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A Beer Boycott Too Far?

Yuengling

Amanda Kerri wonders if the boycott over Trump-supporting Yuengling beer is selective outrage.

I'm all for being socially aware and following your conscience; it's generally a good policy. At least when being socially aware means you're open-minded and your conscience tells you to do things I agree with. What? You think everyone's Jiminy Cricket tells them not to do bad things? Hell, if you go back and watch Pinocchio, Jiminy was actually kind of bad at his job. He did get the kid eaten by a whale. Still, following your moral compass is generally a good thing and works out in your favor. Sometimes, though, it can take you off course, and if you don't look up from it, you still end up lost.

Last week, Donald Trump's son Eric, the one who looks like an early prototype for a Nazi cloning experiment, took a tour of the Yuengling (pronounced "ying-ling," proceed with the jokes) brewery, where the owner and Eric exchanged commendations all over each other. Eric praised the independent brewery and offered assurances his father would make it easier for businesses in America. Yuengling officials replied that they were behind his father and they needed him. What? This resulted in an immediate backlash among many LGBTQ people. Calls for boycotts against the beer spread quickly, and some bar owners went so far as to quit carrying the brand.

Cool; go for it, folks. Like I said, I'm fully on board with acting on your conscience and values, and this is one of those cases where boycotting a brand that stands at odds with your values makes total sense.

Except...

The one thing that has always bothered me about boycotts, protests, demonstrations, petitions, etc., is how they often seem to reflect less a moral stance for righteousness but more one of having a particular value offended. For example, one of the most noted protests against Yuengling came from Brian Sims, the first openly gay state legislator in Pennsylvania (where Yuengling is based). Now, nothing is particularly wrong with announcing his protest on Facebook, but a few of the reasons he cites for his protest seem at odds with Facebook. He mentions not only the LGBT community, but also "black and brown members of my community" as being harmed by Trump and his supporters. That's all well and good, but didn't we just learn that Facebook was just caught in a potential Fair Housing Act violation? The FHA bans discrimination in housing and even advertising for housing (which was what Donald Trump was sued for back in the 1970s). Oops.

Yeah, it's kind of a stretch for criticism of Sims, and he might not have even known about this latest problem with Facebook, so he really gets a pass on this. I just brought it up because it serves as an example of how we selectively choose what is that final straw for us. One thing about Yeungling is that it has a history of union-busting, or preventing workers from organizing into unions through intimidation. Despite a sad history between people of color and unions, people of are the most likely to benefit from union membership, economically. While Yeungling was preventing its workers from unionizing, Sims indicates in his post that he was a fan of its beer. Again, this is no criticism of Sims himself; he just gets to be the punching bag this go-round. I promise to send him a cookie cake to make up for it.

But look, think about all the times that you suddenly decided that you were going to protest, boycott, or ban something because it crossed that line for you. For many, it was when Yeungling expressed support of a candidate who isn't LGBT-friendly (though he falsely claims to be). They ignored the other problems with labor relations and their relationship to race. Now, many were simply ignorant of that fact, or unionizing wasn't something they supported. However, for many, those were things they supported and knew about, and it didn't stop them until that red line was crossed. And that's how it goes.

If you honestly boycotted everything that was problematic for whatever reason, you would probably be wandering the woods hunting and gathering to support your commune. Life is full of moral compromises. I'm sure that many of you would adamantly refuse to do business with a company that discriminates against LGBT people, but you still use fossil fuels. Out of the 142 oil and gas companies tracked by the Human Rights Campaign (an organization LGBT people both support and boycott depending on how they feel), only 17 have a score of 50 (out of 100) or better. This means that you have given money to a company that discriminates against LGBT people every time you get in a vehicle of some kind, heated your home, used most things made of plastic, taken some pharmaceuticals, and even applied cosmetics. How dare you!

I'm sure you oppose the exploitation of women and are on your way to a rally right now, but check your clothing label. If it says Bangladesh, Pakistan, or the like, congrats on supporting slave labor. You oppose the prison-industrial complex? Oh, buddy, everybody from the Department of Defense to Starbucks and Whole Foods has used prison labor to make products. That Sprint customer service rep might be a prisoner of the system as well as a call center worker (lawyers can now make their double-jeopardy jokes). Pretty much everything you eat has been the product of those evil folks at Monsanto. The computer I'm writing this and you're reading this on? Oh, where to begin -- plastics, strip-mined heavy metals, Chinese sweatshop-manufactured, precious metals fought over in Third World countries. Technology is a cornucopia of problematic.

In fact, everything you consume exploits, marginalizes, offends, oppresses, pollutes, poisons, or destroys something somewhere. Everything is problematic. I sometimes sing to myself the "Everything Is Awesome" song but change the words to "Everything's a Problem." What's so amusing about this, though, is that you already knew all of this. Barring that you have been raised in a lab isolated from the world, you've watched a documentary or, at the minimum, shared a Facebook meme about it at some point in your life. They're just not problems for you right now. When they finally cross that moral threshold, though, then we have a problem. Well, you have a problem; everyone else is cool. That's why I don't begrudge people when they start a boycott against something like a beer company; all that happened is they crossed that one particular line. I do have a problem when people signal about it like a fireworks display during the Super Bowl -- because they're still supporting someone, somewhere that is doing something awful, they're just not offended by it. It's that moral event horizon each one of us has that's different.

We forget that sometimes; that people have different values and different moralities. That some things offend some and don't offend others. It doesn't make them evil or uncaring, just different, really. That's why I'm here. To remind you of these things. Like a think piece-writing Jiminy Cricket. And just like Jiminy, sometimes I screw up and get people eaten by whales.

AMANDA KERRI is a writer and comedian based in Oklahoma City. Follow her on Twitter @EternalKerri.

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