Starbucks Doesn’t Actually Care About Unity, It Cares About Profit

The Outrage Cup Runneth Over

This week Starbucks unveiled a new cup. Although this is normally the time of year when the coffee shops reveal their holiday cup for the year, there’s nothing holiday about it. The green cup is covered in faces—from farmers to baristas—connected by a single line. The company said the cup was designed to promote unity.

Last year, there was an uproar from those who disliked that the Starbucks holiday cup was not Christmas-y enough. This year, the cup has even less to do with Christmas and is blatantly political. As is generally the case with any news these days, there was outrage.

People accused Starbucks of spreading liberal bias, attempted brainwashing. Others applauded the companies artistic design and positive message.

“During a divisive time in our country, Starbucks wanted to create a symbol of unity as a reminder of our shared values, and the need to be good to each other,” Howard Schultz, Starbuck’s CEO said of the design.

A Bigger Problem

I did the math on the cost of buying a cup of coffee a day in high school and decided I’d rather spend $22,000 somewhere else so I rarely buy coffee anywhere. I also don’t particularly care about rating the Christmas levels of a company’s products to compare them to a religious standard the company itself holds.

But I do care about companies masquerading as moral beacon shining on a hill, while ignoring the fact that the hill is built on the backs of unethical labor.

What has gotten lost in all the noise about the appearance of this cup is the well known fact that Starbucks has used prisoners as laborers to package holiday coffees and manufacture the cups themselves.

This should shock no one because Starbucks is not an agenda-less haven for humanity. It is a business and the goal of a business is to make money. Supporting Starbucks “unity” entails supporting coercive labor.

Everything Is Publicity

Like everything else a business does, this design is part of a strategic effort to benefit the bottom line.

As advertisers fight for the eyes of consumers, publicity has become increasingly important to brands. Companies carve a niche for themselves by creating a personality. Taco Bell has made itself the food of youth and coolness, Old Spice remade itself in the image of a bizarre and funny Old Spice man, Chipotle is the earnest, animal rights supporting restaurant.

Starbucks has spent years striving to be “the third place” in people’s lives. But as other companies make more decisive political moves, they have now followed suit.

Any outcry or support regarding the new Starbucks cups is exactly the point. The thousands of news articles and essays written about the cup this week (including this one) provide free publicity for the company and help it maintain a carefully crafted public persona.

Earlier this year over 80 companies exerted their influence in North Carolina to stop a religious freedom bill which would have made discrimination against LGBT people legal. Many of these companies threatened not to do business in North Carolina if the law was passed. What’s ironic is that many of them (hello PayPal, Apple, Microsoft and Coca Cola) already have factories and do business in countries where being gays is punishable by prison or even death.

Is this hypocrital? Absolutely. Is it also good for business? Absolutely.

It’s good publicity for these companies to boldly come out on the side of justice in a country that prides itself on equality. This maneuvering is a convenient meeting of professional and political interest, but it is clearly not a serious, concerted, company-wide stance on morally acceptable behavior. It is equally convenient for these companies to ignore human rights in countries where they can hire cheap labor and rest assured that Americans won’t care.

Don’t Buy In

Megan Garber, a staff writer at The Atlantic, described this trend of companies using their physical packaging to make political statements, as “the notion that cardboard can be a canvas for cultural conversation.”

Since when do we rely on companies to ignite cultural conversation? Are we really naïve enough to trust businesses to operate for something other than money? Is all of our moral outrage just an excuse to remove any personal responsibility for our actions so we can pass blame to faceless, inhuman corporations?

The message of this cup is vague and amorphous. What is concrete and tangible are the injustices of companies like Starbucks when they use coercive labor both at home and abroad. Nice packaging or vocal support is meaningless when the bottom line of these companies relies on exploitation.

We should know and live this: where we spend our money counts. We should not depend on or expect corporations to be our proxies in fights for justice. They are on the side of profit, not the side of people.

If a company attempts to portray itself as an advocate for social good we should hold them to this standard by caring about the ethics behind the products they sell, not the press releases or political statements of a CEO.

This Starbucks cup is nowhere close to meeting this standard. What it is, is a brilliant publicity maneuver disguised as a cry for unity. Don’t buy it.

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On Going to Church and Falling in the Mud

When I was a kid I fought valiantly for the attention of the adults I knew from Big Church by telling stories. My goal was two pronged: make them laugh and, in doing so, make them love me. I trailed adults around the sanctuary or took food from their plates at Bible study and then forced them to listen to my jokes.  The only problem was I had no grasp of the basic concepts of humor and none of my stories were funny.

