Monday, February 3, 2014

My Response To That Coke Commercial

Coca-Cola got what it wanted out of its Super Bowl commercial yesterday evening: a huge amount of publicity and a lot of angry talking head pundits trying to capitalize on how a vast swath of the American public is unwilling to stop, just for a moment, and think for themselves.

The funny thing is that all the people running around and screaming "aaaah, scary different people not speaking English" are missing the point that this is nothing new for Coca-Cola or indeed for this nation of immigrants in which we live.

Does no one remember the "I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing" (YouTube) commercial from the 1970s?   Or were the same people frothing at the mouth now about all those "different" people in the ad the same folks who were calling Coca-Cola communist sympathizers then for putting all those "different Communist hippie" people in their 1970s ad?

Same as it ever was, I suppose, but isn't it time for this same old tune to finally fall flat?

What the hubbub about a simple teevee commercial says to me:  we are a nation of easily frothed at the mouth sheeple.  It makes me incredibly sad to see this.

It runs contrary to everything the Framers of our Constitution tried to build into our system, all of the protections for minority interests and differences that were institutionalized as a buffer against all of the prejudices that so many of our nation's first immigrants came to this country to escape in the first place.

The Pilgrims came here not for some notion of English language purity testing, but because this country offered them an escape from being persecuted into conforming in their own native countries.  The same was true for any number of other immigrants over the centuries, wave after wave after wave.

This ever-flowing tide of new American settlers was supported and reinforced by other immigrants who simply wanted a chance to prove themselves in a society where the publicly proclaimed measuring stick was supposed to be your talent and your hard work, and no longer only to which family you happened to be born and what connections that afforded you as a result.  We are, and always have been, in a struggle for reform and growth and change, and it has always been a tug of war between the history of who we were and the pull of the "more perfect union" we ought to be.  It is the differences that fresh immigrants bring that are often a catalyst for change, and while this may be unsettling, it has also meant a lot of growth and opportunity through the years.

News flash, folks:  unless you are a full-blooded Native American, then you, too, come from immigrant stock.  You, too, have a family background that is not native to this nation of ours.

Are we all so ignorant of history not to know this?  Or are we unwilling to acknowledge a simple truth that once was held to be self-evident:  it is the intersection of our differences which tests our mettle and it is the points where we find commonality among each other despite our differences that knit us together far more strongly as a nation.   

Our differences keep us moving, challenge our settled assumptions and shake our foundations, over and over again.  This keeps us going forward and ever upward rather than staying stagnant and insular and deaf to a need for change and then falling behind. 

This is where Andrew Carnegie rose from his Scottish roots.  Where Albert Einstein fled to escape the Nazis in his native Germany.     Talented musicians, artists, sports figures, humanitarians, scientists and mathemeticians: all of whose collective contributions to our nation are astonishingly vast.  All of them brought their own individual and unique abilities and blended them into the whole of our collective national voice and making us the better for it.  Where would Silicon Valley be without immigrant talent?  Or our hospitals or artistic endeavors, for that matter?

We have ever been a refuge for the persecuted, and a land of opportunity for the ambitious and oppressed.

As a result, we are an ever-changing nation, always adding to our collective wisdom and talent pool not just from within, but also from outside our boundaries.  That is what has kept us looking at the world through fresh eyes, generation after generation, instead of sinking into the torpor of landed nobility noblesse oblige or hunkering back into insular protectionism.

Whatever happened to pride in the Great American Melting Pot?  To the celebration of progress being brought to this nation of ours from brilliant immigrants who have added their talents to each generation? 

In this regard, we have lost our way amid a sea of finger-pointing, opportunistic hucksters, using prejudice and fear to leverage their own interests in re-election or book sales forward, prying wallets open with scare tactics and foul cries of "not like the more pure among us, not like you are," with a wink and a nod to nastiness we should have long since outgrown and put aside. 

I cannot allow this to just happen to my country without raising my voice to say no, because it is just plain wrong and virulently anti-American. 

This cacophony of "us versus them" instead of just "we, the people" does reinforce exactly why the Founding Fathers felt that they had to put minority protections in writing, in both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  Given the prejudices of the mob mentality of far too many people who act more like sheeple led along an angry path by people who certainly know how to stoke the fires of prejudice and fear, they were right to do so and they knew it at the time.

'Twas always this way, and sadly may always be, but that does not make it right.

Fear is an ugly motivator.  So is a "different is bad" mentality, because it flies in the face of the very sentiment that Emma Lazarus so famously put to words, a notion that has pulled us forward generation after generation:  "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free."

These are the folks who worked our mines, who cleaned our houses, who risked their lives and those of their families just to get to this great nation of ours merely to have the opportunity to make their own lives better, to make the lives of their children safer in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

What is so brave or free or American about saying "oooooh, scary brown people who aren't speaking English, throw them out?" 

This is the worst of who we are.

It is what kept Jim Crow laws going in the South after the Civil War.  It is what pushed the Japanese-American families who had done nothing wrong into internment camps during WWII.  It is the very basest prejudice that Martin Luther King, Jr. decried in his "I Have A Dream Speech," judging someone based on the color of their skin or, in this case their native language spoken, and not on the content of their character.

Who each of us is, every single day of our lives, is what counts -- our hard work, the helping of others, what we build, who we strive to be each and every day, the content of our character based on the actions that we take each and every moment of our lives, THAT is the measuring stick.

It is too easy to be dismissive based on language spoken or color of skin.  Life is more complex than this, and falling for jingoism and pointing fingers just makes you the next rube for a fundraising campaign that will include waving an American flag and playing a nasty game of divide and conquer for personal political and financial gain on the part of someone who cares not about the national best interest, but simply about leveraging your fear for their own self-interested buffoonery.

That just makes us weaker as a nation, because it rips us all apart by playing to the deepest fears and prejudices of "them" taking from "us," when we truly ought to be focused on why "we" are not working together to make things better.

The language that someone speaks is not remotely the measuring stick for American greatness.  Not even close.  It is the actions that each of us takes, our commitment to pushing each other forward time and time again, our common grounding in freedom and liberty, and how we can and should be working together to tackle our problems:  THAT is what will make us stronger.

I refuse to kowtow to fear.  I also acknowledge that a new perspective which challenges my assumptions either makes me prove myself or makes me stronger in learning a weakness in my own understanding of the world around me.  This is who we ought to be.  Moreover, this is who we ought to want to be.

Our more perfect union is not an ever-fixed mark, it is a path that we are all on together and our goals and aspirations must always be able to change because the rest of the world does not stand still around us. 

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