Sunday, July 13, 2008

You've got to be 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!
- from South Pacific

The day I realized what this song was about, South Pacific stopped being that entertaining war musical/love story and became what it should be considered- a strong commentary on race. Let me back up a little and let you know that I was raised on showtunes. My mom is a HUGE FAN and she LOVES South Pacific, I'm sure partly because it takes place in Hawaii, where my dad is from. She was a nurse, Nellie Forbush, the main character, is a nurse. And hey, the tunes are catchy. 

This song has become, in some ways, a rallying cry to remind me of where all that racism is coming from because, (watch out, here comes another showtune reference) as they sing in Avenue Q (I warned you), "everyone's a little bit racist." Uh, yeah, AT LEAST a little bit. You're not born that way, you're taught to be that way. And I honestly don't think most parents do it intentionally. In some cases, they don't even know they are racist themselves, since racism is so institutionalized in this country.

So here's my quandary. We are raising our kids carefully. We do not use ethnic slurs, we don't tell ethnic jokes, we don't stereotype (please note that we were "taught" biases just like everyone else, we are not perfect, by any means), we are really careful about the TV our kids watch and other media they are exposed to. BUT, let's consider the state of society today. Sure, we can be racial allies in the home, but then we send our kids out into the world and what do they see? Black and brown kids struggling in school because of a lack of cultural understanding. Black and brown adults criminalized/demonized in the media. Etc., etc., etc. This list could go on and on. Now I have to undo the bad lessons my kids are learning out there.

I've already had the "gay" discussion with my 7-year-old. He told me that the kids at school were calling him something bad, but he didn't know what it meant. I asked him what it was, and he said "gay". I told him that people often use that word to mean something bad, but it isn't bad at all. Then he asked me what it meant, and, honestly, I considered telling him what my mom told me when I was young, "It means happy." BUT, because my son is living in a different time, and actually knows folks in the LGBT community, I told him that it's when there are two moms and two dads in a family. He got it, and that was the best I could do for a 7-year-old. 

Basically, I am preparing myself to have more conversations like this as he grows. I just hope that he always asks us when he doesn't understand.

1 comment:

Devin said...

I love that movie. (well, I actually like bits & pieces of it, and I FF through the rest) But, that song was always really meaningful to me. I grew up in a neighborhood where we were the minority (by quite a bit). And I remember the day in high school when they announced the demographics for the school (in order)- African American, Hmong, White, Hispanic, Native American. I plan to send my kids to public school- because I believe that being a part of that diverse community helps kids to understand what diversity really means.