I was 4 years old in 1949 when the musical South Pacific appeared on Broadway. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1950. 

Skip ahead to 1961. I was selected to join the high school musical that year: South Pacific. We had some exceptionally talented high school juniors and seniors in the cast, and the show became a “hit.” Our 3-year-old Proviso West High School in Hillside didn’t have an auditorium large enough for the production, so we rehearsed and presented five sold-out performances at the Proviso East auditorium in Maywood.

The song that encapsulated the theme of the musical play was “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” sung by Lt. Cable from “Mainline” Philadelphia to his wartime sweetheart, Liat, a young, local Polynesian woman. Cable introduces the song in a line of dialog about racism that it’s “not born in you! It happens after you’re born.”

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 6 or 7 or 8

To hate all the people your relatives hate

You’ve got to be carefully taught,

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

The Broadway production ran for more than 1,900 performances. In 1953, when the show toured Atlanta, Georgia, a group of legislators introduced a bill outlawing any entertainment having “an underlying philosophy inspired by Moscow.” State Representative David C. Jones claimed that the song implicitly justified interracial marriage — a threat to the American way of life.

There are no genetic bases for racism that I know of. We know where it comes from, where it lives, how it survives. We know how it’s taught. We are still learning why it’s taught. And how it must be un-taught. 

Let’s get to work.

Dean Yannias

Oak Park

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