I've always been a fan of Ray Charles' version of "America, the Beautiful." His rendition allows each of us to personalize our belief in American democracy.
By taking "America, the Beautiful" and running it through the prism of that American institution known as the black church, Charles made it possible, despite centuries of dehumanization, oppression, and unfulfilled hope, for black Americans to feel that they, too, are included in the preamble of the U.S. Constitution when it was first made public in 1789.
Moreover, Charles' physical inability to see the amber waves of grain and the purple mountains' majesties did not diminish his unwavering belief that they did indeed exist.
Likewise, those who historically have felt the backhand of American injustice can also believe in an America that they may not see, but through Charles' contribution can know that it does exist.
But Charles not only helped African Americans make sense of the dichotomy between what was written on paper and their experience, he gives all Americans the opportunity to come in contact with a deeper and richer meaning of their own patriotism.
I thought of Charles' "America, the Beautiful" when I learned of the kerfuffle around Coca-Cola's recent Super Bowl advertisement. The ad featured "America, the Beautiful" sung in a variety of languages from people across the world. It also shows footage of people of different ethnicities, religions and sexual orientations.
Promoting diversity is hardly a new phenomenon for the soft-drink maker. It is a concept that goes back to 1971.
Depending on one's age or insatiable YouTube curiosity, many will undoubtedly recall the large, diverse, multiethnic gathering on a hill singing: "I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony, I'd like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company -- that's the real thing."
But the usual suspects of right-wing blowhards such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, former Congressman Allen West, and others, were ready Monday morning to offer their predictable outrage against "liberals" based on Coca-Cola's commercial.
Michael Leahy on Briebart.com opined: "The company used such an iconic song, one often sung in churches on the 4th of July that represents the old "E Pluribus Unum" view of how American society is integrated, to push multiculturalism down our throats."
The "old E Pluribus Unum" never existed the way Leahy offers. What he offers is only skin deep.
The issue is not multiculturalism. If America were comprised only of those of European origin, it would still be multicultural; there just wouldn't be an intense debate.
E Pluribus Unum translates out of many, one -- not out of many, identical. Since its inception, America has always been a diverse nation, and with one tragic exception, a nation of immigrants. Even the dominant language is largely imported.
America is unique because it is a nation held together by an idea -- the proposition that all are indeed created equal.
The public indignation of the recent Coca-Cola ad reflects an immaturity and fear about the nation. America is changing demographically. That's what happens when you're not a homogeneous nation, but one built on an idea of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The changing demographics definitely altered the most recent presidential election. According to the recent Census Bureau, there are more than 150 languages spoken in Oakland, which has a population of slightly more than 400,000, reflecting America's future.
The outrage over Coca-Cola's Super Bowl ad demonstrates America at its worst. It is a cheap, strip-mall patriotism that fallaciously advocates a one-size-fits-all definition.
But the idea that America was founded upon endures. The lyrics to "America, the Beautiful" will not be altered, nor the idea, it just means we will increasingly sing it in a different key.
Byron Williams is a contributing columnist. Contact him at 510-208-6417 or email@example.com.