, 04.17.2018 07:57 AM

Starbucks, racism and a social media case study

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:

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.


  1. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Patrick van Kessel says:

    I hope the gentleman have a good lawyer, and they sue the pants of these assholes for millions.

  2. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Sean McLaughlin says:

    In a parallel universe that exists only in our imaginations, the bike cops called to the scene listen to all parties, decide to buy the two guys coffee and tell the manager to relax, then leave.

  3. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Matt says:

    Heard the reason they were asked to leave was they weren’t “paying customers”, just sitting there taking up space. Since when it that against the law? And from the video, it’s not like the place was packed ad customers had to stand around.

    Well, I think if I was a cop who responed to that call, I’d have bought them each a coffee and told the manager “They are customers now” and left.

    • Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
      Miles Lunn says:

      It is fine to politely ask someone to leave unless they want to buy something, that would not be an issue. But only if they are aggressive and resist do you call the cops you don’t call it over someone leaving, very bad judgement on the employee who did this.

  4. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Miles Lunn says:

    Hopefully the person who called the cops gets fired. That is disgusting and totally unacceptable. Also the cops need to be questioned why they arrested the two men since you can only arrest someone if they’ve done something.

  5. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Ned Ludd says:

    Admit your mistake. Apologize. Try to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Someone at Starbucks is thinking.
    Starbucks (SBUX) says it will close all company stores nationwide on the afternoon of May 29 to conduct a racial bias training.

    The announcement comes as the company recovers from a racially charged incident last week that has led to protests and calls for a boycott.

    “The training will be provided to nearly 175,000 partners (employees) across the country, and will become part of the onboarding process for new partners,” the company said.

    On Thursday, two black men were arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks and partial of the incident went .

    Police said they were told that the men asked to use the restroom but were denied because they hadn’t bought anything. They later released the men, saying there was no basis for a criminal charge.

    The incident led to allegations of racial bias and calls to boycott Starbucks on social media. Protesters on Monday shut down multiple Starbucks in Philadelphia.

    Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson has met with the two men and apologized, and the manager who called the police is no longer at the store, the company said.

  6. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    the salamander horde says:

    .. someone in this wacko tale has serious issues.. and it aint the two dudes waiting for a friend..

    and there is a time.. where I just don’t buy a coffee or a croissant when waiting on a friend.. I can wait, then blow 5 bucks on a chai tea latte grande, with buttermilk & steamed rhinoceros tusk with a dusting of caribou hoof

    I am migrating.. from Tim Horton, Starbucks & the rest of the usual suspects.. I seek out family owned and run greasy spoons with bacon or sausage & eggs.. at a real table by the window.. like Motorama (what a name) on Danforth at Jones, then sally forth into my day

    I used to find this at The Goof in the Beach(es) Hell I used to send my son and and any sleepover survivors there for OJ and breakfast.. on my dime, get them out of my hair, but I moved north of The Danforth

    Classic story Warren might appreciate.. Droppin in on a friend a few doors north of The Goof & mentioned there was a movie scene being shot at The Goof. I cautioned him they were recording sound.. be respectful

    first take was more rehearsal than a real take
    Take two a fab classic car pulls up out front of the Goof
    and a guy machine guns the cops through the window, explodes it and drives away .. Angela Jolie rushes out the door, gun drawn.

    My buddy loudly says – “About time somebody complained about the food’ – guffaws all round from the crew.. and locals.. production manager not impressed

    That was ‘the keeper’ take .. she runs to the corner and – cut- appears on the Spadina bridge looking for the gunner.. She looks south on Beech and is now on Spadina Bridge over The Gardiner Expressway.. Angel Eyes .. I kid you not

  7. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Patrick says:

    Apologies aren’t good enough when you abuse police to terrorize innocent people. This kind of thing causes life-long trauma and distrust of authority –

  8. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Kevin says:

    “Incident”?? I agree – the incident was the manager (who’s no longer there) calling police. But whoever wrote that apology needs to be no longer there too.

    It looks like the company saw the manager had done a shitty thing, realized their PR people had made it even worse, and is taking some pretty strong action. It could just be damage control, or it could be they really mean it. Time will tell.

    To me the sad thing is we need to have racial sensitivity “training” at all. We need to be sent on training to not be racist? Or sent on training to not be rapists? Or sent on training to not be bullies? Sad we need training on basic human decency.

  9. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Julius says:

    Before everyone jumps to conclusions of racism etc listen to all sides. I watched the customer video and listened to the Black Police commissioner explain what happened. The SB employee was following standard business practice at all coffee shops. You can’t loiter at coffee shops unless you buy something . They were asked to leave by employee and the police and they refused. So they were arrested , would have happened regardless of color once the cops were called. Starbucks of course sees how the PR is bad and act like that is not the policy but what are they going to do. I would love to see them change their rules to any non customer can hang out in Starbucks, then the homeless can move in etc. Here is the Commissioner. http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2018/04/14/starbucks-apology-philly-arrest/

    • Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
      Fred from BC says:

      The people who seemingly love to exploit racism for fun and profit won’t like to hear your interpretation. Prepare to be insulted…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.