Hello, I’m Leah G. Alfonso. I write so that I may speak.
Many of us watched the Super Bowl last weekend. And boy, was that a brutal game. I stopped watching at the beginning of the third quarter because I thought “well, if that’s how they’re going to start the second half, it’s basically over. The Broncos have no hope” (I apologize if I offend any Broncos fans). But something that caught the attention of America during the game was one of the commercials—more specifically, the Coke commercial.
If you didn’t watch the game, the commercial was made up of people living their everyday lives—swimming, camping, drinking coke, etc.—while “America the Beautiful” played in the background, being sung in seven different languages including English, Spanish, and Tagalog. All of the people shown in the commercial came from different ethnic backgrounds. It was a beautiful commercial, easily popular among people that I talked to about it. And if you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it. The only downside is that I’m not sure if the Native Americans were included in the representation of the different cultures that made America what it is today—and that’s kind of important, seeing as they were in the US of A first, and they were here thousands of years before anyone even knew the land existed.
People either loved or hated this commercial, and the hate came for two different reasons. First, at one point viewers saw a gay couple roller skating with their daughter, which of course sparked a lot of controversy. It’s ironic because the woman who wrote the song was a lesbian. And the second reason for the hate—the one that really caught me off guard and ruined any potential of me having a good Monday—was this:
You know, many Americans like to advertise Amendment 1 in the constitution. Why? Because it says, and I quote, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” What does this mean? To put it simply, if you’re an American citizen then you can say whatever you want. You can publicly and proudly thank God for dead soldiers and advertise that God hates everything he’s ever created, as Westboro Baptist Church loves to do. You can talk shit about people you’ve never met, behind their backs and to their faces. You can demonize and dehumanize other human beings with your words. You can make up the truth about a person, place, item, or idea that you’ve never interacted with. Why? Because we have a freedom of speech, and by golly we can’t exist for a single day without abusing that freedom in any way, shape, or form.
With freedom comes a lot of responsibility. You wouldn’t leave your kids at home alone unless you were absolutely sure that they could adequately take care of themselves. You wouldn’t allow convicts out of jail for any reason unless you were convinced that a) said convicts would abide by the law, or b) if they broke parole or did anything else to warrant arrest, you’d be able to catch them immediately. And just because the people in the link had the right to express their racist opinions, it didn’t mean that they should have.
Look, I’m not an expert on the subject of racism. I’m just a twenty-two year old college student who’s still in the middle of creating her own mindset about life. I realize that racism isn’t as big a problem as it used to be. But it’s still out there. It’s still painful. And it still hurts a lot of people. It just manifests itself in different ways. And I refuse to take this lying down. Why? As a friend put it, America “was built from scratch on the backs of immigrants.” Think about it, people. The first white man to ever set foot on the land of North America didn’t even get here until the late fifteenth century. And white men didn’t even start living here until at least a hundred years later. But once we got to the industrial age, our ancestors started to see that the companies didn’t have enough workers to keep the economy going. So what did we do to fix the problem? We invited people of other countries to come here and work for a living. And the rest is history.
We’re allowed to have our own opinions, certainly. But you have to be able to back it up if you want anyone to take it seriously. And if you want a smart opinion, you need to do two things. One: research, research, research. Go through every shred of evidence you can get your hands on, and make sure you have the whole picture, not just a piece of it. Assess both sides of the argument and draw your own conclusions. Two: Grow up and be an adult.
Seriously, America. How long are we going to ignore the fact that immigration helped us to survive as a country? How long are we going to pretend that America’s culture isn’t made up of dozens of different other cultures? How long are we going to make up the truth about people we understand nothing about? Let’s face it, guys. Maybe it’s time to put aside our differences and take a long, hard look at the reality of diversity.
Until next time, this is Leah G. Alfonso saying “So long.”