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Hello, Americans

By Rich Heldenfels Published: May 30, 2014

And when I say "Americans," I am using a different definition than that assumed by the racist, xenophobic swine who tweeted angrily during the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

I came late to Thursday's telecast, and only found the Bee while channel-flipping. But once I was there, I stayed until the end, engrossed in the seeming impossibility of the words, the pauses and questions preceding each spelling, the humor, the charm of the players and, finally, the slow march toward a tie ending. It was the first tie in more than 50 years, and utterly exciting.

So, of course, some people could only focus on the contestants' names, skin color and backgrounds. Because, to those people, it's not enough to be from Painted Post, New York, or Fort Worth, Texas. To the complainers, tt's not enough to be smart and articulate. You have to look a certain way.

Kid's from Texas? His detractors must have wondered why he didn't have a cowboy hat and chaw -- and white skin.

It recalled the controversy over Coca-Cola's multicultural Super Bowl ad when the idea of singing "America the Beautiful" in the many languages used by our citiizens was seen as an insult. As I said at the time:

. A celebration of our nation's diversity, including through parts of "America the Beautiful" sung in different languages, was instead treated as an insult by people who believe that the song should only be in English. See one of the many reports about the issue here.

... so many people are eager to feel embattled and angry any time there's a suggestion that the idea of being American can include many languages, ethnicities and types of families. There is still this belief in some circles that America shold be narrowly defined -- even though, from its beginnings, it has been made up of different people and languages. (Note how many places in New York have Dutch names, for instance. Should we change those, too?)

Any suggestion that "American" is a broadly defined word is now greeted with alarm. Not even young people are free from criticism. Never mind that, in the face of vast public ignorance, these spellers demonstrated enormous academic accomplishment. Some people looked only at faces and names -- and refused to celebrate the achievements.

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