A Word In Edgewise: America: Land of the Free, Home of Zero Tolerance for Diversity?


I didn’t watch the recent Super Bowl and its attendant commercials, and so was dumbfounded to read a number of violent reactions to Coca-Cola’s ad, titled, “The Beautiful,” in which people of different ethnicities sang parts of “America the Beautiful” in their native languages.

I watched the clip on the Internet, and the whole thing seemed rather sweet, almost pedestrian, not something to inflame the sensibilities, and, while, there was praise, there were many: “Speak English or go home,” directives, and potential boy-cotters huffing, “Screwed up a beautiful song. No Coke for my family.”

Interestingly enough, while the ad also included two gay dads roller skating with their daughter–a GLBT Super Bowl first–they were trumped by the non-English card, even though some of the outraged displayed a less than firm grasp of their mother tongue: “Dear @CocaCola : America the beautiful is sang in English. Piss off.” (sic all)

Others believe “America the Beautiful” is our national anthem. “F you coke the national anthem wasn’t made for your gook and Mexican talking. STFU! Speak English;” and “@pepsi as long as you don’t sing our national anthem in different languages, you have my vote over @CocaColaCo.”

James Poniewozik of Time reminded that we do speak English in America, in most circumstances, but that “People like my immigrant mother and her immigrant sisters learn English as adults and raise their kids to speak it, and also speak French and Arabic at family get-togethers and on phone calls. We speak English in school and Spanish with grandparents and Spanglish with friends. We speak Creole and Chinese and Tagalog sitting down to family dinners–maybe with a bottle or two of Coke around the table, which is why Coke is smart to recognize this.”

Look anywhere and you will discover diversity. The lyrics of “America the Beautiful” were written by Wellesley professor Katherine Lee Bates, whose book of sonnets, Yellow Clover: A Book of Remembrance, honors her love for Katherine Coman, with whom she lived for twenty-five years.

I fear a regression into the kind of isolationism that imprisoned native American children in missionary schools, forbidden to speak their language and barred from their culture. A homogenized, all-English, ethnicity-obliterated population would be a terrible loss on many levels.

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