There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28
“How would you distill your thoughts, experiences or observations about race into one sentence (of) six words?” This is the challenge given by former National Public Radio host Michele Norris with The Race Card Project. People are encouraged to condense their observations and experiences about race into one sentence with just Six Words. Since it began in 2010, the Project has received tens of thousands of Six Word stories from throughout the world. One entry was: “You’ve got to be carefully taught,” which has special meaning for me.
Those six words are the title of a song from Rogers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific,” a popular Broadway musical and movie in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. This production told of cross-cultural love affairs in the South Pacific during World War II. Two threads of my life intertwined to make me acutely aware of the lyrics of the song: one, my forward-thinking high school music director chose “South Pacific” as a school production my senior year, 1964. And two, I was simultaneously being raised by racially prejudiced parents. While my part in the musical was only a small one, the impact the story line had on me was profound.
In one of two uncomfortable relationships in the musical, Caucasian actor John Kerr sang the song to his Asian lover, played by France Nuyen. In an attempt to explain to her how their respective races cast a dark shadow on their relationship, Kerr sings, “You’ve got to be carefully taught/to hate and fear/you’ve got to be taught/from year to year/it’s got be drummed in your dear little ear/you’ve got to be carefully taught.” The portrayal of this risky relationship raised eyebrows and hackles at the time. Parents of my classmates—and my own parents—thought the characters were too controversial for impressionable teenagers to portray. The music director persevered and the show went on.
Today, there is a resurgence of hatred of “the other” rising in the world. Jesus never intended for us “to be carefully taught” to hate people of other races. Our Lord mandates us to love others as He loves each of us.
Jesus, carefully teach us tolerance and unconditional love for all humankind. Amen