Starbucks Broke Its Promise

Published in The Carolinian Newspaper
 Issue Date 19 April 2018


It is easier to believe there was a disturbance. It is more convenient to assume there is ‘more to the story.’ Unbearable is the truth. Once again, men that look like my husband, father, brother, and my growing sons are zip tied, surrounded by a flood of badges and perp-walked toward a waiting cell. The truth is abhorrent.

Starbucks broke its promise.

OUR MISSION: “To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”

Starbucks makes a promise through this mission statement. They promise to behave in a manner that fills us with the urge to do creative things (inspire) and to care for and guard the development of our human creativity (nurture). Starbucks repeatedly affirms its position as the “Third Place” between work and home. A place for conversation and a sense of community. Starbucks claims to value “creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome.”

Did these promises resound in the mind of the manager when a guest asked to use the restroom? Did these values guide the manager’s behavior when the police were called to remove two men waiting for the rest of their party to arrive?

The simple act of denying someone entrée into a restroom reeks of inhumanity. Have you ever scurried from place to place, mightily contracting muscles while attempting to look ‘normal’ – just to be told you are not welcome to relief? If so, I can imagine how dispirited you must have felt. If this is official policy, there is deception in Starbucks’ statements. When other coffee shops were aiming to remove low-paying laptop using customers, Starbucks issued an official statement, “We strive to create a welcoming environment for all of our customers. We do not have any time limits for being in our stores, and continue to focus on making the Third Place experience for every Starbucks customer.” If I’m welcome to sit, work, converse – why can’t I use the bathroom?

Two men are told they can’t use the restroom, that it’s reserved for paying customers. Sad, but acceptable. Being asked to leave the premises, unacceptable. Despite its mission statement, the primary purpose of a Starbucks is to sell coffee and food items to the general public, which necessarily requires susceptibility to equal protection laws. Unless these men were causing a disturbance, overfilling capacity, or detracting from the safety of the other patrons, why were they asked to leave? Further, what could have incited the manager to perform the dangerously aggressive act of calling the police?

We are left with their masculine bearded blackness.

My anger holds hands with an overwhelming sense of disgust and sadness. Sadness because no amount of corporate training is a viable substitute for the honest (and often painful) self- examination that leads to the extraction of grotesque prejudices that lurk deep beyond our surface smiles and hellos, infesting our unconscious thoughts and manifesting through our body language and behavior. There is no policy or program Starbucks can deploy that is capable of removing that infestation from their employees and partners.

Mr. Johnson said the store managers will receive training on “unconscious bias.” Racism is not extracted from the minds of individuals because a HR or Diversity and Inclusion Director insists managers sit through a training. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Harvard, and the University of Virginia examined 499 studies over 20 years involving 80,859 participants and discovered the correlation between implicit (unconscious) bias and discriminatory behavior is weaker than previously thought. Changing implicit bias does not change a person’s behavior, and a change in patterns of behavior is exactly what the public demands. Action, because barriers to racial reconciliation in this country don’t lurk in the unconscious.

Systemic racism is an institutional flaw. CEO Kevin Johnson must now demonstrate to the public he will not countenance acts of racism within his institution. He must demand resolute action from his leadership team and partners rejecting even subliminal acceptance of discrimination. Institutionalized racism only ends when people that practice anti-racism are placed in and hold positions of power and influence. We demand seeing people that abhor racism behind the counters, behind the desks, and walking across the glass ceiling. Or, we will continue to brew our coffee at home.

References: Analysis_of_Change_in_Implicit_Bias

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