We’re Taught to Hate

I’ve been thinking about the South Pacific song, “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught,” which is partially responsible for spreading the idea that hate is 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 different shade
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

And while many people nod in agreement, saying “Yes, hate is something that is taught,” few think about where it is being learned or who is doing the teaching.

It isn’t as if American citizens are taking masterclass courses with Neo-Nazis or internships with the KKK are a requirement for graduation. I’d even argue that most parents aren’t actively raising their children to hate people of color (in fact, most would say that they were raised to treat everybody the same).

However, when meritocracy (the idea that people achieve success primarily through ability and talent rather than wealth or social status) is a core-value of our country and we don’t question how social structures have been created over generations, this can reinforce negative, racist stereotypes. For example, if we’re taught that success is only the result of hard work but wealth is sharply divided along racial lines, it reinforces the idea that people of color (at least certain groups) must be lazy – unless we actively question why our communities are the way that they are. Imagine a Board of Directors for a major tech company in the U.S that was composed entirely of black women – we’d think of it as an anomaly. Yet we don’t question why boards made up entirely of white men as being strange or by design.

Another example: our communities where we live. Why do people live where they live? Unless we understand the history of redlining (the practice of banks not lending to black homeowners), the Homestead Act, and Jim Crow laws, we’d simply assume that people choose where to live based on affordability and desirability, rather than institutionalized problems. Without that knowledge, encountering generational poverty of low-income communities of color reinforces the notion that dominant groups are successful due to their own hard work and drive, not because of advantages and privileges advanced through society, primarily on race. This is why many don’t critically examine people of color experience displacement in gentrifying neighborhoods and how that further creates segregation . It isn’t just about creating affordable housing – it’s about creating pathways that actually address issues of equity.

But that all begins with education. We’ve been carefully taught these ideas. Will we continue to isolate ourselves in an ignorant plane, joining the equivalent of “Flat-earthers” who refuse to acknowledge new ideas despite irrefutable evidence? Or will we accept that education and and begin to teach justice instead?

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