I’m sure you know by now that two Black men were arrested after a Starbucks employee called them in for being Black a few weeks back.
Every Starbucks closed today in response to that incident, and every Starbucks employee in universes both known and otherwise attended a racial bias training this afternoon.
That sits in stark contrast with Waffle House's response to a similar situation that was, I would argue, even more grave in the end than the Starbucks incident. When a Waffle House employee in Alabama called the police last month on Chikesia Clemons, a 25-year-old Black woman, she was arrested violently and with open hostility.
Waffle House has since released an official statement confirming its support of its employee and the decision to call the police.
So, on the one hand, I admire Starbucks' effort here.
On the other hand, we all still know this is also bullshit, right?
Starbucks released their plans and training materials last week. The very first line of their training video, in fact, renews their commitment to... diversity? Equity? Inclusion? Love? No. Nothing of that nature.
The first line of the video renews the corporation's commitment to “Third Place,” which seems to be a branded, mostly internal-facing, cutesie little marketing idea about how people spend time at work and spend time at home and also at… a THIRD place. (Starbucks, for instance.) Such insight. Really cuts to the racialized core of this delicate, critical issue.
So, they're being clear from the very beginning that this is not Starbucks committing to do the right thing for the sake of the right thing.
This is Starbucks renewing its commitment to its Starbucks-branded customer service strategy. They are reminding their employees that nobody is going to go to their coffee shops if you might call the police on them for no damn reason.
Anything a for-profit corporation does in a capitalist system is ultimately an attempt to do “right” by its shareholders — the only aim is profitability, and everything else supports that goal, regardless of how it’s packaged and pitched to the public. This includes, as we’re seeing, everything from corporate outreach work to ultra-public racial bias trainings. If it was hurting the bottom line to appear charitable, all corporate giving would stop, you know?
So, Starbucks’ efforts today are all about a truly giant corporation spending a lot of money to make sure they haven’t accidentally buried some of their massive profits in this giant hole one of their employees dug by calling the police that day.
Fine. At least Starbucks management seems to be doing a thoughtful, thorough job responding to this disaster. They hired Bryan Stevenson, a renowned author and thinker on this sort of subject, along with numerous other notable, expensive experts. They literally closed, as I understand it, every single Starbucks-run store and familiarized every single Starbucks employee with the idea of implicit racial bias. They open-sourced their training manual once the training had ended.
Plus, Starbucks is openly acknowledging that one afternoon of training is not even close to enough. “The day’s curriculum will set the foundation for a longer-term Starbucks anti-bias, diversity, equity and inclusion effort,” they said in a statement.
It makes me think: if it’s this easy, on some level, to just decide one day to do a massive, organization-wide training on implicit bias, why hasn’t our public school system done the same with its teachers and staff? If one afternoon we said, okay, here’s where it starts, and then we delivered the first in a series of high-quality trainings on race, systems of oppression, implicit bias, and things of that nature… well, we’d be further along in a matter of hours than we are now.
Then again, at its core this is a massive PR move, and we know in Seattle, at least, that our school district is more than happy to give PR-type lip service to inequity as a means of disguising a lack of meaningful action.
There are very much two sides to this coin. Or maybe I've found about eight already, and it turns out to be a crazy dice of some kind. A crazy die? I honestly can never remember which is plural. Anyway, this training day of Starbucks isn't purely good or bad, isn't exactly the right or wrong approach, and is both an example to learn from and an example of thinly veiled corporate machinations for us to recognize and rebuke.
It's all strange and confusing.
I think the real lesson here is that we the people are beginning to make it profitable to pursue racial equity and social justice. We're beginning to create the world we want to live in for ourselves rather than asking permission and asking for change. Starbucks brass knows, it seems, that large numbers of us seriously will buy our coffee from somebody else if they don't get their shit together and keep it together. Many of us already do.
We forced Starbucks to do this, essentially. The more we are able to create demand for this kind of corporate response to injustice, the less we will need the system to change. By demonstrating our demands through the strategic use and withholding of our time and resources, we'll create a greater supply of justice. If we show them that they have to be good, they might try harder to be good. It would be a start anyway.
The corporations will follow the money wherever it leads them. Might as well have it be where we want to go instead of where they incidentally take us.