To combat this I developed a simple—yet stunningly effective—strategy. Every story or comment I made ended with a punch line that, to my childish mind, was impossibly funny.

“And then…they fell in the mud!”

It worked in every context. Whether the story was about something we learned in Sunday School or listing what I’d eaten for lunch, it never failed to get a laugh. At the time, I labeled myself a genius. I now understand the real reason people laughed so hard was because my dedication to the falling in the mud plot line was hysterical and made no sense.

I don’t tell this story very much, which is a shame because my storytelling skills have greatly improved since my mud punchline days. But I don’t like to talk about the key setting for the story—church. Not because I’m embarrassed or have anything to hide, but because I would prefer for people to dislike me because of real flaws in my character, not their preconceptions of the type of people who go to church.

Church in America

It’s no secret that church attendance in America is declining. The number of millenials who do not affiliate with any faith has increased 10 percentage points in less than nine years. Experts have taken to calling these people “nones.”

In my mind I’m the most None there ever was. No particular denominational allegiance, lots of questions about holy texts, a deep longing to reject the business model of institutionalized religion. But unlike the majority of Nones I can’t seem to quit showing up at church every Sunday morning.

There’s no logical reason for this. The rhetoric of this election season, especially over the past few weeks, has made it clear that the most vocal church goers in this country are uninterested in the things that interest me. The rights of women and marginalized groups, caring for neighbors, de-idolizing America, living a moral life etc.

Here is what America sees of church people: that Christians give a lot of lip service about caring for the unborn, but do not care at all for the living (and to be really honest don’t care much about practical solutions for the unborn either). That Christians believe women are weak, incompetent, and unfit to lead while simultaneously being manipulative, dishonest, capable of controlling everyone around them and responsible for any thought or action a man takes toward them. That what Christians care about more than their neighbors is their tax bracket and personal freedom.

This is just a perception, not an entirely accurate picture, but it persists for a reason. Why do I keep aligning myself with the people who perpetuate it?

And Then There’s Me

I could sleep in on Sundays. I could go to brunch. I could read the newspaper and pretend to like crosswords. I could volunteer or do something productive.

Instead I sit in a room filled with people who see the world through a lens that makes sense to them and appears irrevocably distorted to me. I am uncomfortable because a prerequisite of any serious church is uncomfortable seating, but also because of how strange it is to occupy a space that is as familiar to me as my childhood home and as foreign as the moon.

Like many people my age, I am unimpressed and uninspired by theatrical church experiences. I prefer quiet liturgy and well reasoned, if passionless, sermons to the tearful, darkness drenched trendiness of many modern churches. If I wanted to feel less cool and fashionable than everyone around me I would go to Brooklyn not church. But here I am. Drowning in Eurocuts and wedding bands and lots of Bible verse quoting and theologically sketchy worship songs.

I don’t mean to criticize people who go to church. Their presence there makes complete sense—they believe these things and their beliefs require church attendance. I’m the one who is wrong and out of place, who is trying to bend centuries of religious thought and practice to the will of my own mind.

I don’t like calling myself a Christian because the label doesn’t fit and also I don’t want anything to do with the title. But I’m still at church. I go by myself or I go with friends. I sit in the back and take notes and sit down when we sing songs about asking God to lead where “our trust is without borders” while surrounded by people who look likes us in an air conditioned room where we will never feel anything but perfectly comfortable. But I am still there.

I keep going because it reminds me that religion is more than memes on Facebook. Because the people in the pews are as good and kind and broken as anyone else, only they are trying to do something about it.

I keep going because church may be full of liars and organ twisting hypocrisy, but it is also full of grace. I keep going because if you don’t own your heritage it will own you. I keep going to church not to find God, but to find people. Because I have a hunch that God is not up there but in here. Because of the hands reaching up, a physical attempt to claw into God’s presence.

Outside the walls of church, many Christians are very good at shifting the blame for the world’s problems onto others: immigrants, liberals, sinners. Inside though, things feel closer to what I imagine Jesus and Paul envisioned when they talked about friendship. Where else are people admitting permanent brokenness and fault? Where else do people take time each week to look up from the pavement and embrace the sky?

A Long Walk Through the Mud

Several years ago I was in the thick of spiritual questioning and doubtful thinking that all humans experience. At the time, I comforted myself by envisioning this period as a slow sludge through a large sea of mud. It was disheartening and difficult, but I remember telling people how glad I would be it when it was over. I assumed I would come out on the other side with decisions, moral clarity and conviction, and then continue my life with a clear sense of direction.

