THE BLOG
12/15/2014 08:31 am ET Updated Feb 14, 2015

Privilege Wearing a Beer-Soaked Santa Hat

Buena Vista Images via Getty Images

Saturdays was one of the most momentous days of the year. Thousands of New Yorkers took to the streets to rally behind a cause bigger than themselves. They dressed in attire symbolic of the occasion, marching through downtown Manhattan with boundless fervor, united in the name of community and happiness for all. And boy did they make their voices heard, all in spite of a police force patrolling their spirit and ignoring their agenda. Ah yes, SantaCon 2014 was truly special.

I'm kidding, of course. SantaCon -- a daylong bar crawl for 20-somethings in Santa suits -- happened to be held alongside Millions March NYC -- a civil rights demonstration created to spur action in response to the recent killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and other Black men at the hands of white police officers. But what SantaCon offered in discounted beer and sloppy hook-ups it represented in a disturbing display of white privilege, amplified by its stark juxtaposition with a "day of anger" setting out to protest exactly that.

Beginning at Washington Square Park and working its way through downtown Manhattan, Millions March NYC brought together 50,000 New Yorkers to demand a paradigm shift in police conduct toward Black Americans. After a seemingly endless series of fatal shootings of young Black men -- on top of countless injustices facing the Black community at large -- Americans of all races united in dissent toward a system riddled with racial bias. They joined other concurrent protests in cities throughout the country, featuring signs reading "I Can't Breathe" and "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" and quickly building one of the largest and most important social movements in recent history.

But that couldn't stop SantaCon 2014 and its parade of white superiority. While its organizers did scale back their plans in advance of the protest, the party still raged on. Former fraternity guys and sorority girls poured in and out of bars, beer often in hand, blind to the privilege they spilled all over the street, yielding puddles of social protection (in which I, admittedly, have too often stepped). Some urinated in public. Others vomited and passed out. The lucky ones got a kiss in a sea of Santas, their frosted hats drowning in the cacophony of red and white -- white, of course, being the most operative color, seeing as nearly all SantaCon participants conveniently wore a biological layer of white below their costumes. How else could a group of intoxicated young people gallivant around the city with little to no resistance from authorities despite obvious displays of disorderly conduct?

(Could you imagine the result of a SantaCon composed of people of color? The white version is treated like a merry gathering of friends celebrating the holiday season. The Black version would be a riot and grounds for arrest.)

So leave it to the twisted will of irony to create a day when SantaCon, in all its white glory, clashes with a march for racial justice. As fate would have it, the two collided around 2:00pm, when Millions March NYC kicked off moving north on 5th Avenue. As protesters chanted about struggle, injustice, freedom, double standards, corruption and a tilted system that sadly hadn't failed because it was never built to protect the Black community in the first place, SantaConners pushed through the crowd on their way to the next bar, most too clueless to recognize the irony. Suddenly the red and white was subsumed by a more powerful cacophony of colors, this one diverse, dynamic, visibly loud.

But the SantaConners persevered. They fought through that protest in pursuit of beer number 14, no doubt unaware of the amendment bearing the equivalent figure. And those who couldn't face the crowd directly avoided it completely, preserving their cheery mood by ignoring the sobering realities that would no doubt kill their buzz. In many ways, this attitude (summed up well in this tweet) was the emblem of what the Millions March movement was about: white privilege -- brandishing a Santa hat -- weaving its way through society oblivious to its inherited status, emerging intact, inexorable, inebriated.

While the majority of social and political issues have two or more sides, there are some that do in fact have one, and to not take that side -- knowingly or unknowingly -- is to create its opposition. Racial justice is one of those issues. Not joining the fight to make it a reality is starting a fight to keep it from becoming one, silence and apathy manifesting as complicity. And pushing aside this issue altogether in favor of a debaucherous afternoon among blindly advantaged peers? That's a certain white privilege called SantaCon.