(Photos by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
Scenario 1: You walk into a Starbucks, approach the counter and ask, “May I go to the bathroom?” You are denied entry because you did not order anything. Annoying, but no big deal. You seek out a table and wait patiently for a real estate developer to join for a meeting. In the passing minutes, papers are sorted and small talk is made between you and your business partner. While monitoring the door, you recite in your mind how to discuss the potential business investment. Then, the door is flung open. In comes a cadre of police officers headed in your direction. Without questioning their motives, you are directed to stand, turn around, place your hands behind your back to get cuffed, and then, escorted out of the Starbucks. You are tossed into the back of a police cruiser.
Scenario 2: Two men enter your Starbucks. You deny one of them service to the bathroom for not ordering off the menu. Rather than leave, they sit at a table. A rush of adrenaline warms your body. You are the manager. Paying customers are in a potentially threatening situation. In a panic, you wipe the frothed milk off your hands, dig into your pocket and swiftly dial 911. Multiple police arrive. “They brought backup, thank god,” you think while exhaling a sigh of relief. They approach the men, cuff them, and escort them out. Phew, crisis averted. I executed my right as a US citizen. I saw something and I said something! You are now the lead candidate for employee of the month.
The race of the “suspects” goes without saying, as does the race of the manager. This is not new news. This is America.
Almost immediately, headlines such as, ‘Starbucks Coffee is Anti-Black’ or ‘Starbucks in Hot Water After Allegations of Racism,’ occupied our devices. Rather quickly, we react on as little information as possible. We retweet or like a post to validate our investment for the cause. “#BoycottStarbucks” was trending on twitter and people protested with signs outside the Starbucks in Philadelphia where the incident occurred.
While I agree that these incidents garner our attention because they jog our collective consciousness concerning how minorities are treated so disproportionately in America, these abrasive protests might have the inverse affect.
Starbucks has done nothing wrong. In fact, time and time again Starbucks has come to the defense of minority groups and those on the wrong side of the justice system. Now, this is not an endorsement for Starbucks, but I think it is important to highlight what they do for their employees and for their local communities. Often we are too quick to boycott a company, rather than isolate the individual.
In 2012, former Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, told his less progressive conservative shareholders to, “sell your shares at Starbucks and buy shares in other companies,” following the backlash he was receiving for supporting gay marriage. In 2015, during their holiday cup campaign, conservatives were outraged because the cups didn’t feature imagery of Jesus. Starbucks responded by writing “#RaceTogether” on the sides of their cups encouraging religious equality. Last year, following Trump’s ill-fated travel ban, Starbucks started a refugee-hiring plan, where they provided resources and tools to employ refugees. Additionally, Starbucks’ progressive policies also include equal pay and tuition reimbursement.
It is easy to boycott the corporations. They have familiar faces and occupy real estate in our communities. However, it is the individual that should be called out and reprimanded for their actions. This is a societal issue, not a Starbucks issue. Starbucks did not make the manager call the police. The manager reacted on her racial biases, which most clearly comes from her inaccurate generational profiling of minorities. These issues can be brought to our attention in professional developments, but unfortunately they are engrained in the minds of many that certain people are more threatening than others. This isn’t an excuse for people to act this way at all, it’s a reason to shame that individual.
I don’t care for this expression, but we need to truly understand what is at play here before we impulsively throw the baby out with the bath water.