A television commercial is a rather unlikely forum for a social statement, yet in 2013, General Mills broke new ground by featuring an interracial family in a Cheerios advertisement. Whoa, it’s 2013 and we’re just getting around to recognizing the fact that interracial families exist in the United States? Wouldn’t you know, the ad brought out the racists and haters who posted their twisted displeasure on YouTube and other social media. Despite that, an advertising analytics company known as Ace Metrics found that Americans rated the Cheerios ad one of the most popular in the past 12 months. Just when you thought the grand American experiment might be sputtering and faltering, we witness the miracle that is the Cheerios ad of 2013.
I’ve always been a proponent of interracial marriages. Let’s all admit the fact that when it comes to matters of the heart, chemistry is chemistry, and it cannot be denied. This goes for same sex-marriages as well. When something works, it works and it is quite frankly nobody’s business; just accept the fact that these things are and we’ll all be just fine. Back in the 1970s, my-then-wife’s best friend was engaged to an African American man. My wife was asked to be the maid of honor for their wedding. Unfortunately, she was eight-and-a-half months pregnant with our oldest daughter and we couldn’t make the trip to Harlem. By the way, the aforementioned couple has been married for over 35 years and raised a wonderful family.
This is the miracle that is America, when we can look back at our origins and it requires a paragraph to connect all the national, racial, and religious dots. My children are a mixture of Scottish, English, Mohawk, Russian and Cuban, with religious diversity from Protestant to Catholic to Jew. You’d think that is pretty exotic stuff for small-town Vermont, but mixtures of that sort are far more common than most of us realize. The United States may be considered a wealthy country, but we are truly rich in diversity. My daughter’s marriage is intercultural, and even though she speaks Spanish fluently, her husband’s native language, the cultural differences are inherently challenging. They make it work, and my beautiful grandchildren are the well adjusted proof that hard work pays off.
Conversely, here we are more than 200 years since our Union was formed and there is still plenty of intolerance. While we seem to be getting better at accepting the way things are, we’ve still got a long way to go. Any time that something appears to be "different," that all too human tendency to differentiate kicks in. As if we don’t have enough differences in this world, discrimination is alive and well and not just for racists. Human beings will pick on anything that is different, from body weight to speech patterns, shy to gregarious, attractive to plain, rich to poor. It’s frustrating and just when it seems to be dragging us backward, a Cheerios TV commercial airs and suddenly a milestone is laid down, and we can use it to see just how far we’ve actually come. Sure, you can look at it pessimistically and say that we haven’t come far enough for the times, but when it pertains to tolerance, every little step forward is progress. Those of us who are middle aged can look back to our childhoods at the things that were acceptable then, and shake our heads in wonder that things were ever like that.
One of the great things that has emerged from that one television commercial is a place on Facebook called "We are the 15 percent." This is a forum for interracial families, and it features photos submitted by its followers. I found out about this from a Facebook post from my Aunt Charlotte in Florida, and was immediately intrigued by it. Regardless of how much I may approve of interracial marriages, anyone who has been in one can tell you that there are times when it isn’t easy. It takes a certain brand of strength and determination to succeed in the face of bigotry and ignorance. I applaud General Mills for putting its stamp of approval on a truly brave stance, and congratulate all of those who are proving that love conquers all.
Arlo Mudgett’s Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT FM Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m.