I no longer make the assumption that there is an end to the mud. Now I think the mud patch isn’t what you trudge through to get to the start of your real adult life. I think the mud is without end and the trudge is life. I assumed there would be an end to the questions and the dirt, but now I think maybe I was a genius when I was a child who thought every good story ended with a gleeful “and then they fell in the mud!”

I keep going to church because we are all stuck in this mud, but here is the only place I’ve found that attempts to find joy in the sludge. My presence in church is a protest and a prayer. It is a dare to myself to look up and out, to laugh at the mud and accept this stained landscape, with all its senseless happenings and tragedies, as a good place for my story to take place.

I go to church. I fall in the mud. We laugh together. It is beginning to make sense.





It’s My Birthday. You Should Celebrate. Here’s Why.

Today—please hold your applause—is my birthday.

Birthdays are a tradition that, like so many made up holidays—shout out to Valentine’s Day and New Year’s—have been constructed into days so spontaneously epic that the real thing almost always disappoints.

As someone with a thirst for both being a victim and being the center of attention, a day that is supposed to be all about me is nothing but a gold mine of expected ecstasy and lived disappointment.

Why celebrate birthdays at all? We don’t do anything to be born. We don’t pick the time or style or to exist at all. If anything, moms should be the ones to celebrate their children’s days of birth, but who can blame them for not wanting to relive the horror of having to force a human out of their body?

Thinking about my birthday this year made me anxious. Last year I was out of town on a work trip and was able to avoid any mention of it until it was almost over. This year I’m in that uncomfortable position of deciding whether I’m willing to demand attention or not.

Celebrations are almost universally loved, but birthdays put people in the strange position of asking that others celebrate their very existence. Personally, I’m all for people celebrating me all day every day, but ideally they would do this without me ever even mentioning it. I want the benefits of the attention without the humiliation of admitting the existence of my ego.

I spent last week wringing my stomach into knots trying to figure out what I wanted to do for my birthday. I tried to make a list for those whose last name obligates them to buy me a present, but could think of hardly anything. I am in the absurdly blessed position of having my needs met.

But I still couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do for the big day. What do you like doing? Suddenly, I had no idea. What had I been doing for fun my whole life? Nothing, apparently.

What I finally came up with was enlightening and elementary, trivial and tremendous. True. I like being alive.

Way back in the day, people began celebrating birthdays because they believed that spirits had special power over people on days of change. To distract these spirits they threw parties for momentous occasions like weddings, birthdays, and funerals. The older I get the heavier my hunch becomes that the real reason for celebrating is much more devastating. Evil does not need a special occasion to hover over you. It is always there. Benign and numbing, but unmistakably present.

I don’t think any special powers are at work today or any seismic shift will happen in my being because the clock of my life is ticking past another number. The world is moving, propelled to expand by the same force that compels me forward in time. Every moment is a birth moment, every day you are older than the day before. Today is the day assigned to me for celebration because it’s the day baby me decided I was done keeping my arms and legs inside the vehicle, but it really belongs to everyone. Today, like every day, everything is being reborn, made new, birthed.

Scientifically speaking, the universe is expanding. One reason why is because if it did not grow, the pressure of gravity would cause it to fold, collapse, and eventually implode. You grow or you die.

I don’t believe in overthinking (trust me, I’ve thought about it a lot), and it’s odd to me that people don’t think about their birthdays and their universal significance more.

You are born. You are not static. You are passing through. You are alive.

This is not what I have thought about during most of my birthday celebrations. Here is a brief tour of birthdays of Alikay’s past:

  1. I dunked my face in the cake at my first birthday party. For the laughs, of course.
  2. In elementary school I was obsessed with being a spy and ran a spy school (sample training method: tie up my little sister and time how long it took her to escape) so I had a spy birthday party. My cake was hidden in the bathtub. It was awesome.
  3. Once I had a costume party and dressed up like a clown. This was a mistake.
  4. For my sixteenth birthday, my parents blacked out all the windows in our house and threw me a blacklight rave. My life has been all downhill from there.
  5. Crying alone because no one in college cared about my birthday as much as my parents did and they weren’t there to celebrate with me
  6. Attending an awards show where no one knew it was my birthday and I didn’t care because I was at an awards show

Today I’m uninterested in doing any of these things. I don’t want to celebrate my entrance into the world or my age. I want to celebrate being (as the great writer Maggie Stiefvater has said and I repeat constantly) so, so alive. I mean this in the grand marvel of human existence, but also in the tangible details of my own life.

