‘Perilous Whiteness of Pumpkins’ Study Deems Pumpkin Spice Lattes ‘White Privilege’

According to a study from a University of British Columbia scholar, pumpkins aren’t just vegetables, they’re a racial issue, and pumpkin spice lattes are an example of white privilege.

In a study titled “The Perilous Whiteness of Pumpkins” — yes, that’s seriously what it’s called — Lisa Jordan Powell “examines the symbolic whiteness associated with pumpkins in the contemporary United States.”

In the study, Powell discusses pumpkins through the lens of racism using a few different examples . . . including an entire section devoted to the problematic-ness of pumpkin spice lattes.

“Although the PSL was celebrated as a company and cultural success in 2013, one year later it was firmly hitched to discussions of white female identity and consumerism as both a dismissive, racially coded slur and a rallying counterpoint,” Powell writes.

Powell explains that the PSL craze led to people calling the white women who enjoyed them “basic” which led to these so-called “basic” women writing “editorials about their right to ‘like what they like’ and not be ridiculed,” while “African American uses of the term and of its analysis fell further out of the conversation.”

But why did PSLs become the symbol of basic white girlness? Why did they stick even more than UGGs, yoga pants, or scented candles? The context and composition of the PSL might be revealing. Prior to fall 2015, PSLs did not actually contain pumpkin. Luxury items, they cost far more than plain cups of coffee, yet do not provide tangible extra nutrition other than that in milk.

PSLs are one step further from actual pumpkins. Their fluffiness, lack of substance, and triviality, regardless of attempts to dismiss them as “basic,” make them ultimate luxuries and hence markers of distinction and white privilege.

So, basically (no pun intended) Powell is saying that that PSLs are a “white” thing because they are a “luxury” item, and white people enjoying a “luxury” item is due to their “white privilege.”

Although Powell does call out Starbucks specifically in this study (which, as Heat Street’s Lukas Mikelionis points out, has got to be a huge bummer for the chain’s uber-progressive founder), she also discusses the social problems surrounding coffee shops in general.

“Starbucks PSLs are products of coffee shop culture, with its gendered and racial codes,” she writes.

“European historians . . . find coffee shop culture’s roots in the British Empire of the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries,” she explains. “Deeply masculine spaces, coffee shops witnessed political debates, rebellion planning, and religious foment.”

#related#Oddly enough, this is far from the first time that I’ve seen pumpkin spice lattes and sexism connected in a piece of writing. Last fall, a student at Swarthmore College wrote a piece about how hating pumpkin spice lattes is sexist, because that’s really saying that everything that girls like is dumb and “girls don’t get to have valid emotions.”

Seems like there is a lot of controversy surrounding this coffee. If you’re white and like to drink them, you have to acknowledge your problematic privilege with every sip. And if you don’t like to drink them, then you have to worry about being labeled sexist. Sounds like a lot of trouble. Thankfully — white girl or not — I like to drink my own coffee black, with nothing in it, for functional purposes, the way that God intended.


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