Starbucks and Black Coffee

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This column is for the people of all colors who acknowledge racism exists. If you’re not in that camp, I’m not going to try to burrow into that sand your head is buried in; keep moving.

To the realists still reading, let’s talk about Starbucks.

There are more than 25,000 locations around the globe. The odds are good there are racist people working at some of them. It’s simple math.

The recent incident at the Philadelphia location where two black men were taken away by the police, their “sin” being that they were waiting for a friend and didn’t order anything right away, was unquestionably a call to action. But that action shouldn’t be a boycott of the Starbucks brand.

That, in fact, is a shortsighted and ineffective way to respond to what happened.

By all means, boycott that location. The people who descended on it after the incident to peacefully protest had the right idea. That reaction was specific, targeted. If there are other coffee joints in the neighborhood, take your business there. That might include another Starbucks, by the way.

But this knee-jerk cry for a boycott every time there’s a disturbing incident is not the way to go. This is not the same as asking a corporation to have a conscience and remove its advertising from a television show or risk a boycott. In the case of a global brand like Starbucks, the response will be more effective if it’s thought out and the long-range picture is taken into consideration. The idea is to use their popularity for the greater good.

If the CEO of Starbucks had ignored this incident, if he had exhibited racist behavior or espoused racist beliefs, if he had defended this employee, if he seemed ignorant to the power he has to effect real change here, I’d say, sure, toss your Starbucks gold cards into a pile and set them on fire.

However, this isn’t at all what has transpired. Not only did CEO Kevin Johnson ask to meet with the two men who were taken into police custody in Philadelphia, not only has the employee who reported them been removed, but Johnson is closing down 8,000 Starbucks locations on May 29 for racial-bias training.

Is this what we’re boycotting now?

You watch, there will be all kinds of people whining when they can’t get their cold foam blonde iced cappuccino on May 29. They’ll say the training is public relations, all for show. Blah, blah, blah. And maybe in some small way it is. But if we’re to get anywhere in this awful, debilitating racial backlash to the Obama presidency, this is the kind of comprehensive training that has to happen.

You know what else has to happen? People with privilege need to use it to call others out on bad behavior, to speak up when they see something amiss.

This is exactly what Melissa DePino did by posting the video to Twitter with this text: “The police were called because these men hadn’t ordered anything. They were waiting for a friend to show up, who did as they were taken out in handcuffs for doing nothing. All the other white ppl are wondering why it’s never happened to us when we do the same thing.”

This, to me, is our best hope for change. Those of us who are aware and feel this deeply have to use our voices, stop shrugging off the whispers with a wink and a nod, challenge the hate and ignorance, and adapt an overall no-tolerance policy. Sometimes it might involve going public the way DePino did. Put it out there and let the collective conscience do what it will.

The world is at attention. If there’s anything positive at all to come out of a Donald Trump presidency, it’s that. Much of White America is threatened. We were pretty sure before, but we know it now. We’ve seen their swagger. We need to counter with our humanity and our courage.

Message: We’re done with your ugly world view. Done.

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