I, like millions of other Americans, tuned in to the Super Bowl last Sunday. After watching Coca Cola’s “America the Beautiful” ad, I applauded Coke’s bravery and smiled inwardly at this celebration of both our country’s racial mosaic and the value that linguistic capital adds to the cultural marketplace. To be sure, it was a genuine smile, but it was also an ephemeral one. Immediately, I braced myself for the deluge of jeremiads and hateful pushback that were sure to follow and, sure enough, my astonishingly irascible compatriots, unwilling to withhold their derision, did not disappoint. Tweets were inundated with as much vitriol as 140 characters could contain. Comments on news articles were likewise disgusting, likely truncated only because of similar spacing limits. Youtube user reactions ranged from the more benign pushing of the “thumbs down” button to comments calling for all nonwhites to be expelled from the United States. I skimmed a ton of posts, many of which contained lacunae of misinformation (which would have been funny if they hadn’t been so depressing). I stopped scrolling before I got to any death threats, though I’d wager that there was at least one in the bunch.
Claims that racism is dead are at best, naïve and at worst, disingenuous. Being black in America, I know this firsthand, though membership in a minority group is certainly not necessary to see who is excluded from the table-people with funny last names or too much melanin aren’t usually on the invite list. Anglocentrism is likewise pervasive, and for many, it is at the very heart of American ethos. Those who want to uphold the status quo do not extend a hand in friendship to minorities. These dogmatic reactionaries live in constant-though misguided-fear of anyone who poses a threat to their comfortable WASP-y existence. They are livid that their way of life is changing, though this is an inevitable product of a shifting cultural landscape, and are often too rigid in their ideology to cure themselves of their own myopia. They want to live in a world of assimilation; a world where words like “diversity” or “pluralism” are profane or stricken altogether from the lexicon. In their world, a company would never dare ruin “their” song by translating it into multiple languages. It belongs only to them, the “true” Americans, who feel as though they have a monopoly on patriotism.
To be clear, I am not arguing against learning English. If one elects to live in the United States, it would behoove him or her to learn the language. However, language acquisition need not be a zero-sum game. Pervasive assertions that people must give up their mother tongue in order to be a bona fide English speaker (and therefore more American), are simply unfounded and have no place in 2014. All languages, all colors, all faiths, all ages, genders and sexualities-they are all equal and a part of the fabric that makes up America.
Would that these noxious ideas were obliterated-or at the very least, moribund, that the virulent rhetoric of the ill-tempered, incensed, ignorant individuals would quiet; that any maintenance of their discomfort with multiculturalism could at least be expressed without rancor. It seems, however, that many nativists cannot bracket their contempt even for something as innocuous as a one-minute soda commercial.
Unfortunately, the retort “America is a nation of immigrants,” though true, seems to fall on deaf ears. Lamentably, the ubiquity of willful ignorance cannot be overcome with reason alone. We must, therefore, make sure that a resounding message of acceptance is audible, powerful enough to drown out the xenophobic leitmotifs born of ignorance and fear. We must meet the push for homogeneity with a more potent force of inclusion. We must welcome people of all backgrounds and celebrate who we are. America is beautiful.