America The Beautiful?

5 Feb

Two events happened this past Sunday that have sparked national conversations about two completely different problems that we face in America: addiction and racism. The discussion has permeated social media, continuing to flood Facebook and Twitter streams even four days later, as well as traditional media outlets following the sad death of Academy Award-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman as well as a controversial Super Bowl commercial for Coke. 

I’m not fully prepared to write about my thoughts on Mr. Hoffman’s passing yet. There is a history of drug, alcohol and food abuse in my family and the subject just hits a little too close to home. I will say, however, that’s it’s very easy to be judgmental and shame addicts of any sort – drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, food, shopping, etc. – for their inability to control themselves, but addiction is a real illness that can often begin with one or two bad choices and, unfortunately, can end in death and heartbreak. I caution against judgment and encourage you to be compassionate. Mr. Hoffman had a family, though many would consider it unconventional or non-traditional because he wasn’t married to the mother of his three children. But let me repeat the most important part of that last statement: He had three children and a partner who loved him very much who are now grieving for the man they lost to a hateful, non-discriminatory disease. It affects every gender, race, and age and even “religious” people. Addiction exists not only in the ghettos and slums of our nation’s inner cities, but also in the posh suburbs, surrounded by white picket fences and lush green lawns where everything appears to be happy and healthy. Unless you are or were an addict or are close with someone who is or was, you cannot know what they go through. Show some compassion. God forbid, your brother or uncle or mother could be next.

That was an awfully long paragraph about something that I claimed to be unprepared to write about, wasn’t it? Moving right along…

The Coca Cola company stirred up a lot of controversy during the Super Bowl with their commercial in which people of different nationalities and creeds sang “America the Beautiful” in their native tongues. It also included the first gay couple to be shown in a Super Bowl commercial. And it spawned a new hashtag: #boycottcoke, along with a slew of ignorant tweets. Let’s have a look, shall we?

And now let’s read some of the tweets that followed.

BetterPlanet (@RefinedPlanet) wrote:
#boycottcoke after that over #coke display of unAmerican ideals on #Superbowl commercial. We speak ENGLISH in this country @coke

Caleb Riley (@c_riley10) wrote:
Since when is “America the Beautiful” sang in foreign languages? #English

spencinator (@taylorspencer3) wrote:
You can’t sing an American song in another language! #boycottcoke

Chase Floyd (@DiscJockeyChaZ) wrote:
This is an outrage. America the Beautiful in foreign languages #SuperBowlAds #boycottcoke

The Kevin (@Go_Kev) wrote:
Never buying coke again…America the Beautiful in a language other than English is just wrong. #boycottcoke #SuperBowl #commercial

And finally, d-stall (@dstallin) wrote:
Hey coca cola we live in the USA where we speak American #boycottcoke

Is “American” a universally recognized language now? I wasn’t aware. I thought that most of us spoke American English, but…that’s just a technicality. I mean…English is English, and it started here in good old ‘Murica, where, thanks to our efforts, “ridic” and “vacay” are now officially recognized in the Oxford English Language Dictionary! Am I right, Brits?*

But seriously…I just want to take a moment to share this little nugget with all of you. There is no official language for the United States, English or otherwise. Some states list English as their official language but, as a country, we are free to speak whatever language we choose. Freedom…wasn’t that something upon which this country was founded?

There is no official language for the United States of America, English or otherwise.

There is no official language for the United States of America, English or otherwise.

If so many people are so concerned about English being the official language of our country, shouldn’t the same people be appalled by the fact that a 2013 study by the U.S. Department of Education showed that 32 million adults in the U.S. can’t read or that we, as a country, let 19% of high school graduates get a diploma without being able to read what’s printed on it? Their diploma could be written in Albanian and they wouldn’t know the difference.

Shouldn’t the people who are boycotting Coca Cola products for having the audacity to imply that we, as Americans, should be tolerant of other languages and cultures (including, by the way, those of the Native Americans from whom we took the land we live on) also be concerned about spelling and grammar? If they hold themselves to a higher standard, then I expect their tweets to be grammatically perfect. Caleb Riley (@c_riley10), I’m looking at you, bud. “America the Beautiful” is not sang in foreign languages…it is sung. #English.

To spencinator (@taylorspencer3), who is boycotting Coke because “you can’t sing an American song in another language!,” I posit this: Disney, considered around the world to be one of the shining beacons of the idea of “America” disagrees with you. For your consideration, an American song (written by a Latino man and his wife), sung in 25 different languages, from a film that has made over $900 million worldwide. How much more American can you get?

Now, I’m being literal here. Obviously what spencinator intended to say was, “You shouldn’t sing an American patriotic song in another language.” But…if s/he were such a master of the language which s/he is defending, wouldn’t s/he have written what s/he meant? If we’re just taking what spencinator wrote literally, then my answer to him/her is yes, you can, in fact, sing an American song – patriotic or otherwise – in another language. Coke just did it. Maybe you yourself can’t do it, because that would require having studied other languages and expanding your horizons, but since you clearly have not mastered your native language yet, perhaps a second one might be a bit much for you at this time.

This country is made up of people who came from different places with different skin colors, speaking different languages, eating different foods and wearing different clothes, believe different things and all looking for a better life. One doesn’t have to go back many generations to find that many of our ancestors didn’t speak English when they came here. They eventually learned…or maybe they didn’t. How many dialects of American English do we have in this country that came out of the melding of languages? Creole – a language in and of itself – came from the melding of English and French and is still spoken today in Louisiana. What we consider to be “country” or “hillbilly” stems from Scottish and Irish influences and what we could call “deep Southern” emerged from the soft, rounded tones of British English. Here in Milwaukee, the dialect is riddled with verbal vestiges of the German and Nordic people that ended up here. There is no such thing as pure American English.

To respond to BetterPlanet (his/her screen name must be a joke, right?), I’d like to present these numbers from a 2011 American Community Survey that states that there are nearly 38 million homes in the U.S. in which Spanish is the first language spoken. Chinese, French, Hindu, Tagalog, German, Vietnamese and Korean are also listed in that survey. So no, BetterPlanet…not all of us speak English in this country.

But this isn’t about language. This is about hiding discrimination behind patriotism. One tweet that I’ve saved for last is this one that comes from Tyler Wyckoff (@tylerwyckoff24). Tyler says, “Nice to see that coke likes to sing an AMERICAN song in the terrorist’s language. Way to go coke. You can leave America.” 

I don’t even know how to respond to that. So I’ll let Coke do it for me. Please watch this. Hear it. Live it. America Is Beautiful.

*Those words actually already existed in what must now be considered their much-too-difficult-to-pronounce full versions: “ridiculous” and “vacation.” Those one or two extra syllables proved to be just too much.**

**Don’t get me started on the common usage of abbreviated verbiage in everyday conversation. It totes makes me want to cut a B. But that’s a different blog entry for another day.

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