Just Waiting For Our Friend…

Starbucks signOn April 12th, two Black men were arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks. They had not placed an order; they were just sitting at a table in a public coffee shop, waiting for their friend to arrive. And an employee working at the Starbucks called the police on them. When the police asked the two Black men to leave, they did not, because it was absurd that they were being asked to leave a public store; they were waiting for their friend. When their friend arrived, he saw his two friends being put into handcuffs for “trespassing”. There is footage circling the internet of the two men being put into handcuffs and taken out of the Starbucks.

Quite frankly, it is absolutely painful to watch.

These two Black men were sitting in their public Starbucks, waiting for their friend. That is it. This is, very obviously, an act of outright, overt racism. The female employee would not have questioned two White men who were sitting in a Starbucks, even if they did not order anything. This employee was very clearly profiling these two Black men; she assumed that, because of their race, they were doing something they should not have been doing. To her, they could not have just been waiting for their friend. To her, these men, just by existing, by using their public coffee shop, were wrong.

She is not the only one at fault in the situation, however, as the cops actually arrested these men on the grounds that they were “trespassing”. How can these men be trespassing in a public Starbucks? This is a chain of stores that, supposedly, is open to all people. As we have now learned, this is actually not the case. This is a perfect example of the same racial profiling and explicit racism that takes place right before police violence against Black individuals.

This situation has upset me greatly, because I cannot fathom what these men must be thinking. They were just waiting for their friend, and they ended up arrested for sitting. For sitting. Starbucks released a statement (two days later, by the way), stating that they were going to shut down their stores for one day in May to hold company training sessions for employees regarding discrimination and racial bias. While I would like to believe this is a step in the right direction, I am skeptical. What will this “training” consist of? Are employees required to attend? Racism and racial bias is not something you can fix in one day. It is not something you can teach in a couple of hours. With the popularity and the weight Starbucks carries as one of the most successful companies in the world, there must be more done to ensure that situations like these do not keep happening. But how? Should stores like Starbucks begin implementing required informational sessions regarding racial bias for all new employees? Would this help at all?

5 thoughts on “Just Waiting For Our Friend…”

  1. I am glad to hear the news that CEO of Starbucks has made an apology for the event and decide to shut down their stores to teach the employess about discrimination and racial bias. I think maybe this trainingms are not that powerful to let all employees realize their implicit racism, but it i enough to tell them what their actions will result in.

  2. I think what changes it even more is the fact that they weren’t just waiting for their friend; they were waiting for someone to have a business meeting.
    Additionally – I have concerns about the racial bias training. Starbucks has already tried to combat race in a way that was inefficient – their “Race Together” campaign turned out to be a bust. I’m also wondering where this specific racial bias training is going to go.

  3. As much as I would love to have access to a neatly tied answer to your question, there simply isn’t one. With us being in a system of white supremacy, the answer is going to be complicated. I imagine the answer paralleling that of the stopping of the brutalization of Native Americans (which still go on today) back in the fourteen and fifteen hundreds: the cost of enacting white supremacy has to be greater than the benefit. In this case, because Starbucks is a business, this too large of a cost would be money or losing the entire business as a whole. It has to be a societal norm that when things like these happen, the business will either loose half of its profits or be on the way to bankruptcy with no exceptions. These racialized attacks will stop very quickly then.

  4. Really insightful post Caroline. I agree with your points and am just as disturbed by this incident. I too am wondering what this “racial bias training” will consist of. I hope that it actually will be cohesive training and that this isn’t merely a PR stunt for Starbucks. Hopefully whatever it is that they do will be applied to other nationwide establishments to eliminate the chances of this happening again.

  5. This touches on the concept of affordances (or privileges) that are given to normative members of society based only on their group membership. In this example, white people are given the affordance of utilizing communal spaces, even when the spaces are privately owned. This example reminds me that while segregation is illegal it still exists.

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