Today I will celebrate the way my being lights up like the Christmas lights in our window when I see them lit from across the street, because I know that when I unlock the door my friends will be inside and I will be home. I will celebrate my block, where my friends live and wander back and forth between apartments at leisure. I celebrate the exquisite torture of the Broadway stop always smelling like toasted bagels in the morning. I celebrate the sun coming up over the Queensboro Bridge and the woman singing on the train. I will celebrate that it’s possible to rewire your brain in six weeks. The flowers on my desk, the towers in the sky, the fact of oxygen.

I will celebrate with cookie dough bites because the best lesson my mom ever taught me was that when life gives you salmonella from eating raw cookie dough you should find a recipe for cookie dough that doesn’t involve raw eggs.

I will ruminate on the words of Walt Whitman:

That you are here—that life exists, and identity;

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

And I will think about my verse.

There will not be cake because does anyone actually enjoy the taste of cake? Didn’t think so. But I did just learn how to use matches last week so I’ll probably blow out some candles.

In ancient times, when people blew out candles, they believed that the smoke would carry their prayers straight to the gods. It’s why they began using candles on birthday cakes, because you were supposed to have more access to the spirit world on the day of your birth, and so your wish had a higher chance of being granted.

I will blow my candle out the window onto the busy street, and let my wishes linger over the people walking below.

May you genuinely feel the magnitude of your own existence. I hope the journey is easy and the train is waiting for you on the platform, but if it isn’t, I hope you have the guts to chase it down. May you have the courage to look your neighbor in the eye abd the kindness to live with open hands instead of clenched fists.

Unlike newly crowned Noble prize winner Bob Dylan though, I do not hope you stay forever young. I hope you, like the universe, do not stay anything. May you be rebirthed and remade and undone and understood.

So. Happy birthday to me. But more importantly, happy birthday to you, and happy birthday to the world.

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How Should I Decide How to Vote?

In one month Americans will vote for a new president. Some people have known who will get their vote for months. Others are still on the fence. Some are on a different kind of fence, waiting to see if they need to move to Canada or not.

Elections the primary proof humanity has that playing hard to get is the quickest path to power. It’s the undecided, Ambivalents, and independents who the candidates must sway to win. The most indecisive politically are those who carry the heaviest weight of this decision.

People on all sides of the political spectrum are casting this election as do or die. They are essentially making the same argument: if you do not vote for who I tell you to, America will cease to exist. Since all sides are saying it, clearly how people define the end of America is up for interpretation.

I’ve been nerding out about politics for months, but as someone who struggles to form strong opinions about most things that aren’t Taco Bell, I haven’t thought much about who I will vote for. Probably because I’m less concerned with the who then the why. What are the factors people weigh when they are choosing between candidates? If they think both are bad, how do they decide?

In 2004, Robert Sylwester, an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, asked these questions in a piece for Brain Connection. He makes crucial distinctions between two types of decision making:

  1. Veridical decision – Sylwester defines this as knowing and reporting the correct answer to a factual problem that has a single correct answer
  2. Adaptive decisions – developing and enacting a choice among several legitimate responses to a problem

Clearly, voting is an adaptive decision, but, as Sylwester points out, journalists, writers, entertainers, advertisers, and political parties are all “seek[ing] to convince voters that it’s a veridical decision.” This is the Fire & Brimstone version of voting and ignores the real and rational compromises everyone must make when they vote.

Jon A. Krosnick, a Professor Psychology and Political Science at Ohio State University, argues there are three ways of looking at the question of who to vote for:

“Should you choose someone who shares your preferences, has expertise, or has a small track record of success in the past?”

These are good measuring sticks, but don’t offer a comprehensive look at a candidate (and the political party they represent) as a whole.

The first step in choosing who to vote for if you are Ambivalent is to decide how to decide.

Here are some of the options I’m considering when thinking through what should influence my vote:


This is probably what most of us were taught growing up and how we envisioned democracy working: you vote in accordance with sincerely held beliefs about what’s best for the country.

Pros: voting based on ideas can remove superficial barriers such as appearance or social media prowess from unduly influencing decision making.

Cons: it’s nearly impossible for one person (or one party) to exactly embody your political philosophy so you still have to weigh what ideas are most important to you.

