Last week’s news of two African American men being arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks for the heinous crime of waiting for friends is bringing race, bias, and #BlackLivesMatter to a sickening new low.
If you haven’t heard the story, this is what happened. A zealous Starbucks manager called Philadelphia police about two Black men waiting for friends at a Starbucks as she perceived them as a threat. One of the young men asked for the key code to the restroom and was told he had to purchase something first. Witnesses say other patrons were given the restroom code without making purchases.
Starbucks, which touts its coffee shop as a place for people to gather, had become an avatar for the Philadelphia area’s gentrification. Enough so that the two black men became victims of “out-of-place” policing, whereby people who don’t appear to fit into the area, were perceived by the Starbucks manager as a threat.
Six Philadelphia police officers responded to the call (overkill on the number of responders) and asked the two men to leave with no reason given. After three refusals, the men were handcuffed and arrested for trespassing. The two men were released nine hours (a full work day) later after the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office decided they had not broken any laws.
I think I would have gone crazy sitting in a jail cell waiting for an outcome when I KNEW I hadn’t committed a crime. But here’s the rub. I ooze White Privilege looking at my appearance and this would NEVER have happened to me. I have no qualms that the restroom code would have been offered to me, without ordering first, and no questions asked.
It is beyond enough.
Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson has ordered “unconscious bias,” whatever this means, training for store managers. Johnson has apologized for, in his words, reprehensible circumstances leading to the arrest.
But is this enough?
Racial profiling training has not made a dent in the systemic societal bias Americans cannot seem to overcome. Even after high profile cases of Trayvon Martin, Eric Harris, and Walter Scott, slayings of unarmed black men showcase a culture of police violence.
Clearly, racial profiling and bias are not only limited to local police departments. The Starbucks incident has magnified one of the inherent reasons that #BlackLivesMatter came into existence.
Race and bias training will not change the fact, as Americans, that we have chosen to discriminate against people who do not look like our vision of a homogeneous white society.
This same racial bias is not limited to African Americans. It’s shared among Muslim American, Mexican American, Native American, and an unconscionable number of other nonwhite communities.
Minority majority cities are on an upward trend, especially in urban areas. My prediction is that the tilting point for a decrease in racial discrimination will begin to occur as the White population becomes the minority. Well, indulge me in hoping that a day comes in the future, regardless of the reason, that mothers do not have to educate their minority children on blending in, and that a different set of rules applies to them with police interactions.
This will be enough.