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Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

For Parents: You Have To Be Taught

August 29, 2008

Last night 10 neighbors came over to watch Obama’s acceptance speech with me and David. It was easily 95 outside and we don’t have A/C, but no one in our packed TV room noticed because we were witnessing something so very cool. Even cooler was the fact that yesterday was the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I have a Dream” speech.

I don’t care which side of the river you pitch your tent on, you’ve got to admit that Obama’s nomination represents an awesome achievement for America. Unless of course, you don’t think so.

A few days ago I read about a bunch of racist drug addicts arrested in a Denver hotel during a methamphetamine soiree. Apparently one of the female revelers called police when she became disturbed by the direction of the party conversation. To give you an idea, here’s what one of the guys told police after he’d been taken into custody “Black people don’t belong in public office. He ought to be shot.” They were booked on drug and weapons charges, but not for plotting an assassination, though apparently the case is still under investigation.  As the U.S. Attorney put it on Wednesday, “People do lots of stupid things on meth.” Yep.

So, it might just be a case of some guys being very high and exceedingly ignorant, neither of which is a crime in this country. But you can’t blame the law for being pro-active. Because it’s not always easy to tell the difference between your garden-variety racist drug addict and a dedicated assassin. And since Barack Obama is well… black… you can understand how that kind of talk might make the police a tad nervous. Unless, of course you can’t.

Whenever I read about or witness people being rude or bigoted, I can’t help but wonder, “Where did they learn this stuff?” It’s one of those trick questions I often ask myself. Not much of a trick, actually, because I always think I know the answer… their parents.

There’s a song from South Pacific that examines the perpetuation of racial intolerance… no it’s not “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Outta My Hair.” (Sorry, Team A. Team B, what’s your guess?) That’s right! The song is, “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught.” by Rogers and Hammerstein. They’re the same folks who brought “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” and “This was a Real Nice Clam Bake.” But with “Carefully Taught,” they were operating on a whole other level. Considering that the song was written in 1949, left in the show despite pressure from producers, plus the fact that its message is still spot-on today makes it all the more admirable.

Anyway, here are the lyrics (and if you want to follow along while Matthew Morrison and Paulo Szot sing it, in the 2008 Broadway production):

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.


So, just curious, what was the take-away lesson you got from your parents when it came to how to treat people who are different from you? In what ways are you transmitting the same or different messages to your kids?

Happy Labor Day Weekend!

In friendship,


Filed under: Parenting,Politics — Tags: , , , — Annie @ 1:22 pm


  1. Wow those lyrics are incredibly progressive for the late ’40’s. Gave me chills reading them. Keep the posts rolling. I love reading them.

    Comment by Fayette — September 7, 2008 @ 9:39 am

  2. Thanks, Fayette. It’s interesting to think about the natural state of acceptance young children have for each other, regardless of any shared culture or ethnicity. Parents come in and (consciously or unconsciously) construct artificial walls between their children and the children of “the others.” Then those kids grow up and acceptance is no longer “natural”… instead, they live, breathe and teach Us vs. Them.

    Those of us who want a different world for our children continually work at teaching (and living) from a different perspective.

    Comment by Annie — September 7, 2008 @ 10:00 am

  3. What an amazing song that slipped right by me!

    We have a program in my area that is trying to get people to talk about this topic. They want people to come forward in small groups for a few weeks and honestly talk about their feelings toward people of different races with two facilitators. It’s usally attracted people who aren’t racist, though.

    One of its founders was telling me years ago how she thought a land developer had been rejected by the city and basically the locals for a hotel deal because he was black.

    I had been following the situation in the paper and told her I hadn’t realized he was black. She just said “oh,” as if she thought everyone had known that. At the time, I thought maybe I opened her eyes and that maybe she had been over-analyzing the situation and assuming racism but now I don’t know. Maybe she wanted to tell me I’m naive but she hesitated!

    I think we all need help in talking about the issue of racism to make it better but it’s a tricky situation.

    Comment by Kristen DeDeyn Kirk — September 10, 2008 @ 6:28 am

  4. Obama’s candidacy has brought to the foreground deep-rooted feelings, attitudes and beliefs about racism in this country. We really can’t afford to raise another generation of Americans who allow conscious and unconscious prejudices to separate us. Are you aware of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s fabulous free publication Teaching Tolerance? I’d highly recommend it for anyone interested in advancing the thinking of kids and teens in the areas of diversity and acceptance.

    Comment by Annie — September 10, 2008 @ 8:13 am

  5. What’s interesting to me about this is that my parents taught us to care
    about everyone, no matter how different they were from us. Neither of my
    parents were racist (at least not to the very best of my recollection). They were
    also animal lovers, organic gardeners and recyclers (long before it was “cool”
    to do so). And yet, my younger brother has become a racist and a hunter. He
    revels in sending photos of him with his dead game

    My sisters and I can’t believe it, and we simply can’t understand what happened
    to him. Could it have been his joining the National Guard in his late teens? We’re not only puzzled, but we have had to disengage ourselves from him because he’s become so hateful. None of us have anything to do with him anymore (and frankly, he doesn’t want to connect with us, either).

    My long-passed father would be rolling in his grave to know how his son turned out. And my passive mother won’t confront him because she doesn’t want to risk being alienated from him along with us.

    So, it’s not always parental influence that causes hate.

    Comment by Judy — September 12, 2008 @ 12:09 pm

  6. Of course, you’re right, Judy. Parental influence, while very strong, is only one factor among many, over years of growing up, that contribute to the kind of adult each of us turns out to be.

    I’m wondering how many of you out there were inspired by a particular teacher you had in middle or high school… someone, perhaps, who turned you on to a particular author, or to the study of history or science. Someone whose approach to life was inspirational to you at that age. Someone who made such an impression that their words have stuck with you to this day.

    I had a seventh grade English teacher who said, “Efficiency = speed + accuracy.” I had an eighth grade history teacher who was the first one to say to me: “The more things change the more they are the same.”

    In my home in white suburbia from 1960-1964, I had a piano teacher, Miss Reid. She was a beautiful African American woman who was so kind, patient and encouraging that she inspired me, not only to practice the piano every day (because I wanted to please her) but looking back, I can see that she shaped some of my attitudes toward people different from myself. She also influenced the kind of teacher I became.

    Who were your role models? Who are you children’s role models?

    Comment by Annie — September 12, 2008 @ 3:03 pm

  7. Annie,

    Is very sad how people acts by the way you look or sound. I am very proud of who I am, my parents and I born in México I speak with an accent, but I have never forget what the bible say “love others as much as your love yourself” and believe me sometimes I want to strange few because or their racist comments! I have the opportunity to do youth ministry and this is a great opportunity to teach kids that we are equal regarles of our skin color or origin. Parents need to change so their kids will be more tolerable to others.


    Comment by Letty — September 20, 2008 @ 8:42 am

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