Party Allegiance

A lot of people have strong opinions and longstanding relationships with their political party (pro tip: you can tell someone’s political allegiance by the violence of their shudder when saying either Conservative or Liberal out loud).

Pros: groups people together so you have a better chance of actually winning. Also, (bonus!) there are literal parties to celebrate political parties.

Cons: again, it’s nearly impossible for a party to represent your individual views and parties have to make strategic decisions that may compromise ideology in order to win

Personal Allegiance

Some people love a particular person and would vote for them no matter what.

(Example: if Queen Elizabeth ever ran for anything I would vote for her because she’s undeniably fabulous and also because at this point it seems likely that she will live forever.)

Pros: individuals can be more consistent than parties because they aren’t beholden to so many members. Can also operate more efficiently.

Cons: people are fickle and can change and are often controlled by institutions.


You might choose to vote for someone in order to vote against someone else. This is known to most as “choosing the lesser of two evils.” So maybe you don’t want pantsuits in office, but, more importantly, you really really don’t want spray tans to be legitimized. When you vote, it’s less a vote for pant suits and more of a vote against spray tans.

Pros: its realistic in that you don’t expect more than you should from the candidate you vote for.

Cons: not a comprehensive way to choose a leader and requires less critical assessment of the person you actually vote for.


Maybe you don’t like a candidate’s personality or past decisions, but support the platform they propose during their candidacy.

Pros: based on tangible proposals and takes into account a wide range of issues.

Cons: doesn’t take into account how likely a policy is to be enacted if a candidate is elected.

Now what?

There’s no perfect or unbiased approach to voting, but it’s worth thinking critically about why we vote the way we do, and how our socioeconomic backgrounds, ancestral morals, and personalities influence the way we view the world.

Every motivation is flawed, but the one that appears best to me is to vote based on an outcome.

Let me explain.

Voting for ideas is great, but ideas are just that: ideas. Not reality, not law, not policy. Voting for an outcome takes into account ideas, as well as personality and policy, and considers them from the perspective of action. As in: what will actually happen if this person is elected? What will they do? What will the outcome be?

Sometimes this might be counterintuitive. Say for instance I supported free higher education. This would not be an automatic reason to vote for Bernie Sanders. A better factor to consider than his vocal support of free higher education is the likelihood that his proposals would ever happen.

Or take another example. If you consider yourself “pro-life” (I’ve written before about how fraught the terminology in the abortion debate is) it’s worth considering if voting for a pro-life candidate will actually do anything about abortion. There’s some evidence indicating that abortion rates go down under pro-choice politicians. Even if you disagree with their rhetorical stance, you could support the outcome they will achieve.

I’m going to vote based on outcomes because I think enacted policy is more important than proposed policy and reality is more substantial than ideas. Because idealism is a luxury and it’s comfortable to frame a decision as the lesser of two evils instead of taking responsibility for the political outcomes we promote. Now I just have to figure out what outcomes are worth voting for.

Got ideas about why I’m wrong or a voting motivation I missed? Let me know in the comments!

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Here Are 4 Easy Ways You Can Stop Celebrity Domestic Abusers

Yesterday, I wrote about a few of the many, many male celebrities who are guilty of domestic abuse and other violent acts. I first became interested in this subject matter because I found it absurd. How did these men not just make it through these crimes with almost no repercussions, but continue to have huge careers for years afterward? How did they still make money? Why weren’t more people angry? Where was justice?


The more I thought about it the more I realized my own complicity in the system. Kovie Biakolo, writing for Thought Catolog, puts it best:


“The truth is if the majority of the public wanted something better from our celebrity culture, we would have it, so if we’re going to claim that celebrities owe a certain responsibility to the public, it would do you and I some good to first take a long, hard look in the mirror; to ensure that we are not part of the problem.”


I have taken this long, hard look in the mirror, decided I no longer want anything to do with this system, and now I’m looking for ways to actively remove myself from it.


A few quick caveats before diving in:


  • The point of these actions is not to suggest that we should attempt to control public figures by expecting that their morals and beliefs completely align with our own. Freezing out a celebrity because they are voting for someone else for president, said something stupid, or claim a different religion or belief system seems pointless. Extending this line of logic would mean cutting off all human relationships because no person’s beliefs line up exactly with another person’s. However, it’s not unreasonable to hold public figures, especially celebrities whose work is not for the public good, accountable. In cases of documented offenses universally considered wrong, we should not allow the elevation or idolization of these figures to continue.
  • Believing that I, personally, should not financially support these men does not mean that they are evil human beings who do not deserve to live have any income. It means they should not be held up as icons in our culture. There’s a difference between celebrity accountability and celebrity shaming. This is accountability.




