Really, this is all Dunkin’ Donuts’ fault. All I wanted was the oddly priced large vanilla chai latte—for some reason the large is priced at $2.09, a full 10 cents less than the small and $1.60 less than the medium; that’s all I wanted. But their machine was down. I still wanted my drink. And that’s where it all went downhill.
The lede: I went into Starbucks for the first time ever and made a purchase. I’ve been inside a Starbucks less than five times in my entire life but have never made a purchase. That all changed today. My conscience? Shattered. There’s a war going on outside that no man is safe from, and for over a decade, I feel like I was the only one fighting the war.
I hear you looking at me: Just what in the hell am I talking about? Have a seat. This is going to get downright Panama-esque.
I started blogging back in 2004 on my now-defunct site Jackson G. Tickle Presents, a name I came up with by remixing the outcome of inputting “Panama Jackson” into a pimp-handle generator. I was 25 years old and both an angry black man with a sense of humor and a conspiracy theorist. Nowhere was this more apparent than in my disdain for and active protest and boycott of Starbucks; what Colin Kaepernick is to police brutality I was to gentrification (with much less fanfare, obvs). I hated the idea of gentrification, and I live in Washington, D.C., basically gentrification ground zero.
In my view and from very clear and accurate observations, Starbucks was eyeing “distressed” neighborhoods in the District, dropping off a Starbucks and then watching white people come in and ship our black asses right out. To me, the most prominent example of this in D.C. was the Starbucks that opened up RIGHT on the campus of Howard University in the Shaw neighborhood.
There is currently a listing for a one-bedroom, one-bath condo in the Shaw neighborhood going for $1.08 million. Extreme? Sure. There is also a more reasonably priced two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo going for $649,500 in the same neighborhood. I think the only way to properly speak to this phenomenon is, “Where dey do dat at?”
Washington, D.C. That’s where. And I attributed all of this to Starbucks. My conspiracy-theory game was real. And it wasn’t just on paper, either. I actively avoided and refused to go inside Starbucks. Any of my friends can attest to this: My vitriol was real. I wasn’t just paying lip service; I’d argue with anybody and outline exactly why I thought Starbucks was trying to pull black communities from right up under us.
This came to a head one SUPER-cold night in New York City where a group of my friends and I were seeking warmth and they all walked into Starbucks, but I wouldn’t go in. One of my boys realized at that moment how serious I was about it and stood outside with me. In retrospect, we probably could have gone into another establishment, but my blood was boiling. I have always appreciated him standing there with me and acknowledging that I was serious about my protest. #NeverForget and shit.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out a very important fact about myself: I’m not a coffee drinker. Never have been. I can’t stand the taste of it. I hate coffee ice cream. I even hated the coffee-flavored Patrón the one time I took a shot of it. So perhaps my protest was made easier by the fact that I had no coffee itch that I needed to scratch.
It is also important to note that I realize I lost this battle a long time ago. I’m not wrong about Starbucks; HOWEVER, ain’t nobody else care enough to stop the innocuous coffee shops from coming in and moving us out. I tried with all my might to make it a thing. My protest never quite caught on, even as a running theme of my blog for years.
Over time, my vitriol went from a boil to a simmer. While I’d still tell anybody who’d listen how much I didn’t trust Starbucks, my active disdain became more of a passive acknowledgment and avoidance—again, I don’t drink coffee. I kept that avoidance up for over a decade. I do love chai lattes, though.
I had my first one ever a few years ago at Busboys and Poets on 14th Street NW, in D.C. I was so new to the experience, I pronounced it as a “kai” latte. Sue me. I drink water and juice. Anyway, after that first one, I was in love. I’d go to Busboys JUST to get one. Then, when I went to other places that sold coffee, if they had a chai latte, I’d order one, which is how I found vanilla chai lattes. All I wanted one Christmas was a Keurig JUST so I could make vanilla chai lattes. Seriously. I also like doughnuts. I pass a Dunkin’ Donuts on my way into work after dropping my daughter off at school in the morning, so imagine my surprise when I saw that they sold vanilla chai lattes. I was in hog heaven.
Until today. See, I went in there and their machine was down. In the black community, we call that “that bullshit.” That’s like going to any fast-food place and they don’t have shit on the menu. I hate it when people don’t have shit on the menu. I walked out. Livid. But I still wanted a vanilla chai latte. You can probably see where this is going.
I got into my co-work space and thought to myself, “Is there a Dunkin’ Donuts within walking distance?” No. BUT there is a Starbucks across the street. And while no vanilla chai lattes are on the menu, chai lattes are.
Now, look, I have never purchased anything from Starbucks, but I have been in them a handful of times with a co-worker who—like many, many people—likes overpriced coffee. The first time I went in, after like a year’s worth of prodding, I was nervous and upset at myself, but I also realized that no people were harmed by my going into the establishment. I quietly sent laser beams of social justice at the cashiers, but I could tell that they didn’t care.
Today, though, today, I really wanted a chai latte. So I put on my big-boy drawz and said, I’m going to engage with the enemy (even if they don’t know they’re the enemy). I was afraid that I’d walk in and somebody would call me a sellout, but that didn’t happen. Largely, nobody gave a fuck that I was in there, which was disappointing. I kind of wanted somebody to be like, we know we did you dirty, but we hope that you can appreciate that we hire so many black people. Or something.
I bought a chai latte from Starbucks and, after a decadelong standoff, lost the one-man war I had going on. How do I feel? I’m glad you asked. I’m disappointed. Not in myself, but in the product. The chai latte I had wasn’t that awesome. Honestly, that’s enough to keep me from ever going back in there or ever purchasing another item. Basically, Dunkin’ Donuts needs to get its shit and its machine together. And make vanilla chai latte K-Cups.
The experience as a whole was largely uneventful, and I suppose it was always going to be. Nobody cares like I cared, and I suppose even I gave up on my active protest long ago. But today, for a moment, I felt a bit of guilt for that. While I’ll never go back, Starbucks did get $4.89 of my money, and that’s more than I ever thought they would.