A puzzling new U.S. Marines recruitment billboard caught my eye this week.
Standing tall along I-35, between Wellsville and Edgerton, the billboard reads: “Celebrating Hispanic values and the Marines who act on them.”
A fairly innocuous, not-so-subtle statement meant to pander to potential recruits of a certain ethnicity, the message elicits a few obvious questions: What exactly are “Hispanic values”? How are they any different than the ideals of people of other races? Since when do people of the same ethnicity all share the same values (positive or negative)? Aren’t such generalizations typically deemed ... racist?
The billboard apparently is an extension of the Marines’ “Values 2.0” campaign, which “celebrates the strong positive ideals shared by Hispanic Americans and the Marine Corps,” according to the Marines.
“Honor, courage and commitment are what we live by in the Marine Corps,” Lt. Col. Ronald Peterson, assistant chief of staff for advertising, Marine Corps Recruiting Command, said. “Just like our Latino brothers and sisters who hold these values in high esteem, we instill these traits so that every new generation of Marines can return as proud members of their community.”
Racial recruiting, of course, isn’t confined to the Marines. All manner of organizations — from special interest groups and businesses to political parties across the right-left spectrum — employ the same tactics. But coupled with the exclusivity of the Marines’ prestigious slogan — “The few. The proud. The Marines.” — the “Hispanic values” sentiment seems somewhat divisive.
Why single out Hispanics? Are they the only race that shares the Marines’ core values — honor, courage and commitment? Are Hispanic Marines somehow more honorable, more courageous and more committed than their black, white, Asian or American Indian fellow soldiers?
Those ideals are values that cross the lines of ethnicity, gender, age, socioeconomic status and other characteristics with which people tend to be defined. They are values hopefully all Americans share to some degree — whether they are Marines, parents, teachers, law enforcement officers, farmers, civic leaders, retail cashiers or anyone else.
Stereotyping Hispanics as all sharing strong moral values is harmless in many respects. But whether a person is saying all black people have rhythm or all Asians are good at math, a racial stereotype — even a positive one — is still a stereotype.
In our politically correct world, there’s a fine line between acceptable and unacceptable. Imagine the Marines billboard instead read, “Celebrating Kansas values and the Marines who act on them.” Innocent enough. But picture that same billboard extolling the virtues of “white values.” That dog probably wouldn’t hunt.
The Marines’ recruitment effort gets it right a few hundred yards down the interstate on another billboard. This one reads, “For our nation. For us all.” It features three Marines of different ethnicities in uniform — a far better message for a country sick and tired of racial politics and seeking unity wherever it can be found.
Hispanics sharing the Marines’ core values should indeed be celebrated. But so too should those of every race who make honor, courage and commitment the cornerstones of their lives.
These are American values — for our nation, for us all.
Tommy Felts is Herald managing editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org