During this divisive period in American history, our nation needs to decide if it wants to foster the “cultural clashes” seen so often today or, if it wants to foster “cultural blending,” along the lines of the fantasy American “melting pot.” Over the past two weeks, we saw the choices shown clearly during the funeral services of Senator John McCain and Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin. The two most dominant cultures in America were on display—the African American culture featuring its richness of music and spirit presented with passionate emotions, creativity and energy, and the White American culture tempered with solemn dignity, formality and structure. It was fascinating to see people all over the world participating in both cultural experiences. via “live” technology, as America demonstrated it is possible to have different, vibrant tributes side by side, without conflict or confrontation.
Senator McCain’s solemn and formal funeral services in Arizona and Washington, D.C. had audiences composed mostly of white Americans. His speakers were predominately high-ranking government and military officials, with the notable exception of daughter Meghan McCain, who delivered a powerful political message. At the same time in Detroit, Aretha Franklin’s services featured predominately African American choirs, musicians, actors, Ministers, academics, businessmen, along with her grandchildren who spoke beautifully.
The personalities of Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, and U.S. Senator John McCain, distinguished military hero and veteran, were similar in striking ways. They were both honest, hard-working people who demonstrated integrity and occasional willingness to be rebellious. During their lifetimes, they made personal contributions to America’s value system, civility, compassion and strength. And, in response to their deaths, a global community of mourners watched, cried and appreciated their legacies. Sure, there were obvious differences–one person was Black and the other was White; John McCain was a strong Man and Aretha Franklin was a strong woman; both had strong, achieving fathers; and both were proud parents and grandparents. Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin moved hearts and bodies of all ages and races, to rhythm and dance, while Senator McCain a stern conservative, might not have danced at all.
Statements of their prominence were evident at the funerals by the presence of former Presidents of the United States, and how thousands of people, from many backgrounds, lined up at their caskets, to express gratitude. Aretha Franklin’s 50-year global soundtrack of music provided revenue and entertainment for thousands of people from diverse backgrounds, and she personally touched millions with love, religious beliefs, and memories. Behind the scenes, she supported Dr. Martin Luther King, Angela Davis, Civil Rights and Church causes. Senator McCain courageously defended America with his life and was a bi-partisan leader whose best friends were Republicans and Democrats. As a statement of his racial acceptance, John McCain had a adopted Bengalese daughter, an African American daughter-in-law and Black male friends.
As citizens, we must now face the question—does America want “Cultural Clashes” or “Cultural Blending?” To quote Aretha Franklin, we need “RESPECT!” That is the quality that can guide America on paths towards being a truly diverse nation, that simultaneously displays cultural differences, and respects those differences. We owe thanks to Senator John McCain and Aretha Franklin for showing us how to experience a culturally blended America, and how to make it work—even for a few days.
(Stephanie Myers, Ph.D. is vice president, R.J. Myers Publishing Company; National Co-Chair of Black Women for Positive Change, and author of “Invisible Queen: Mixed Ancestry Revealed.” Contact at: firstname.lastname@example.org. http://www.myerspublishing.com)
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