Shame on Starbucks

Institutionalized racism is illustrated at everyone’s favorite coffee chain.


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The end of May can’t come soon enough for Starbucks and its employees to attempt to salvage its image. The recent arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks has many boycotting the chain, throwing away gift cards, and protesting racism. On May 29, employees will undergo company-wide training for racial bias, a problem that is much larger than this single incident.

I’ll fully admit when I saw the video and heard about this, I was one of those people who thought, “There must be more to this story.” I completely take the blame for thinking that, so hear me out. In our digitally connected world where fake news runs rampant, it’s important to take it all in and find the facts. I feel like often we hear details of a story and they’re not even true. People hear something and then just run with it, without checking anything first. However, sometimes the world is just racist and you’re reminded how far behind issues like equality and acceptance we really are.

On Apr. 12, Melissa DePino posted a video to Twitter showing two black men being put in handcuffs and escorted out of Starbucks. Fellow customers protested, announcing they had done nothing wrong, but they were arrested regardless. The pair had reportedly not ordered anything to eat or drink as they were waiting for a third person to join them. According to various websites and eyewitnesses, one of the men had asked to use the bathroom, which was what then prompted an employee to call the police.

Because of this incident, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson announced a company-wide training, but not until the end of May. I’m sure it’s hard to plan this across the over 8,000 US stores and prepare materials for it, but the end of May? Honestly? If they wanted real change to happen, they would have closed for the day within the week, or even longer than just a single day! Imagine how different the headlines might be. Imagine “Starbucks CEO immediately owns up to racial bias in company” or “Starbucks closes just days after racial bias incident to educate their employees.”

A statement Johnson said regarding this incident has me scratching my head. He said, “While this is not limited to Starbucks, we’re committed to being a part of the solution.” This might sound great, right? They want to be part of the solution. However, the beginning of his statement is a bit dismissive to the situation. To me, it sounds like he’s saying we shouldn’t all be so mad at Starbucks since they’re not the only company with racial bias or controversial issues. While we should be paying attention to all of those companies, it just sounds like he’s trying to take a bit of the heat off of Starbucks.

I’m sure many of you are expecting me to have some wildly right-wing perspective on this. I hate to disappoint, especially in our last issue of the school year, but I don’t. This is a terribly simple case of racial bias, discrimination and unlawful action. I want to say we are better than this, but are we?

I still see lines past the printer at Starbucks after class gets out at 10:10. I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few weeks, some of those boycotting return to fuel their caffeine addiction, unable to kick that sweet, sweet cappuccino to the curb. On Google Trends, we can already see the search interest for “Starbucks” and “Starbucks arrest” decreasing after the original incident. These types of situations help shine the light back on such awful issues, but what happens after there’s a new headline to follow or lead to chase down?

I hope as embarrassing as this arrest was, not just for Starbucks, but for America as a whole, it can teach us something. As pessimistic as I might be sometimes about the change we can bring, I am hopeful about this one. Thanks to social media and other outlets, the audience of witnesses to racist-fueled situations has increased. We can all easily see how screwed up our country can be. Hopefully that strikes enough fear and passion for us all to actually do something about it, in a mindful way.


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