In another episode of Some White People Being Surprised When White People Are Racist…
Scrolling through my Twitter feed I saw a video posted by Melissa DePino that showed two Black men being arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks for merely waiting on a friend to arrive before placing their order. Or as Black people call it, Thursday.
Starbucks has branded itself as a company that is concerned about diversity and inclusion stating on its website, “Embracing diversity only enhances our work culture, it also drives our business success. It is the inclusion of these diverse experiences and perspectives that create a culture of empowerment, one that fosters innovation, economic growth and new ideas.” Starbucks CEO, Kevin Johnson, stated in an article written by Ronald Holden in Business Insider that, “We are in the business of human connection.”
Really? If this is what you consider human connection this is a serious fail.
While this incident took place on April 12, 2018, Starbucks is taking a page out of Papa John’s former CEO, John Schnatter’s public relations playbook-say nothing to address the issue swiftly but remain silent while a PR person crafts a carefully worded statement that give or take a few words will read like this:
“We in no way condone this type of behavior that was exhibited in one of our
gentrified locations. Our company strives to treat all people with respect no matter of their race, class or gender; in fact, we don’t even see color. We have Black people on staff, and we are working to make our Starbucks community one that is well rounded, diverse and one that stands on inclusivity and intersectionality. We work with farmers directly because we believe in social justice. You can rest in your cognitive dissonance knowing that we believe in equity for all human beings as you sip our overpriced coffee. (Did we use all the buzzwords?) As a consumer, you should be aware that more than half of our staff voted for Obama…twice. We sincerely apologize to those two Black men that we have reached out to only because we know we look bad and we are confident a lawsuit is coming. Our entire staff will go through diversity training immediately which probably won’t entail instruction and guidance by any Black people. Also, we will design a cup that reflects how devoted we are to change and our baristas will write this hashtags on ALL orders #BlackPeopleDrinkCoffeeToo as a daily reminder that it is not a crime to be #DrinkingCoffeeWhileBlack. Thank you.
Of course, my obligatory apology speech was written in jest. However, the overall theme and sentiment will be along these lines. Guaranteed.
This is a failure on the part of Starbucks and Starbucks will do what many of these companies do and find a way to gloss over this issue. Before I continue let me point out, some White people at the Starbucks did stand up and speak out, and that is wonderful. That is what you should do when you see injustice taking place right in front of you. However we know, outrage only seems to last but for a season.Protesting is in style now; resistance is all the rage. But after the fad fades, then what?
It is because of this common short-lived outrage that I do not want to simply address Starbucks. Listen, if Starbucks wants to really do anything about diversity and inclusion they have the resources to contact people around the world that can help them. Call me. Instead what I would like to address is the shock and surprise many White people felt watching the video, asking, “How does this happen in America?”
It happens in America because for too long “good White people” have sat by and have said and done nothing. Good White people have remained silent when they should have shouted. Have looked the other way or pretended not to see. Good White people have ignored what Black people have said since time was time. Good White people have attempted to find excuses for obvious wrongs and injustice. Even with this incident, people are questioning what the Black men could have done or why they just wouldn’t leave the Starbucks?
Many White people were shocked, and Black people, on the other hand, called it just another day of being Black in America.
This is the reality of being Black in this world. Black people know we are over-policed. We understand that we are wrongly targeted, falsely accused, shot and killed for no reason, however many in White America seem to believe this is all a figment of our imaginations. White America believes that Black people are making up this phrase called “White privilege.” If you ever doubted that White privilege exists, there it is on full display in the video.White privilege is being able to enter a Starbucks as a White person, connect to the Wi-Fi, sit and surf the web for hours or sit and wait patiently for your friend to arrive with no thought or threat of being removed from Starbucks in handcuffs.
What I ask is that White people do not just focus on Starbucks. Also focus on the more significant structural system that is in play. Look at how Black skin is criminalized even when Black people are doing the most mundane things like sitting, walking, driving, jogging, talking, running, swimming, shopping, eating…breathing. Just existing for a Black person is problematic in this world. Think about all those times you have asked yourself, “What did the Black person do to cause this injustice?” Remember this incident when you are attempting to find an excuse to rationalize injustice.
The only mistake those Black men made in the eyes of the person that called the police were being Black and breathing in Starbucks. Their only mistake was #DrinkingCoffeeWhileBlack. And STILL, some people are asking, “Were they asked to leave?” What does that have to do with anything? We have fought to have the right to sit and dine wherever we desire. This is reminiscent of restaurant sit-ins. Are Black people not allowed to sit and wait to order a cup of overhyped, overpriced coffee?
Then at least five police officers descend on Starbucks to arrest these men and perp walk them out of the Starbucks as if they are criminals. The police are doing the job of the system. They know the men have done nothing wrong, but that does not matter. What matters is that they are using the power given to them by a racist system that masquerades as justice. These men were arrested, booked, placed in jail and were not released until 2 am in the morning. That is how the system works. This is bigger than a Starbucks issue. This is how America works because it is built on racist systems.
This is why Nikolus Cruz can have the police called to his home numerous times; the FBI is informed about his violent and suspect behavior and do nothing until he kills 17 innocent people in Parkland, Florida. This is why two White women can adopt multiple Black children, parade them around for quaint photo ops with police officers all while abusing, starving, and then driving them over a cliff and the system that should have protected them does nothing until it is dragging their lifeless bodies from the water. This is why in Kentucky a White boy can walk into a school and kill two students, injure 14 others and our legislators are attempting to pass a law to make it more convenient for them to harass Black and Brown people. This is why Black activists are labeled by the FBI as Black Identity Extremists for demanding justice yet the FBI looks in the other direction when they are given information about White people plotting disaster. Perhaps law enforcement should stop focusing on Black activists and redirect its attention to some of the people that have committed some of that worst crimes known to humanity.
I am all for boycotting Starbucks but do not get caught up in the hype of just being angry at Starbucks.
This is bigger than Starbucks. Fuck Starbucks! Let’s just be honest-Starbucks ain’t going anywhere any time soon and judging by the line I always see wrapped around the Starbucks in my neighborhood, the majority of people are not going to stop drinking Starbucks, at least not for an extended amount of time.
So what can you do?
- Stop acting surprised!
- Listen to Black people when we speak!
- Trust that Black people are speaking the truth when we speak about injustice.
- If you still choose to patronize Starbucks after seeing the video above, ask yourself why? Ask yourself would you still buy Starbucks if they had arrested you or your son just for sitting waiting for a friend? If the answer is no, why still buy their coffee?
- If you choose to boycott Starbucks, where are you spending your money to purchase coffee? Is there a local coffee shop that you can support?
- Be willing to face the truth and deal with some ugly realities of race in America.
Be aware that what happened to those Black men happens all around this country every single day. Think about all the incidents that are never caught on camera? Think about Brennan Walker, a Black boy that was almost murdered simply for knocking on a door and asking for directions. Think about Sandra Bland who was arrested and died on a jailhouse floor all for failing to signal.
It is time out for being surprised. At this point, NOTHING should catch you off guard when it comes to race relations in America. Whatever dream you have sold yourself about a post-racial America so that you can sleep better at night, wake up! Open your eyes. This is America. Slavery was the economic engine that catapulted America into becoming one of the richest nations in the world. Racism is embedded into the fabric of this nation. Do not work just to dismantle Starbucks. Work diligently to dismantle a racist system.
Update: On Saturday, April 14, 2018 at 12:59 pm Starbucks released their official statement. Reads very similar to mine written above.