I’m not interested in critical writing (or thought, for that matter) that leads to lots of intellectual wandering and no action. Just because justice appears impossible, does not mean we do not bear personal responsibility to pursue it. (More on that in the coming weeks.)


With all of this in mind, here are four ways you can challenge the system that allows male abusers to go unpunished.


1. Don’t purchase their products


It’s obvious, but shouldn’t be overlooked. Don’t reward entertainers who beat up women by buying their albums, concert tickets, or movies. Removing this direct line of financial support is the easiest way you can hold them accountable.

2. Let corporations know you disapprove


The entertainment industry is just that. An industry. Until companies are convinced that violent abuse perpetuated by their employees will affect their brand’s financial viability they will not act. Don’t think Fox should headline their biggest show with a documented abuser? Tell them.


(It might sound hypocritical for someone who just last week wrote about the shallowness of trendy social media justice attempts to advocate for using these tactics, but changing the standard for celebrities is a different task than tackling the problem of global poverty.)

3. Abstain from celebrity culture



The reason celebrities yield the power they do in our economy is not because of their artistic talents but because they sell products by selling themselves. When you follow a celebrity on social media, buy a magazine with their face on the cover or a product they’re a spokesperson for, or even just click through on articles about them, you make them a profitable person for companies to work with. This is the reason there are no celebrity names mentioned in this post.


4. Don’t make celebrities role models in the first place


When I put this question out on Twitter, the most common response was to question the moral authority of celebrities in the first place (something I’ve written about before here):




This is probably the hardest, and most important, thing you can do. Hard because our culture has allowed celebrities to cast themselves as humanitarians and activists, and important because if they don’t have this role we can focus on bigger issues and worthier people. Our moral guidance shouldn’t come from Hollywood, but from ideas that have weathered history, people who have devoted their life to service, and our own constantly re-examined perspectives.

We should not expect celebrities to be role models, but we should expect them to pay the price for their crimes.


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Why Do You Support Abusive Male Celebrities?

Last week the world was rocked. Partially because of explosions in New York City and ongoing horrors in Syria and other places around the world, but mainly because Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie announced they are getting a divorce.

Brangelina’s demise beat the discovery that Donald Trump settled legal disputes for his for-profit businesses using $250,000 in funds from his charity as the most important news topic of the day. It also detracted from President Obama’s speech at the United Nations.

The divorce saga culminated in a possible FBI investigation into Pitt for potential child abuse. Though authorities say they will likely not pursue the charges, people were shocked and outraged.

Given the long list of celebrities who have retained their wealth and fame after committing horrible crimes, it is unclear why anyone would be surprised.

We Need to Talk About Chris Brown

In 2009, singer Chris Brown attacked his then-girlfriend Rihanna until, in her own words, she was “battered” and “bleeding.” This is actually an understatement. Brown choked her until she nearly passed out, threatened to kill her then bit her and beat her until her mouth was full of blood. He was convicted of a felony and spent five years on probation.

Three years later he performed at the Grammys and won the award for Best R&B album. Earlier this year he was arrested for assault after a woman called the police claiming Brown pointed a gun at her. Investigation into the incident led to a stand off with police that lasted hours.

Brown isn’t alone. The list of famous men in the entertainment industry who have committed incredibly violent acts with little to no repercussions is depressingly long.

A Brief Primer On Hollywood’s Leading Abusers

Terrence Howard, the star of Fox hit show, Empire, has been repeatedly accused of assaulting women. He admitted to hitting his first wife (“even slapping her was wrong”), and his second wife accused him of beating her as well. He reportedly makes $125,00 per episode and the showrunner, Lee Daniels, has defended him.

Woody Allen’s daughter has repeatedly accused him of molesting her. His latest movie Café Society has made 20.7 million so far at the box office in 2016.

Sean Penn once dangled a photographer over a balcony and allegedly beat Madonna with a baseball bat. He is usually described as an activist and humanitarian.

Mike Tyson is a convicted rapist. Sean Connery— has said “it’s not the worst thing to slap a woman now and then” and “I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong in hitting a woman.” Johnny Depp reached a settlement in charges of abuse from his wife Amber Heard. She submitted photos documenting the abuse as part of her case.

Dr. Dre attacked journalist Dee Barnes in a bathroom. Charlie Sheen shot his fiancé in the arm.

