By now, you have heard all about the two real estate brokers who were seated in a Philadelphia Starbucks last week, waiting for another man to meet with them for business. The two real estate brokers were black.
The white, female Starbucks manager called the police, who came and arrested the two men. They were led away in handcuffs, while other patrons, all white, shot videos and protested what had happened. The two men were eventually released, without charges, in the middle of the night.
Along with several million other people, I was disgusted by what Starbucks had done – particularly when I saw their non-apology “apology.” So, I did what several million others had done, and took to social media. I tweeted this:
— Warren Kinsella (@kinsellawarren) April 14, 2018
That tweet was retweeted more than 600 times (and counting), including by author Cory Doctorow. It was “liked” close to 2,000 times. And Twitter said that it had been seen more than a quarter million times. The videos of the arrests were seen many more times than that.
That all reminded me of three things:
- Its failures are well-documented – the misogyny, the threats, the hatred – but Twitter (and Facebook, whose failures are legion) can sometimes be a force for good. It can connect with people and mobilize them. It can even get a corporate global behemoth to pay attention, and react.
- I’ve been writing about, and opposing, racism for more than three decades. In 2008, on the extraordinary night when Barack Obama won, I thought it might signal the end of racism. That was profoundly naïve, of course, as racism has only gotten worse – and now we even have a white supremacist as Obama’s successor. Race, and the divide over race, remains the dominant socio-political factor in the United States – and is a dominant factor in other supposedly-tolerant nations, like ours.
- Starbucks attracted a tremendous amount of attention, here, because (a) it is as ubiquitous as the Catholic church, and (b) because (clearly) many people regarded it as some sort of progressive and enlightened bulwark against the nativism that is now rampant everywhere (see point two, above). I suspect this incident would have attracted zero attention if it had transpired on the sidewalk outside that Philly Starbucks. There would have been no videos shot – at least not by white people.
What does it all mean? It means the beast of racism is still awake, and that social media can alternately feed and punish it. It means that Starbucks can be counted on for only lattés, not wisdom.
Also: everything sucks. One step forward, two steps back. Always.