Loitering in Starbucks

Yesterday, in my secret life as a detective, I walked into a local Starbucks, used the restroom, took a seat, scrolled through my phone for 10 minutes and then – gasp – left. Without buying anything.

In spite of having $2.53 left on my Starbucks app and in spite of thinking an Americano would have hit the spot on a day when I was dealing with cantankerous college students, I didn’t order a thing. I just used the bathroom and sat down as if I was waiting for a friend. Just like zillions of people do every day at Starbucks all around the country.

My detective adventure was an experiment to see if anyone would:

  1. Kick me out
  2. Call 911
  3. Have me arrested

Of course, none of those things happened like they did last week to two black men waiting for a businessman at a Philly Starbucks to discuss a potential deal. They didn’t happen for one reason only: I’m so white that people have to put on sunglasses when I wear shorts so they don’t go blind from the glare. 

Those two men – who have since received personal apologies from the Starbucks CEO, as if this has something to do with Starbucks instead of everyone in America  – didn’t make a mistake by asking to use the restroom or waiting for their colleague without buying coffee.

No, their unforgivable mistake was being born black in a country that just can’t stand black people. These men were #waitingwhileblack, which is similar to driving while black, wearing saggy jeans while black, shopping while black or being in certain parts of town while black, all things any white person could do without being questioned, challenged or arrested.

To me, the most heartbreaking part of the arrest video is how docile the men were. White folks in the background are upset, but the black men, having lived in this country long enough to know, knew the drill: black people get arrested. Hold out your wrists. Accept the cuffs. Don’t put up a fight.

If this were a random occurrence, it would be one thing, but it is not. The Washington Post reported this a couple days ago, showing that it isn’t random. A clip:

Nowhere else in Philadelphia are African Americans more disproportionately stopped by police than in the Center City neighborhood surrounding the Starbucks, two blocks from ritzy Rittenhouse Square, where rents in luxury apartments run as high as $10,000 a month.

While African Americans make up 3 percent of the area’s residents, they account for 67 percent of pedestrian police stops, according to a 2017 analysis by the American Civil Liberties Union, which has monitored racial disparity in Philadelphia policing for eight years. Most of those stopped were never charged.

Lord almighty, it makes me want to scream.

Starbucks has announced it will close all 8,000 of its U.S. cafes and offices on May 29 for racial bias training. Doing so acknowledges that prejudice is everywhere and it is often subconscious. But we need more than one CEO to get a clue. We all need to get a clue, because this constant, pecked-to-death-by-a-duck, never-ending stress of living in a race-conscious society is killing black people – starting at birth.

The New York Times Magazine this weekend had an amazing investigation into how black mothers and babies die at twice the rate of white mothers and babies – regardless of socio-economic status. Researchers have determined that this is happening due to “weathering”, the premature deterioration of black women’s bodies by repeated and constant exposure to a “climate of discrimination and insults.” One of the key points is that black women in poorer countries have better birth results than college-educated, middle-class black women in the U.S. If you can read the article and not bawl your eyes out, something is wrong with you.

This has to stop. And the first step is for everyone to recognize that, in little and big ways, every single day, for black people, life is a gauntlet of discrimination. Speaking that truth aloud doesn’t mean that white people are less important than black people. It means that black people are just as important as white people and should be treated that way. Not just at Starbucks, but everywhere, all the time. 







6 Replies to “Loitering in Starbucks”

  1. I love your heart, Renee. You’ve always been such a social justice activist, even in your young years. You are one of my heroes.


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