And Marky Mark (people who call him Mark Wahlberg are only fooling themselves), was convicted of assault in 1988 for beating a man to the point of making him blind in one eye. It was racially motivated. Also, he asked to be pardoned in 2014.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Who’s to blame?

Most careers only require minimal morality. The kind that applies only to how well you perform your professional responsibilities and can be checked at the door when you leave work.

Celebrities are necessarily different because they have sold their lives—their personalities, morals, and choices—as the product. A celebrity is less a person and more of a business idea. If you are a successful celebrity it means millions of people implicitly approve, and in many cases, idolize, your lifestyle.

“When we don’t hold these men accountable, when we prop them up on pedestals with awards and accolades and lots of money, we’re saying that this is OK,” writes Zeba Blay, in a piece for The Huffington Post.

“Terrible crimes don’t automatically negate an artist or celebrity’s contribution to society—but rape, sex crimes, and brutalizing women are not hobbies that audiences should tolerate,” Asawin Suebsaeng wrote for The Daily Beast. “It’s the sort of behavior that is now unacceptable in virtually all other forms of business. Surely, Hollywood should not be exempt from such a standard.”

Suebsaeng isn’t wrong. Hollywood shouldn’t be exempt from the standard. But he wrote this piece in 2014 and nothing is different.

Numerous other essays and opinion pieces have been published, including Aly Neel’s much lauded “No More Free Passes for Famous Men Who Abuse Women” for The Washington Post in 2013 with no discernible changes.

But the free passes have not expired. Nothing has changed, including the fact that, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence 10 million men and women will be the victims of abuse by an intimate partner this year.

Expect More

Why write on this topic when so many have already called out the ridiculous leeway granted to male entertainers? Precisely because none of the “calling out” has worked.

The economy of celebrity relies on our eyes and wallets. This means the person to blame for Chris Brown’s continued popularity is not the Grammy’s or media. It’s me. These men are still famous, wealthy, and receiving free passes because we allow them to.

If we believe that physical abuse is wrong and not to be tolerated, then it is time to stop expecting more from Hollywood and start expecting more from ourselves.

Come back tomorrow for a more detailed breakdown of what you can do to abstain from supporting violent, male celebrities.

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What’s the Problem with Trendy Social Justice?

On September 24, thousands of people will gather in Central Park to fight poverty. Their weapon of choice is unusual. They will not protest, do volunteer work, or donate money. They will attend a free concert.

What is the Global Citizens Festival?

The concert is called the Global Citizens Festival and it’s been the staple event of The Global Poverty Project since 2012.

People can attend the show for free by earning “points” through completing various tasks like tweeting at a government official or getting friends to download the Global Citizen app. This year Kendrick Lamar and Rihanna are headlining and Hugh Jackman, Neil Patrick Harris, and a bunch of other famous people are making guest appearances.

There’s plenty of things to be depressed about in the world, but one thing to get excited about is how hungry young people are for social justice. Those with wealth and opportunities are interested in figuring out how to make sure other people also have wealth and opportunities. Not everyone and not perfectly, but the desire is there.

The unwritten goal of the Festival is to make social justice and political activism cool by leveraging the popularity of music festivals, social media, and star power. It’s a work of pure marketing genius.

What does the Global Citizens Festival Actually Do?

Most of the actions people have to take to get free tickets to the festival can be completed in less than five minutes. Download the Festival’s app and with one click of a button you can send out pre-scripted tweets. You can also get points for using a specific hashtag on an Instagram post or convincing friends to become Global Citizens (apparently all one has to do to become a global citizen is download the app).

The Festival is advertised as a way to help “solve the world’s biggest challenges.” More specifically, the organization’s goal is to end world poverty by 2030.

It’s a noble goal, but as you might be aware, it’s not actually theirs. It’s ripped from the Sustainable Development Goals, a list of goals the United Nations is working to accomplish by 2030. Number one on the list is No Poverty.

Obviously, the United Nations could use all the help it can get and mobilizing millions of people in unified pursuit of these goals would be helpful. Does one night of celebrity entertainment with the occasional political call for action help spur this action?

Christina Nuñez, an Editor for Global Citizen, claims the Festival is effective because “global citizens are empowered to hold leaders accountable to the commitments made on stage.”

But Benjamin Cohen and Elliott Ross, writing for The Nation, say most of the politicians who appear at the event have already made commitments to these causes. They claim the festival is a great way to give these politicians publicity for commitments they have already made.

