I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of this Starbucks red cup controversy. I’m sick of spending my precious time and energy–which is so limited these days, in the midst of defending a thesis and teaching and trying to maintain my social life/marriage–arguing over a plastic cup. Because isn’t that what it comes down to? A plastic cup? A cup that we use for an hour or two before tossing into the nearest trash bin?
I want to say yes. And until yesterday, I would’ve said yes. It’s just a cup. A waste of my time.
But it’s not just a cup.
What the Starbucks controversy comes down to is an aversion to diversity. It’s proof that our nation is not as accepting of differences as we claim to be. What we’re doing when we complain about a non-Christmas cup is saying that those of us who practice Christmas should be privileged. Because we are the majority, we should have our holidays and our beliefs tacked on every marketable thing. And how dare a company refuse us that privilege?
This thought process is selfish and, frankly, bigoted. What of those who practice Hanukkah or Kwanza? Have you seen them boycotting Starbucks in the past decades when Starbucks cups have failed to depict the holidays they hold so dear?
As minorities, they have silently accepted the status quo while they watch us parade our beliefs loudly and proudly, comfortable in our majority, in the huge thumbs-up that stores and business and society-at-large give us by selling goods that represent our holiday.
Racism operates under the same sense of privilege. It says (wrongly) that because whites are the majority, our history is more important, our education is more important, and our lives are more important.
So when the news brings us reports of racist slurs and death threats directed at black students at Mizzou (here’s a list of the reports), why are we skeptical? Why is it that we read this news almost dismissively, thinking, “Racism isn’t an issue anymore. This is the twenty-first century.”
The Starbucks controversy is proof that racism (or, at the very least, privileged thinking) is still very much an issue. When we expect our beliefs to be privileged because we are a majority, we are feeding into the exact same thought process that fuels racism–the majority-rules thought process.
Now, I’m not saying that you’re a racist for wanting Santa on a Starbucks cup. What I’m saying is that a lack of awareness is dangerous. It’s so easy to believe that we are “right” and that we are “privileged” when our beliefs are validated by society-at-large. But let us remember that the media is only a reflection, a life-size mirror. The media parrots what we believe in order to convince as many consumers as possible to buy, buy, buy. Society-at-large only gives us privilege because we give ourselves privilege.
And it’s not until we break that cycle that racism will finally die.
So am I surprised by the racist acts at MIzzou? No. Appalled, yes. Heart-broken for the students, yes. But surprised? Unfortunately not.
Until we can learn to put aside our sense of privilege as a majority (whatever majority that may be), we will still see racism and sexism and religious intolerance in our world, perhaps even into the twenty-second century.