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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Why Everyone Should Eat Cheerios and Celebrate Diversity

By Peter DeWitt — June 04, 2013 3 min read
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By now, you have probably seen the really awesome Cheerios commercial with the adorable little girl trying to make sure her father has a healthy heart.

Perhaps it’s just that I’m an elementary principal but I love seeing innocent and loving kids in commercials. It’s so much better than those commercials that portray kids as sarcastic and too cool for school. Unfortunately, it’s what happened after the commercial aired that is really disgusting.

When the commercial was uploaded to YouTube there were hundreds of racist and derogatory comments, many of them asking for the commercial to be pulled from television. The comment section was closed by General Mills because of the comments and a spokesperson said they would not pull the commercial.

It is 2013, right?

Unfortunately, social media has its positive and negative aspects. The positive side is that it can get a message out to hundreds of thousands and even millions of people. The negative aspect is that it brings about hatred by people who never have to sign their real name (Anonymous comments).

This commercial brought out both racism and prejudice. These people have a bias about what couples should look like, so when biracial or gay couples enter the picture, preconceived notions come out. As much as the comments posted were outrageously bigoted, there are still many people who have a bias against biracial couples....they may just not post it on YouTube.

In the N.Y. Times, Coates wrote, “In modern America we believe racism to be the property of the uniquely villainous and morally deformed, the ideology of trolls, gorgons and orcs. We believe this even when we are actually being racist.” Coates is correct. Racism and bigotry come wrapped in packages that look like you and me, and they do not look like the “trolls” that Coates refers to.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
One of my favorite movies of all time is Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner starring Sydney Poitier, Catherine Hepburn, Katherine Houghton and Spencer Tracy. It was filmed in 1967. Every time it comes on television I get hooked and have to watch the whole movie. At this point, I have it in my DVR.

In the film, Sydney Poitier and Katherine Houghton are a biracial couple who met in Hawaii and want to get married. Neither of their parents knew of the relationship, because it had only begun 10 days prior, and both sets of parents didn’t know each was interested in a person from another racial background.

The reality is that when Katherine Houghton described her boyfriend, she did not use a color in that description. Sydney Poitier was older, but much more in-tune with societal influences and knew that telling his parents that his girlfriend was white would be an issue.

After many inspiring and thoughtful conversations, Spencer Tracy, who at first was resistant to the relationship, ends the movie giving a speech to everyone stating the reasons why the couple should remain together. The actual scene was shot about two weeks before Spencer Tracy died which made it even more powerful. Tracy says,

There'll be 100 million people right here in this country who will be shocked and offended and appalled and the two of you will just have to ride that out, maybe every day for the rest of your lives. You could try to ignore those people, or you could feel sorry for them and for their prejudice and their bigotry and their blind hatred and stupid fears, but where necessary you'll just have to cling tight to each other and say "screw all those people"!"

Fortunately for us General Mills said, “Screw those people” and made the commercial any way. Although there were not “100 million” people who responded negatively, there were still more than there should have been...considering its 2013.

Hidden Curriculum
We live in a world filled with diversity and instead of celebrating it, people are still scared of it, or they are too narrow-minded to learn from it. Racism and bigotry have existed in this country for far too long and companies like General Mills and brands like Cheerios should be applauded for their efforts to portray biracial families in such a positive light.

Besides the fact that the commercial is adorable, it portrays real life. There are biracial couples with biracial children and those children deserve to see families like theirs on television. It provides a hidden curriculum to all children that families come in different sizes, with different types of parents and all of those families should be respected and honored. What matters most is how much they love their children and “screw all those people” who don’t agree.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.