Thank God for DVR. Otherwise, I might have thought I had hallucinated when I saw not one, but two images of Arab-looking veiled Muslim women flash across my TV last night. I mean, I’m used to seeing those images, but it’s usually on CNN, and she’s usually called “The Black Widow.”
But this time it was during the Super Bowl, the most-watched television event of the year. My living room was home to this year’s gathering, and I was watching the game with a room full of Palestinians. Well, that’s not entirely true. I did invite one white guy, you know, for diversity’s sake.
When the Muslim women so quickly appeared and disappeared on my screen last night (as they often do in my real life), chaos ensued. One of my fellow Arabs immediately screamed, “Wait, were those hijabis?” (“Hijabi” is our affectionate term for women who wear the “hijab,” one of the Arabic terms for the veil.) Another one said, “Yeah, it was right after they showed the Jewish guys looking out the window.” We re-watched the commercial 4 or 5 times, had some discussion, and gave each other high fives before we got back to the game. The white guy was puzzled by the whole process.
I also immediately thought, “Wow, this is going to definitely piss off some people.” Images started running through my head of Nina Davuluri, last year’s Miss America pageant winner, whose victory sparked tweets like, “How is miss America Indian? This is America… Not India,” and “More like Miss Terrorist,” and “Miss America right now or miss Al Qaeda?” I also thought of Sebastien de la Cruz, the 11-year old Latino American child who sang the national anthem at a San Antonio Spurs game last June. Sebastien was introduced by the city’s mayor, Julian Castro, who is also of Mexican descent. His performance inspired tweets like, “What’s up with this little Mexican kind singing the anthem at the heat game,” and “9 out of 10 chance that kid singing national anthem is illegal.” He sang the anthem pretty well, and without an accent! But these tweets were especially outrageous. You really have to have a lot of nerve to tell a Mexican he shouldn’t be singing in a place called San Antonio.
And so, little to my surprise, the tweets about the Coca-Cola Super Bowl ad began to flow:
Hey @CocaCola This is America. English, please.
This is an outrage. America the Beautiful in foreign languages #SuperBowlAds #BoycottCoke
Coke having a commercial with an American song in other languages… not cool. Coke. GTFO with that.
I had to google “GTFO.” Not cool.
And some had that distinct, all too common, anti-Muslim flair:
Nice to see that coke likes to sing an AMERICAN song in the terrorist’s language. Way to go coke. You can leave America.
Now I could say some sterile things to diffuse the debate. I could say that America is a nation of immigrants, or that the hard work of immigrants is the backbone of this country, or that we all came from immigrants at one time or another. I could say that America, in fact, has no official language. I could say that 157,000 Latinos serve in the American armed forces, along with about 15,000 Muslims. I could even say that immigrant doctors save thousands of white American lives every day.
But the truth is that none of those statements would appease the critics. Those who so furiously disapproved of the ad are angry because this is not the America that they signed up for. This is not the America that they want to pass on to their children. These people see patriotism as the exclusive domain of white, Christian, conservative citizens.
Those of us who were happy, and even proud, to see Coke’s Super Bowl commercial should not be afraid to call those who denounced it exactly what they are: racists.
The America depicted in the Coke ad is exactly the kind of America we live in. Yet those who hated the ad hate this fact too, and they wrap up their hatred in jingoistic loyalty. Those who most loudly profess to love America seem to misunderstand her the most.
* Amer Zahr is a Palestinian American comedian, writer, professor and speaker living in Dearborn, Michigan. He is also the editor of "The Civil Arab."