When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
After Starbucks announced plans for anti-racism and diversity training for all of their workers, one of the protestors held up a sign saying, “Too Little, Too Latte”
(Full disclosure: I am drinking Starbucks Coffee as I write this and I have been through more anti-racism workshops than I can count. I have actually been to the Rittenhouse Square Starbucks in Philadelphia where the incident took place.)
And lest anyone misunderstand, I do not think for a nano-second that Starbucks is any more racist than the rest of us. But that’s the problem, isn’t it?
Unless you have been subject to a news blackout for the past few days, you know the story. Two young black business men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, were waiting for a colleague to arrive for a business meeting.
Mr. Nelson asked to use the Rest Room and was told that it was for paying customers only and since he had not yet purchased anything he could not use it.
No problem. He sat down with his friend and business partner to wait for their colleague to arrive.
Errin Haines Whack, AP National Writer, describes what happened next.
“A few minutes later, they hardly noticed when the police walked into the coffee shop — until officers started walking in their direction.
“’That's when we knew she called the police on us," Nelson told The Associated Press in the men's first interview since video of their April 12 arrests went viral.
“. . . Robinson said he thought about his loved ones and how the afternoon had taken such a turn as he was taken to jail. Nelson wondered if he'd make it home alive.”
A white customer recorded the incident on a cell phone and then posted the video
As outrage spread across the internet, the two men spent hours in a jail cell with no outside contact and no idea what would happen next, unaware of the storm generated by the incident on social media. They were released after midnight when District Attorney Larry Krasner declined to prosecute them for trespassing.
Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson has met with the two men to apologize and hear their concerns. Johnson has also announced that 8,000 stores will be closed on the afternoon of May 29 so that 175,000 Starbucks employees can attend workshops on racism and diversity.
Some sociologists have expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of anti-racism and diversity training in curbing the implicit bias that white people have toward people of color.
They point out that the training may backfire as white employees may feel that it puts them down by elevating the status of minorities. And they note that sense of white victimhood was a factor in the last presidential election.
I don’t doubt that the skeptical sociologists know the data in ways that I do not. And I agree that real progress requires a lot more than a few hours at a seminar. But I believe this is a very good first step.
First, because it is big. And it’s very public. Without making any excuses, Starbucks is saying that they have to do better.
And second, they are sending the clear message to their employees that racism and racial profiling are unacceptable.
Of course it’s also good publicity and it’s about brand preservation. Self-interest is always a motivating factor. (Thank you, Reinhold Niebuhr.) But that doesn’t diminish its value.
And it makes an important statement to the culture beyond Starbucks.
Thinking about the Starbucks response led me to thinking about the United Methodist Church. What if the church were more like Starbucks?
Of course we still have lots of work to do on racism. We are Americans, after all.
But I found myself thinking about our continued discrimination against our LGBTQ siblings.
We don’t have a CEO, but would it not be amazing (as in grace) if our Bishops and District Superintendents went to high schools and spoke to the local Gay-Straight Alliance (or other appropriate group) and apologized for the harm we have done—and for the harm done by other “Christians?”
What if we took an afternoon, or a Sunday morning, and dedicated that time to learning how to be better neighbors? Maybe we could learn to stop talking about the “homosexual lifestyle,” for starters. Maybe we could work to make sure that our LGBTQ siblings never feel like they are going to be “charged with trespassing” when they come to church.
Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to share on social media as you wish.