Have you ever been right for the wrong reason? I’m sure you have. We all have. Well, when it comes to Starbucks, I’ve been right for both the right and wrong reasons. Starbucks has always represented gentrification to me (yep) and has been representative of the Man stepping on the necks of black folks near and far, trying to hold us down while they ship us out of the very communities they take over and turn into expensive and overpriced vanilla coves. I’ve been fighting that fight for the last 15 years, publicly and privately.
I was right because Starbucks is fucked up. But I’ve always just blamed them for gentrification. Turns out they need to make all of their employees watch Roots, too (the original, not the remake).
It seems I may have been early in my boycottery. Because now? It seems like folks are ready to hold Starbucks’ feet to the fire (clearly not all of you, though, as indicated by the line I saw this morning as I drove by one in Virginia). They have issues in some of their establishments with how they deal with melanated people. Can we get Beyoncé on this? There’s nothing she can’t do.
With the latest mocha-flavored shenanigans out of Philadelphia and the new video of the black man being denied entry into the bathroom at a Starbucks in (I believe) Los Angeles, it’s no wonder that the CEO of the company, Kevin Johnson, had to fire up his computer and drop a video talking about how reprehensible that treatment is and how they need to revisit their policies on implicit bias. You’ve probably read a story or two on this by now.
Here’s the thing: Any company that is so intrinsically associated with gentrification is going to have some issues with how it deals with certain customers. It’s about more than just one store. It’s more than white people just white-peopling. Sure, that occurs, but really, this whole country has issues with black folks and has a fear of black bodies being present—anywhere. Sitting. Standing. Driving. Sleeping. Walking. Running. Et cetera. Et cetera. Et cetera.
And that’s been my issue with the company, save for that one damn time I betrayed my sensibilities. You can’t be socially responsible if your business gets used as a barometer for neighborhoods ripe for gentrification. That’s making an omelet with eggshells.
Even if you hire people of color in those establishments, what typically happens is that value judgments are made about the customers that come in—all companies do this—and responses fall in line with the bias of people attempting to protect the “good” folks from the ones who don’t really belong there. Like two black men waiting for somebody, or somebody attempting to use the bathroom in a company that has made it clear that they’re fine with folks basically LOITERING in their spaces.
We all know that loitering is not a thing back folks are allowed to do. White people can, though. White people can go into a Starbucks, chill for eight solid hours using free Wi-Fi and get their entire life on. But we immediately look suspicious to people. And people keep trying to tell us that we’re making this shit up. We keep catching the ass end of “It’s really not the way you think it is. Bad things happen to everybody.”
Anti-black sentiment is real. And while I don’t think Starbucks (or any other company, really) has a bullet point in its training dedicated to othering black folks and reducing us to negative stereotypes, there are rules for black folks that just do not exist for others.
And no, this isn’t police brutality. We didn’t see a black man or woman killed by the police in any of the videos shared, but what we did see was dignity robbed from people who have done nothing wrong but be born the wrong color for the people and employees they encountered. To say it isn’t about race makes you full of shit. To attempt to justify that treatment on any other grounds makes you the problem you swear doesn’t exist.
Boycotting Starbucks has been easy for me because I don’t care for coffee. But we give a lot of money to these folks who, at the very least, don’t train or express to their employees that folks not hurting anybody aren’t hurting anybody. Looking at a black person and seeing a criminal in a room full of white people committing the same crime? The training they need might not be something Starbucks can cover.
My boycott just got a shot of caffeine.