Jenee Osterheldt

Hey, haters: Have a Coke and a smile, and get over it

Updated: 2014-02-07T22:23:03Z

By JENEÉ OSTERHELDT

The Kansas City Star

When Sarah Romero saw the commercial, she knew the hate was coming.

On Super Bowl Sunday and again during the Winter Olympics opening ceremony Friday, Coca-Cola’s big ad features a multilingual version of “America the Beautiful,” sung in English, Tagalog, Hindi, Spanish, Keres, Hebrew and Senegalese-French. It showed all kinds of Americans, different cultures, ethnicities, gay, straight, young and old. It’s a striking picture of diversity, a soulful song.

But Sarah, a Spanish-American, was ready for the ugliness to bubble over the soda pop’s version of American beauty. She’s seen it before.

“The awfulness that ensued when Marc Anthony sang the national anthem last year at the All-Star game, the ignorance that followed was so mind-boggling. But it did prepare me to read many of the bigoted comments that were thrown out after the Coca-Cola commercial,” says Sarah, 30, a Kansas City video producer.

Sadly, she was right. The trolls popped off. While “Fox News & Commentary” host Todd Starnes liked Bruno Mars’ halftime show and counted the new mixed-family Cheerios commercial among his favorites, Coke didn’t win his favor. He tweeted, “Coca Cola is the official soft drink of illegals crossing the border. # americaisbeautiful

Racial epithets flew across the blogosphere, and people even said they wouldn’t drink Coke anymore. Haters wondered why the song wasn’t sung in “American.” (That’s a thing?)

Marwa Younis, 29, a Kansas City artist who speaks Arabic and English, says the “us against them” outrage is saddening.

“Are we that uneducated?” she asks. “I guess most people don’t see the reality of how diverse we really are and what it really means to be an American.”

The ignorance didn’t stop Coke from airing a longer, 90-second version for the Olympics.

The commercial “is a great example of the magic that makes our country so special,” says Coke spokeswoman Sonya Soutus, “and a powerful message that spreads optimism, promotes inclusion and celebrates humanity — values that are core to us and that matter to Coca-Cola.”

Cheers to them. The commercial is inspiring and all-inclusive. That’s an America to celebrate. It’s discouraging that in 2014 we continue to face this kind of narrow-minded hate. No wonder Congress can’t agree on immigration reform. We can’t even get past commercials, songs and pageants: Last year, controversy and racism ensued over the interracial family in the Cheerios commercial, an 11-year-old mariachi singer belting out the national anthem at the NBA finals and an Indian American Miss America.

“It’s disappointing to me to see that there is still a large contingent of people who don’t consider people of color Americans,” Sarah says. “It is absurd, at its most basic level. The commercial itself was beautiful and exemplified what this country should be about —celebrating the differences and similarities that make us all Americans.”

I want to understand the adversity. But I don’t. Does it scare people to admit that America is the salad bowl we learned about in elementary school? Is it really so hard to accept that despite our differences, we are equally American? In fact, America is not any one thing. Truthfully, unless you’re Native American, you have immigrant roots. This country is not exclusively white, straight or English.

Have a Coke and a smile, and get over it.

For the little girls who sang in the Coca-Cola commercial, what it means to be an American is ever-evolving and a thing of beauty and pride. Naomi, who identifies herself as Puerto Rican and American, contributed the Spanish parts of “America the Beautiful.” In a behind-the-scenes YouTube video created before the first commercial aired, she beams with pride as she talks about America and how people would react.

“They might feel joyful,” she says. “They might feel like, wow, America has all these different things and they might feel like really proud of their country, I hope. Because I know I am pretty proud. … We have the right to be ourselves, we can speak whatever we want, we can pray whatever we want to pray. I just think that’s pretty amazing and we’re lucky to have it.”

I’m not just proud to be an American, I’m proud my future is in the hands of young Americans like Naomi. Seriously, “crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.”

Anyone who disagrees, well, God shed his grace on thee.

Jeneé Osterheldt’s column runs on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. To reach her, call 816-234-4380 or send email to josterheldt@kcstar.com. “Like” her page on Facebook and never miss a column. You also can follow her at Twitter.com/jeneeinkc.

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