Once again in a far-too-familiar scene, two Black men were recently detained and questioned, then handcuffed and arrested by the police for reasons many say are clearly unfathomable and downright racist. That’s right, these two brothers chose to wait for a friend in downtown Philadelphia in an area known as Center City — a section where luxury apartments can cost upwards of $10,000/month and where police harass Blacks with greater impunity than anywhere else in the City of Brotherly Love (really? love?). There they incurred the unmerited and unjust wrath of white America, or at least the store’s now-departed white male manager, after having the audacity to sit in Starbucks and not order a cup of java. One of the two added insult to injury by asking if he could use the restroom without first spending a few dollars on an overpriced Starbucks product.
Since then and perhaps in part due to a video which captured the entire event and has understandably gone viral, a multi-racial group of protesters have stormed Starbucks coffeehouses, including the Philly locale, in a movement that has been replicated in the corporation’s chain of shops from coast to coast and even in other countries. Twitter fans have expressed their discontent, employing #BoycottStarbucks and #StarbucksWhileBlack among the more frequented hashtags, to state their views.
Black activists, like NAACP President Derrick Johnson, posit that what transpired in Starbucks serves as yet another example of “implicit bias” — disproportionate, wrongful arrests of African Americans — that continues to pose as “an ever-present threat to one’s freedom,” and an issue that “must be confronted by American society.”
Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson, who has since issued an apology, says he wants to better sensitize his employees and provide them with a greater sense of cultural competency by shutting down close to 8,000 stores across the country for several hours of racial-bias training on May 29 for an estimated 175,000 workers. To that I can only say, irony intended, “thanks Kev!”
Sherrilyn Ifill, an attorney, law professor and president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, has been tagged to facilitate the session. During an interview on NPR’s April 17th broadcast, she admitted, “one day won’t do much, given America being a country “deeply entrenched in racism.” Still, she expressed her hope that it would at least “open the window” for change.
A few evenings ago, I received a call on “my Bat-phone” from my best friend, Henry Crespo Sr., who lives in my former stomping grounds of Miami where I previously served as the editor of the city’s almost 100-year-old, Black-owned newspaper, The Miami Times. Henry was fired up and wanted to discuss ways that Blacks should respond including, but not limited to, the use of social media to vent our anger and frustration that have become part and parcel to living, walking or breathing while Black in America.
So, two Black men sat in a Starbucks playing with their phones — two men reportedly real estate developers waiting to meet with an investor — the story goes, while another man, white, who kept to himself and enjoyed the inner sanctums of Starbucks far longer than “Raheem and Brother X,” did the same thing. But he was never engaged by store officials or asked to buy something if he wanted to stay.
You do the math! America needs to leave both its allies and alleged enemies alone and put in some gut-wrenching, soul-searching work. We continue to move ominously close to making James Baldwin’s prophetic words “the fire next time” our reality and our country’s demise.
Even more, we need to be about real change so we can do what our president, “the Donald,” has harped on and promised to do since first announcing his decision to run for the White House — “keep America great.”
Note to self: there’s a problem.
As a Black man in this land of overt, pompous rhetoric, I don’t have a recollection in my over 50 years of life when America was ever “great” — at least not for or to my people.