Oh That Coke Ad…
I originally posted this on BuzzFeed with a liberal/progressive audience in mind. Thus, the excessive explanation of why we believe and think the way we do. I would never assume to explain these things to fellow conservatives.
It is a strange irony in our culture that the very people who call for tolerance and understanding are usually the first people to jump to the worst conclusions about people who disagree with them.
Let’s get something out of the way on the outset: Allen West, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and other conservative pundits criticizing Coke’s “America is Beautiful” ad are not racist, xenophobic, or anti-immigrant. These people love America and they love our culture. The unofficial language of our culture is English and when people are not speaking English the concern of these people isn’t that we have people of different ethnicities or new immigrants from other cultures living in our country, it’s that progressivism’s obsessive need to celebrate “multiculturalism” sometimes seems to diminish our own culture. Progressives tend to have a salad bowl view of America and believe that a distinct American culture that transcends ethnicity is of limited importance. They believe the whole point of our nation is that people from any walk of life can enter and benefit from our values without having to adhere to any American cultural customs including their language. Conservatives, on the other hand, believe that our values and culture are one in the same. They believe that in order for our nation to thrive we need to be unified around some basic cultural customs. Far from being racist, xenophobic or anti-immigrant the vast majority of conservatives take the “melting pot” view of America; that is, no matter where you come from or what you look like, you can be integrated into a distinct American culture. This includes learning the English language. Progressives are uncomfortable with this because they believe it elevates one culture over another and because America is imperfect, they believe we shouldn’t be so quick to proclaim the greatness of our way of life and look to other cultures to find remedies to our woes.
The reality is, America is probably both a melting pot and a salad bowl. I can attest to this more than most Americans, I am a first generation American. My parents are white English-speaking South Africans. My parents made a huge effort to try and integrate my siblings and I into American culture. We celebrated Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July every year from the first year my parents arrived in the United States. They learned and refreshed themselves on American history so that they could teach us about our country. They made every effort to make sure we were American and that we felt American. But that didn’t change the fact that my parents were immigrants and came from a different culture and while I feel so incredibly blessed to have been born in this nation, while I am so proud to be an American, the fact of the matter is that if the standard of being an American is to completely reject ones culture and fully immerse oneself in American culture, then my house probably didn’t meet that standard as my parents raised us with a lot of South African cultural customs.
That isn’t because we don’t love America. We absolutely adore America, it is why my parents chose to immigrate to this country in the mid-1980s when South Africa’s oppressive apartheid policies looked like they were going to sink the country into bloodshed. They believe and I believe that America is great because of the values America was founded on and within it’s promise is a nation of freedom, liberty and opportunity. One of the amazing things about immigration is that we can shake off a lot of the negative cultural customs of our former culture (tendencies toward condescending oppressive racism probably being the first on the chopping block; this is partly a joke, most white South Africans are not racist) and replacing them with the principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. As long as we hold these values in our heart, the little cultural customs we hold onto, like calling a BBQ a “Braai”, are only little things. While it is a larger issue and I think if you live in America, it is absolutely necessary to learn the English language (not just for cultural reasons, but for practical reasons), the American story is often told in the hearts of people who speak other languages and want a better life. How humbling and wonderful that we have built a nation that attracts people from all over the world!
My fellow conservatives who are angry about this ad are not racist, xenophobic, or anti-immigrant, in fact their concerns are warranted because there is value in integrating into American culture. It is good for us to have things that unite us as a people and to build those things into our lives. However I think the concern is misdirected and they are missing the beauty of this ad. The thing that is absolutely gorgeous about that Coke ad to me as a libertarian conservative and what I think the Coca Cola company was trying to illustrate is that the desire for freedom and liberty resides in every human heart. Freedom and liberty is the light that shines on that hill that so many in our history have called for. As long as it is that guiding people to our shores, well, America is beautiful and our best days are ahead.