The Cotton Boll: Outrage culture or legitimate grievance?

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Whatever the reverse of being woke is, our country is infested with it. The minute one person takes issue with something, the entire internet comes down on them in a torrent of scorn and mockery. The pendulum swings both ways simultaneously on “political correctness”, and we all get filet in the downswing.

Take for example the cotton plant decorations used at a dinner party for black students of Lipscomb University last weekend. The university president invited several black students to his home to discuss their experience at the university over a nice meal. However, the way the students saw it, they were talked to more than listened to, ate stereotypical “black food”, including collard greens and cornbread, and the tables were decorated with dried cotton plants.

So I attend Lipscomb university and as most of you know that is a predominately white school. Tonight AFRICAN AMERICAN students were invited to have dinner with the president of the school. As we arrived to the president’s home and proceeded to go in we seen cotton as the center pieces. We also stood and ate dinner, there were no seats to sit in and it felt very uncomfortable. We were very offended, and also the meals that were provided resembled many “black meals” they had mac n cheese, collard greens, corn bread etc. The night before Latinos also had dinner at his house and they had tacos. They also DIDN’T have the center piece that we HAD tonight. A couple of minutes went by, the president was coming around and asking for our names and what our major was. He finally got to our table and my friend @kay_cyann asked why there was cotton on the table as the center piece. His response was that he didn’t know, he seen it before we did, he kind of thought it was ” fallish”, THEN he said ” it ISNT INHERENTLY BAD IF WERE ALL WEARING IT ” then walked off. Later on all of us that were there were invited into the home, and we had the impression that we were coming to speak about how us as Black people feel about Lipscomb. The whole entire time we were in their home they only talked about themselves( how they met, got married and ended up at lipscomb) & the ONLY question that we were asked was our transformation coming to lipscomb. A couple of women answered the question but they sugar coated it. They said any other questions that we may have can be emailed to the advocate for the Latinos and that a second meeting may be held. Also we don’t have an advocate on campus, the only African American advocate we had, no longer works here. The only advocate available to us is the advocate for the Latinos. They claim to have funding for minorities, BUT you have to live up to the expectations of a typical Black family to even get the 1000$.There is NO FUNDING for just us black students. #share

A post shared by Nakayla🦋🌻🥀 (@nakaylayvonne) on

 

Another person on the other side of the Mississippi happened to see and take offense with the same decor on the same day, but this time in a store.

The Kansas City Star looks at these two isolated social media posts asks, “Is cotton racist?“, to which many internet trolls and unthinking conservatives have dramatically thrown their hands up and agreed. “Well, I guess I have to throw out all my clothes now. Wouldn’t want to offend anyone.”

The question and ubiquitous overreaction miss the point entirely. No, cotton is not racist. But as the primary crop harvested by black slaves for more than 100 years of our country’s history, it is a symbol of the evil of slavery. As a conscious person, especially the president of an institution of higher learning, you might be aware of that. And you might realize when decorating your house for a visit by a group of black students that it might be a tad gauche.

And yet, no one is banning cotton decorations. Stores will still sell it, and reactionary trolls will now buy it by the bushel. You can still decorate your house with it. All anyone asks is that you engage your brain once in a while, and consider that new and different problems might require different solutions.

It was right for the Lipscomb administrator to apologize for his insensitivity. He specifically invited people into his home and didn’t consider their reaction to what they would find there.

But retail requires no such specific accommodation. If customers find a product in a store offensive, even justly so, they can simply shop elsewhere. While stores might have a PR goal of not offending their customers, they can’t possibly ensure that for everyone all the time. Customers are, however, also well within their right to publicize their offense and even call for and organize a boycott. This is how the free market works.

Your feeling of annoyance at someone else being offended is not worth more than their own. And you don’t get to decide for anyone else how they should feel, even about an inanimate decoration.

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