Six Words: 'You've Got To Be Taught' Intolerance A huge hit upon its release, the 1949 musical South Pacific still resonates with contributors to The Race Card Project — particularly a song about how prejudice is learned, not innate.
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Six Words: 'You've Got To Be Taught' Intolerance

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Six Words: 'You've Got To Be Taught' Intolerance

Six Words: 'You've Got To Be Taught' Intolerance

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. And now The Race Card Project . It's where conversations about race and cultural identity begin with exactly six words. This morning, six words famously sung in a popular movie in the 1950's.

KATHLEEN ZIEGLER: My name is Kathleen Ziegler, I'm from Lino Lakes, Minnesota which is near the Twin Cities. My six words are 'You've Got To Be Carefully Taught.'

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU'VE GOT TO BE CAREFULLY TAUGHT")

MONTAGNE: That was a much better way to do it than you might be familiar with them.

: (singing) It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear.

MONTAGNE: That song, "Carefully Taught" is from the Rogers and Hammerstein musical "South Pacific" set during World War II. NPR Special Correspondent Michele Norris curates The Race Card Project and she tells us why those six words and that song have such staying power.

MICHELE NORRIS, BYLINE: You've got to be carefully taught is a popular six word entry in The Race Card Project inbox. We received more than a dozen entries quoting those six words in some way. And let me begin here with a little context. "South Pacific," the musical, won several Tony Awards in 1950 when it was on Broadway and, then years later it became a hit movie.

To say "South Pacific" was successful would be an understatement. It was a blockbuster. Yet, it also drew critics and controversy. "South Pacific" covered uncomfortable territory. Its romantic tension was based on interracial romance: a strong taboo at the time. Even so, the "South Pacific" soundtrack topped the charts.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOME ENCHANTED EVENING")

NORRIS: Show tunes like "Some Enchanted Evening" and "I'm Gonna Wash that Man Right out of My Hair" were in heavy rotation on the radio and on record players.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M GONNA WASH THAT MAN RIGHT OUT OF MY HAIR")

NORRIS: And judging from the inbox at The Race Card Project, the message behind the song "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught" has resonated with those who love the "South Pacific" soundtrack. Kathleen Ziegler first heard that song in her family's home.

ZIEGLER: We always had the albums - I had three older sisters and we used to put the records on a lot, and as we were cleaning especially. And we would have, it turned it way up and we learned all the songs and we'd be singing all the songs.

NORRIS: Does that melody still live in your head?

ZIEGLER: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. (singing) 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 our dear little ear. You've got to be carefully taught. (speaking) And it just, it doesn't go away.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU'VE GOT TO BE CAREFULLY TAUGHT")

NORRIS: That's from the original Broadway soundtrack, William Tabbert there singing the words that have stuck with Kathleen Ziegler ever since.

ZIEGLER: I just remember hearing them when I was young, and it made me very sad. I had parents who did exceptionally love us and taught us to do the same. And I just thought how can people be taught to hate, especially children?

NORRIS: Kathleen Ziegler was raised by parents of German descent during World War II and she remembers the patriotism back then was at times steeped in bigotry.

ZIEGLER: One of my earliest memories is knowing that you're supposed to hate Japs. We used to say bombs over Tokyo and drop something on the ground or something. And I never thought of it as being a hateful thing then.

: But even the word 'Jap' today, that's not something you would use in everyday language, is it?

ZIEGLER: No. No. No, it's offensive. But that's what we were taught or what we heard.

NORRIS: What people hear and see in "South Pacific" are classic love stories with a thorny cultural twist. What happens, for instance, when boy meets girl becomes All-American boy meets Asian girl in wartime setting? Perhaps Oscar Hammerstein was challenging the democratic principles at stake in World War II.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE MIKE WALLACE INTERVIEW)

NORRIS: That's Hammerstein talking on a 1958 TV show called "The Mike Wallace Interview." Yes. That Mike Wallace of "Sixty Minutes" fame. First, Hammerstein explains that one of the love stories involves a plucky American woman named Nelly Forbush.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE MIKE WALLACE INTERVIEW)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU'VE GOT TO BE CAREFULLY TAUGHT")

NORRIS: Nearly 70 years ago, Oscar Hammerstein's message of tolerance was largely about race and romance. But on so many levels - race, sex orientation, class, religion, gender - the challenge of reaching across differences is still relevant today.

MONTAGNE: NPR special correspondent Michele Norris curates The Race Card Project. And today, in partnership with NPR's MORNING EDITION, The Race Card Project receives a 2014 George Foster Peabody Award in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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