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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

2-26-24 PDF
February 26, 2024
An inside look at Bobby B. Beacon’s insides. Illustrated by Bianca Oppedisano/ Mass Media Staff.
Bobby's Inside Story
February 26, 2024

The Philosophy of Religious Tolerance, As Told by A Coffee Cup

We’ve all heard of the perpetual tug-of-war between conservative Christians and modern liberals, with each group eternally distrusting the other. Lately, the battleground has moved to a much smaller scale––coffee cup size, to be precise.
In case you’ve been living under a rock the past few weeks, people have been up in arms regarding the removal of Christmas themed decorated cups offered at Starbucks for the holiday season.
The arguments and discussions surrounding the infamous red Starbucks cup are rather trivial, but they highlight a conversation that is critical to acknowledging the dynamics of our “secular” society. Sparking a conversation is half the battle, as we know, and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has a curious devotion to doing just that.
In an article posted on USA Today, Schultz was quoted as admitting a growing concern for minorities after protests in Ferguson, Missouri snowballed the development of the Black Lives Matter movement. He explained that almost half of all Starbucks employees are minorities. Curiously, Schultz spoke to Starbucks’ apparent fundamental goal: to be “more than a coffeehouse chain.” With that, the CEO has hosted nationwide “talks” about race, both between fellow employees and between employees and customers.
The official Starbucks website even features a full section under the header “Responsibilities,” which touched upon the programs they are involved in to help communities flourish, including attempts to help veterans and fight AIDS.
But beyond the corporation’s humanitarian approach, the arguments sparked by the holiday cup say a lot about where we really are in separation of church and state. It also speaks to the way U.S. society interprets the First Amendment, something we so passionately claim to fulfill.
In their official statement regarding the new cup design, Starbucks declared that “creating a culture of belonging, inclusion, and diversity is one of the core values of Starbucks … [We] will continue to embrace and welcome customers from all backgrounds and religions into our stores around the world.”
They proclaimed the plain cup to be a “blank canvas” of sorts for customers to put down their own stories, especially after a cup design contest they previously hosted.
As a Muslim woman born and raised in the U.S., I see the significance in their removal of the patterns. Although Starbucks still uses traditional Christmas colors––red, green, and gold––for their décor, it’s important to see and understand that for the first time, a major corporate giant is acknowledging the diversity of the holiday season.
It causes one to think, really. Why isn’t there more conversation around the standardization of “winter break,” which really, only accommodates Christmas? Where are the breaks for the other major religions?
In a culture saturated in commercialized “holiday” cheer (we all know it’s centered around Christmas) blasting from every mall, store, television, and school, it’s hard to believe that a solid red cup has suddenly oppressed Christians.
I remember dreading the holiday season growing up. I dreaded the feeling of being left behind by Santa as my friends counted down the days to his arrival, two months in advance. I dreaded questions of, “What are you doing for Christmas?”, a question that assumes the norm.
I am amazed that no other religion receives set days off for their holidays. For example, this year, Diwali fell on a Wednesday. Schools and businesses proceeded as usual, without even the blink of an eye, leaving those who practice Hinduism scrambling for an excused absence.
I’m having a hard time remembering someone of non-Muslim practice wishing me a happy Eid either during Eid Al-Fitr or Eid Al-Adha, our two official holidays in Islam. The holidays I celebrate were never mentioned by my teachers in class. The holidays I celebrated were not on color print-outs passed out in class or songs on the radio.
It seems as though most of those practicing religions that are not in the mainstream have simply accepted the continuous and alarmingly inescapable aura of Christmas. We exchange gifts, just because, and find hooks of some classic Christmas tunes endearing and catchy. To be honest, it could be much worse.
Unfortunately, there will always be people out there like self-proclaimed evangelist Josh Feuerstein. If you have not heard the name, Feuerstein is one of the main forces that brought the Starbucks red cup fiasco to the forefront of U.S. media. He is an example of the progress we have yet to make as a society in order to cultivate a free space for religious expression.
We should aim for equal representation of all religions in the media without one overshadowing the others. This will be hard to accomplish given the obvious Islamophobia taking root on American soil since September 11th and aggressively resurfacing after the incident in Paris.
Feuerstein spoke on CNN about his outrage regarding the lack of Christmas designs on the cups, despite other Christmas-themed goodies put on display throughout the store. He parallels the removal of the designs to tactics of “removing ‘Christ’ from Christmas, thus Christmas out of society.”
Let’s not forget to mention Donald Trump’s idea of boycotting Starbucks. That speaks for itself.
And while many polls agree that Feuerstein is just another crazy extremist looking for a fight, it’s fascinating that the momentum gained while denying religious representation was a handful of conservatives crying wolf.
This may be an opportunity for the U.S. to examine the problem on a larger scale and perhaps, finally acknowledge that promoting secularity is profitable and widely enjoyed by the masses. Perhaps educators in the U.S. could learn a thing or two while out for their morning coffee.