See, earlier, from 2015: You Can Run But You Can’t Pander: Starbucks And The Perils Of Accidental Racism
People who enter commercial establishments but refuse to engage in commercial activity do so at the sufferance of the establishment. That us, unless they are magic people, people for whom normal expectations don’t apply. Black Americans are such people and show their awareness of their exalted status at every turn. Ask any peace officer in any city in America.
So what made this situation in Philadelphia national news? Black layabouts were arrested for refusing to leave a Starbucks, the holy of holies of post-America.
“Hi, I have two gentlemen in my café that are refusing to make a purchase or leave,” the manager says. “I’m at the Starbucks at 18th and Spruce.”
By NBC10 Staff, April 17, 2018
Watch it happen below:
@Starbucks The police were called because these men hadn’t ordered anything. They were waiting for a friend to show up, who did as they were taken out in handcuffs for doing nothing. All the other white ppl are wondering why it’s never happened to us when we do the same thing. pic.twitter.com/0U4Pzs55Ci— Melissa DePino (@missydepino) April 12, 2018
And Starbucks has reacted as a guilty thing, cringing and apologizing for maintaining order in its own shop. How did this amazing farrago happen?
Starbucks started life in the whitopian Pacific Northwest as a seller of coffee equipment serving the nascent wave of haut coffee venders. The three founders were friends from San Francisco College—one was a history teacher—driven by a sincere love of coffee. They got into roasting the beans and serving coffee in Seattle, San Francisco and other locations.
Then a driven marketing guy named Howard Schultz bought them out. Starbucks went from a “Field of Dreams” story to a “What makes Sammy run” story. Schultz saw Starbucks as an easily-exportable lifestyle venue—a place where students and housewives and office workers could enjoy awful burnt coffee while feeling part of the new, hip, post-American America. From that point on, Starbucks was a major marketer of lefty pretension fueled by expensive coffee.
As a youth I used to go into Greenwich Village in hopes of experiencing some beatnik culture. I remember my first Espresso, and how bravely I finished it while hoping that the bitter stuff wouldn’t burn my uvula away. It was the same with my first cheap Chianti and hard-as-a-rock baguette.
Starbucks serves a similar purpose. No one really likes the coffee, but it is a place for lonely nerds to peck away at their tablets as though they were all doing something together. For many, it’s as close as they ever get.
In order to drive the mystique of hipness without substance, Schultz made Starbucks a player in many social causes du jour. First it was Starbucks as champion of environmentally-sensitive business practices; then it was Fair Trade for coffee beans to keep the peasant farmhands happy. Later it was gay marriage and anti-Trump pro-illegal alien agitation. [Starbucks to Hire 10,000 Refugees in Response to Trump Immigration Ban, By Conor Gaffey, Newsweek, January 30, 2017 ]
Schultz marketed safe, comforting cocoons for NPR listeners, and unemployed educational consultants to gather. In a Starbucks, they could pretend to embody a more sensitive and knowing state of mind.
Perhaps this is why Starbucks decor has the bland aspect of the study hall. I suspect that for many patrons college is/was where life was really good.
So why is Starbucks so craven in its immediate sacking of the manager who called the police? [Starbucks manager who called police on two black men has left the company, by Sarah Whitten, April 16,2018] Updated 2:2] Why did they apologize so deeply and so soon for an attempt to maintain the integrity of their premises? Why are they closing all their shops for a whole day of mandatory race re-education?
The reason is obvious. While both Starbucks and Starbucks patrons value diversity, a glance at any map showing Starbucks locations shows just how diversity-averse they actually both are.
The nearest large city to me is Philadelphia. A Google Maps search shows that Starbucks clusters its sites around Center City and the civilized outer neighborhoods. Not a single one is in North Philadelphia’s black ghetto. In fact, most of them are located cheek-by-jowl to universities and hospitals.
In my own county of Bucks, just north of Philadelphia, all Starbucks are located in toney high-income towns like my own or in large shopping centers near highways. I invite the readers to check their own Starbucks demographic distribution.
Starbucks’ business model then, is to place coffee shops where middle class white people predominate—because high-trust European-descended people unquestionably accept the give and take of commercial life. They feel a need to pay for taking up room. By placing their shops in whiteopias, Starbucks is guaranteed a self-policing clientele. Place the same shop in a black neighborhood and the system breaks down immediately.
My guess is that Starbucks décor and music are also chosen with an eye to discouraging the more funky-minded patron.
So we can enjoy Starbucks’ delicious dilemma. Both Starbucks and Starbucks patrons are engaged in a mutually re-enforcing fiction. Both adhere to a pose of utter equality that they must know on some level is unsupportable in reality. It’s easy to live the NPR life in NPR surroundings, but the first person to exercise common sense or just healthy instinct breaks the spell.
So the manager must be fired to keep the delusion satisfying. That is why Starbucks new President is so amenable to the concept of “implicit bias.” It draws attention away from the explicit stratagems that Starbucks employs to avoid black people.
Starbucks knows that once black men start marking their turf in their establishments, more non-paying blacks will congregate. Starbuck’s diversity-loving patrons prefer the diversity of Asians, interesting foreign students and the accommodating Latinos manning the coffee machines. Hulking black guys sans coffee or computer make them nervous.
And not being able to verbalize their unease makes them even more nervous. The cognitive strain of facing your own natural fear while holding delusional ideals is simply too much.
Thomas O. Meehan (email him) is a free-lance writer and former government Senior Research Analyst and Inspector. A refugee from the People’s Republic of New Jersey, he now lives in Bucks County PA. He blogs from Odysseus On The Rocks.