When a Busy Schedule Collides With Politics at Starbucks

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“A change is brought about because ordinary people do extraordinary things.” ― Barack Obama

Please do not revoke my Black card. However, I went to Starbucks yesterday. I am happy to report that I wasn’t harassed, questioned or arrested. I met the person I was there to meet. We had a conversation. And then, I left. People’s minds may be turning and thinking things like, “You know there’s a boycott going on. Were you there are part of a sit in or something? Is there another radical protest technique underway in Pittsburgh, focused on the Starbucks you frequent?” I’d like to say that I was a part of some 1960’s style protest designed to bring the unprovoked arrests of Black people to a head.

However, I am just a tired, overworked working mom. And my trip to Starbucks was a function of inadequate planning and inadequate time.

My "accidental" trip to Starbucks during the boycott gave me time to research and reflect.

I am sure that people more "woke" than I am would have planned better. They would have looked at their calendar a day in advance, realized that an appointment to Starbucks was on it and either rearranged the location of said meeting or conducted it by telephone. I admire my more woke friends (is that the correct phrase?) and their ability to manage their lives in a way that includes every protest and child rearing, personal grooming and work. I generally strive to be one of them. I mean for goodness sake, I have a t-shirt from when I was a baby that says, “Panther Power”. And although my mom insists that I had the t-shirt because her college mascot was a “Panther” and my father was a basketball player, their Afros, incense, and personal politics have always made me suspect otherwise…

My mom also has a friend who is the most woke among us. She will be very disappointed to hear about my Starbucks visit (assuming someone tells her because I don’t think she reads my blog since I generally talk about apolitical topics) and may disinvite me to the next cookout or let me come and not offer me any potato salad. I may politely decline the potato salad anyway—you know out of respect for the movement—because who am I to frequent a public place that has become as American as apple pie simply because I was tired, overworked, and had agreed to meet someone there and lacked their cell phone number to make a last-minute schedule change.

Who am I indeed?

Even though I was an army of one, I am the Black woman who proudly entered Starbucks yesterday to conduct some research. You see, I’m not a regular Starbucks visitor because I am too cheap to pay for a daily habit that my office provides for free. I generally find myself at Starbucks because I need a more discreet place to meet someone other than my office. I may be speaking to a disgruntled employee, catching up with a friend, or want to put together a quick blog post. Indeed, I realized that for me and for many people, Starbucks has become as ubiquitous as the local library as a provider of a nice environment, a harbor from life’s storms and free wi-fi. Hell, I have even seen people who I believe are straight homeless at Starbucks just to get out of the rain!

Starbucks Needs to Fix This Because We Expected More of Them

That is why what happened to those two Black guys in Philadelphia stings so much. Some people have argued, “Shouldn’t businesses have the discretion to kick out people who loiter?” Those people miss the entire point. Getting kicked out Starbucks for sitting quietly is almost like getting kicked out of a church for doing the same thing. Everybody there is sitting quietly, only some put money in the collection plate, but all get to participate in the service. I get that, this sitting without buying thing isn’t a fundamental part of their business model (because who would fund that). Still, everybody who has been there knows it’s a thing. Besides nearly everybody who goes there does buy something, eventually. I know this because there are Starbucks everywhere and their stock has been strong. So, they’re making a lot of money!

My unofficial Starbucks research project revealed something else. The baristas are generally too busy to monitor who is buying and who is not. I walked in, quietly met my student who had purchased a beverage and sat down. Upon a quick review of the place I noticed two things. One, there were no other Black people. Two, the place wasn’t packed. The second got me to thinking about what may have happened in Philly. I wonder if it was a busy day and somebody wanted the seats occupied by the guys who got arrested. (I’d call them the “Black” guys again. However, I think you got that point by now. And also, my husband thinks that I shouldn’t label people like that.) Perhaps what the investigation will reveal is that the manager decided to appeal to paying customers who wanted the seats instead of the nonpaying, yet quiet men, who got arrested. That’s just a theory.

What I do know is this. I really hope that this thing is resolved soon and Starbucks makes amends and people can go there without shame again. Here’s the thing. I have Starbucks gift cards that I give to people who do nice things like my assistant, my kids’ teachers, and others. I’m going to have to find another way to say, “thank you” for $10 and cash seems so cold…