“From the perspective of the world’s poor,” write Cohen and Ross, “the Global Citizen Festival looks less like a strategic intervention on their behalf and more like a demonstration of young Americans’ support for a doomed agenda for global ‘development,’ one that serves the interests of the rich and powerful first and foremost.”

Making Social Justice Trendy

The Global Poverty Project’s biggest success is figuring out how to make social justice trendy. It’s a big accomplishment to get thousands of people to gather on behalf of ending world poverty and the Global Citizens Festival does it. The problem is that the Festival then becomes a celebration instead of a call to action. It mobilizes people to show up, then instead of working on ways to actually end poverty, it pats them on the back if they’ve accomplished something.

Nothing is Free

It’s also worth noting that the artists who appear and perform at this event benefit enormously, both financially and personally. The performers don’t play for free. Word on the street is Beyonce was paid $80,000 to headline the concert last year. Let that sink in. An organization attempting to eradicate world poverty paid a performer $80,000 for a few hours of their time.

Who’s Benefiting?

Three groups of people benefit from this type of event. Celebrities (who need all the good publicity they can get to justify their extravagant existences), politicians, and normal people like you and me, who want to feel good about ourselves. None of this is inherently bad, but let’s stop lying to ourselves by pretending it’s about helping other people.

The Cost and The Impact

The concert may be free for those who attend, but it’s enormously expensive to put on.

Roger Friedman points out that $7.1 million of the organization’s overhead went to putting on the concert in 2014. Only about $100,000 of the $10.5 million the group claimed in revenue for the year went to any tangible poverty event.

The only reason this extravagant number would be justifiable is if the positive outcomes from the concert add up to the more than $7 million they invest in it.

But the Global Citizens Festival doesn’t raise any money, and even if it did, money raised from charity concerts is often enormously difficult to access and use effectively.

“True, this festival will not change the world,” wrote Michael Sheldrick, the head of policy and advocacy Global Citizen, for The Guardian in 2013. “To claim otherwise would demonstrate breathtaking naivety and arrogance. But a festival like this can serve as a catalyst to help build a genuine movement, and as a worldwide stage – broadcasted to millions – from which we can call on leaders to keep their promises to the world’s poor.”

Since the Festival doesn’t raise money this catalyst is the key to its existence, but there’s no proof that those who attend the concert are committed to holding leaders accountable in the long term.

The Festival’s impact report from 2013 is packed with huge numbers, but few are related to any tangible change.

They aren’t listing how their work impacted the lives of those who live in poverty or the amount of money they’ve raised. It’s all about awareness, which they’ve chosen to measure through online impressions and social media reach. The success of their business rests on the massive assumptions that social media activity translates to “action” for social justice.

We Can do Better

Given the audacity of the claims the Global Poverty Project makes about their work, it’s frustrating how few people have criticized their model and impact. It’s taboo to criticize nonprofit work or people who are attempting to do some good in the world, but criticism isn’t a sign of hate or disdain, it’s an acknowledgement that the goal of the Global Poverty Project is important, and they don’t need to be coddled in their pursuit of it.

Events like the Global Citizens Festival strengthen an illusion that the world’s biggest problems can be fixed in one night with a hashtag. It encourages people to shirk personal responsibility for the millions of ways their lifestyle choices harm others. Then it rewards them for minimal action with a night of entertainment.

In essence, what the Global Citizens Festival has done is not “solve the world’s biggest challenges” but created a fun way for privileged people to assuage their guilt.

“The gulf between equality and the semblance of equality remains whilst companies profit from simplified, bite-size chunks of liberalism, “ writes Joanna Taylor. “It puts social justice in danger of becoming irrevocably middle-class—a brand that the working-classes can’t afford and have little interest in, because it never seems to address their concerns.”

Face Facts

The truth is social change requires much more from us as individuals than rebranding things we already do for our personal amusement as things that are good for the world. If you feel guilty for having a lot for rights you haven’t earned or shared it’s going to take much more than a concert to change that. You will have to reimagine your life bit by bit.

You know what would actually help solve the world’s biggest challenges? Working for changes that don’t rely on the cult of celebrity for people to care about them. Ending the entitled expectation that service should be easy, fun and only take a day. Supporting the people already doing the unglamorous work of changing the world and aren’t paid $80,000 for hours of their time.

The Global Citizens Festival dresses up consumerism and mindless entertainment and parades them as forces for good. It’s not social justice, it’s just a social activity. Let’s call it what it is.

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