions and listen to answers. We carefully taught and taught again.  It’s the best of lessons and one that we all must carefully learn and teach.

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