I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony

For those of you who remember it, you may be surprised to learn that the catchy song I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing – yes, the Coke ad – is now 50 years old. Fifty years old! And the song’s message (without the Coke part) remains as critically important as ever.  So little has changed … or to put a slightly more positive spin on it, not nearly enough has changed.  Anyone watching the ad (over and over again), with its positive, feel-good message of getting along, could not help but be moved by the lyrics of the music and its sentiment.  What’s true 50 years later is that the message worked extraordinarily well for Coke’s bottom line and contributed very, very little (probably diddly squat) to overcoming the painful realities of racism. How heartbreakingly sad.

For those of you who are too young to know this song, adapted by the New Seekers from the song in the most-popular-of-all-time Coke ad that aired in 1971, it’s worth taking the one minute to watch this YouTube video of the original ad.  Pure marketing magic.  And keep in mind that the Vietnam War was in progress at the time.  “Interesting” times then, just as today.

Here, for completeness, are the non-Coke lyrics to the song:

I’d like to build a world a home
And furnish it with love
Grow apple trees and honey bees
And snow white turtle doves

I’d like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony
I’d like to hold it in my arms
And keep it company

I’d like to see the world for once
All standing hand in hand
And hear them echo through the hills
For peace throughout the land

This song popped into my head as I pondered the revelation that this Sunday, March 21, is International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.  Yet another significant Day that doesn’t get the recognition it desperately needs and deserves.  The news reminds us every day of the pervasiveness and destructive nature of racism.  In spades.

From the United Nations web site:

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed annually on the day the police in Sharpeville, South Africa, opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against apartheid “pass laws” in 1960.

In 1979, the [UN] General Assembly adopted a programme of activities to be undertaken during the second half of the Decade for Action to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination.  On that occasion, the General Assembly decided that a week of solidarity with the peoples struggling against racism and racial discrimination, beginning on 21 March, would be organized annually in all States.

Since then, the apartheid system in South Africa has been dismantled. Racist laws and practices have been abolished in many countries, and we have built an international framework for fighting racism, guided by the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The Convention is now nearing universal ratification, yet still, in all regions, too many individuals, communities and societies suffer from the injustice and stigma that racism brings.

I must admit that I was very discouraged to read in the UN description that after all this time – decades –their International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is just nearing universal ratification.  Damn it, we’re better than this.  If we can progress as human beings to be able to build planes and ships that take us around the world in record time, allowing us to get to know each other’s cultures, customs, and geography, then why can’t we progress as human beings to accept and welcome each other?  Why aren’t we celebrating our diversity – and our common humanity – instead of weaponizing it?

We can all look into our own hearts and think about individual actions that can make a difference towards eliminating racial discrimination.  We can stop and think about what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes.  We can reach out.  We can walk the talk.  In particular, we can speak up in the face of racist words or acts on the part of others, even if that might feel awkward. After all, if we stay silent we are implicitly condoning what has been said.

But I’ll be honest, I don’t think individual action alone will do it.  I think it really takes proactive, positive leadership.  Leadership at all levels that reaches across aisles and speaks in affirmative ways about the potential and contributions of every citizen … citizens of every colour and background.  We need leaders who are inclusive, not divisive.  Leaders who speak to inclusivity and mean what they say.  Leaders for whom overcoming racism is a priority.

It has been 50 years since the world sang along with Coke and all those young people on the hill in Italy, “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.”  Please, don’t let it be another 50 years before that dream comes true.

This entry was posted in History and Politics, Social justice Saturday and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony

  1. candidkay says:

    Man, this one takes me back! And I do believe we’ll get there–maybe not to a perfect world but to a far, far better one . . .

  2. Beautifully put, Jane. My only disagreement is that sadly I no longer feel that we are better than this. But hope springs eternal. Many thanks for pointing out Sunday’s special occasion, and a shine on that wonderful song. – Marty

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Marty. I try to keep a glimmer of hope in what I write about, but the past few years have worn down even the most fervent want-to-believers. I look out at the snow still covering the ground in my neck of the woods, with the strong March sun rapidly melting it, thinking of this painful topic of racism, and the song lyrics that come to mind are, “… although the snow covers the hope of spring.” 😊

  3. Well said, Jane. Change is an exceptionally slow-moving thing, but I believe all societies will eventually get there.

  4. bernieLynne says:

    I look at the leadership over the last few years in New Zealand. They are becoming a dual language country with Maori taught in all schools. But even still they struggle with the land claims, poverty and violence. That’s just one example I know from family that live there. We certainly have a long way to go in Canada. Our individual actions can certainly help other individuals and I guess that’s what we need to focus on.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Yes, indeed. We have a long way to go. Lots more talk than action from leaders. Our individual actions are important for sure, including encouraging the right priorities for politicians and voting.

  5. AMWatson207 says:

    What a powerful message. Well done indeed. Thank you.

  6. I sure do remember that song. As for the human race…yes, only one race!! I am utterly tired of the insistence that there are different races denoted by skin color or differing facial features. What. The. Heck. I am also with you in believing that while individual action matters, strong leadership is essential. Covid-19 has certainly proven this point. I have long thought that a country can only be as good as its leadership. We’ll never have perfection, but we can have good enough.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Hear, hear, Laurie. And good enough is not always what we get. Perfection would be great!

      • The great writer E.B. White once wrote, “Don’t worry about being great, being good is hard enough.” He was referring to writing, but it certainly applies to many other things. 😉

        • Jane Fritz says:

          E.B. White’s quote is an important reminder to us about managing expectations and feeling good about our accomplishments. However, we do want our politicians to be committed to making our world as good as it can be FOR ALL, while acknowledging how difficult that can be. Sigh.

      • heimdalco says:

        This piece inspired me so that this is what I shared on my Facebook page just now along with the YouTube link to the song. I hope it inspires many more ….. :

        It’s very hard to believe that this wonderful COKE advertisement & the positive message it brought is 50 years old this year. How could that be possible?

        This Sunday, March 21, is International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It ties in unbelievably well with this Coke advertisement & it’s song of hope … for the world … for us all … for our one race … the HUMAN RACE.

        Listen to this 50 year old commercial & the beautiful message the song brings. I did & I continue to be hopeful.

        (I was inspired to share this by fellow blogger, Jane Fritz & her blog entry about this song & International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Thank you, Jane …)

  7. Inkplume says:

    Well said, Jane!

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