America’s Ugly Side

Occasionally, I wish to believe that as a nation and culture we are moving forward and becoming more people-centered. I wish to believe that we are starting to appreciate one another’s culture; we are appreciating and valuing one another’s differences. I wish to believe that we are taking strides of progress.

And then I get on twitter while watching the Super Bowl.

Two companies aired commercials last night acknowledging and celebrating how diverse our culture is becoming. A Cheerios commercial featured a bi-racial couple and Coca-Cola created an ad with different people of different cultures singing “America the Beautiful” in their native language.

Shortly after each commercial aired, new topics began trending online. Each hashtag included a four letter word followed by the product’s name. People began promising to boycott General Mills, pledging their allegiance to Pepsi (owned by a citizen of India) and pleading for “American” to be recognized as the national language of the USA.

I have often shared my own thoughts or those of others regarding the state of race relations in our country. Many believe prejudice and racism to be a thing of the past. I have also discussed the topic of privilege and many have expressed their disagreement that such a thing exists.

Yet the reaction to these two commercials is reinforcement that we still have a long way to go as a society.

When we cannot accept and embrace how blessed we are to live in a country that brings all of us together in spite of our differences, the problem is not with the commercials. The problem is us.

 

So what can we do? It is easy to get drawn into complaining about the negative reactions to ads such as these; but really, what does complaining or arguing do? Let me suggest a few ideas:

1. Call it out. This may sound like complaining and arguing, but it is different. Call your friends out when they say these things. Not in an insulting fashion, but strike up a dialogue. Talk about the vast history of different cultures that have enriched our country. Share how your life specifically has been enriched by people from different cultures. Point out the items from everyday life that have been invented or introduced by people from different cultures. Maybe even discuss how Caucasian Americans are relative newcomers to this country.

2. Congratulate companies for ads such as these. I do not necessarily advocate you buy only Coke or General Mills products, but at the very least contact the companies and say how much you appreciate the diversity they celebrate. While I am not one to promote or participate in boycotts, let companies know when you see them doing something that is derogatory or discriminatory (for an example of this, do a quick search of #notbuyingit that was also trending during the Super Bowl). Companies exist to make money. They make money when they meet the desires of their customer base. Ultimately, they will listen.

3. Continue celebrating the diversity in your own neighborhood. Build community with people from all walks of life. This may take no more than just getting to know your neighbors. Go for a walk down your street and introduce yourself to the people who live around you. Seek opportunities in your community to learn about people from different backgrounds and cultures. Step out of your comfort zone from time to time and worship with people from different ethnicities. If you have the chance, worship with people of different faiths. Learn their traditions and rituals and the history behind them.

 

The vulgar hashtags that were circulating on Super Bowl Sunday are an illustration of just how ugly the Ugly American can be. But I still believe that does not define who we are as a nation or a culture. However, those who do define who we are must create more volume than those who hide behind their twitter handles and computer screens.

I love living in this country, even with all its imperfections. I love that I can express my opinions and worship as I choose. I love that we can disagree without fear.

But most of all I love that we are a nation of different people.

I long for the day when interracial couples are no longer looked at as different. I long for the day when we can all sing “America the Beautiful” in different languages. I long for the day when ignorance and hatred are squashed as soon as they are recognized.

I long for the day the Founders’ declaration that “all people are created equal” is fully realized in our country.

And I believe that day is coming.

 

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