White Privilege is Getting Freebies for Loitering at Starbucks

White Privilege is Getting Freebies for Loitering at Starbucks April 18, 2018

The past week has not been great for Starbucks.

Last Thursday, two black men were filmed being arrested at a Philly store and spent the evening in jail for sitting at a table and quietly waiting for a third party to arrive for a business meeting. And Monday, a black man was refused the right to use the bathroom in a Starbucks because he hadn’t purchased anything— this, immediately after a white man did the same thing, got the bathroom code, and experienced exactly zero negative consequences.

Today I’m not going to get into the fact that calling police on a black person who is not in the process of committing a crime is always an act of deadly aggression that amounts to racial terrorism (The Root did a fine job of that here).

I’m going to tell you about the White Lady Experiment my friends Heather and Sara invited me into yesterday.

One thing you’ll note — and may be disturbed by — is our white lady smiles. You should be disturbed. Because white women get away with all manner of not-quite-criminal (and sometimes criminal) passive-aggression by “sweetly” smiling and taking up our space, knowing full well that we won’t be bothered for doing so. White Lady Smiles have long been responsible for Black Male Lynchings. This is how we walk in a white world, it’s a specific privilege of white womaninity. And it should bother all of us.

We went to the whitest Starbucks we could think of and we sat there for an hour doing nothing but being obnoxious.

We used their bathrooms.

We talked loudly, sometimes using expletives (that was mostly me), about the injustice and destructiveness of white supremacy in black lives, particularly when expressed through corporate and institutionalized racial aggression.

We prominently displayed a sign that said, “This IS about Starbucks, and all businesses, and You and Me. #ExamineYourBias #BlackLivesMatter.” 

And, notably, we did not purchase anything.

The consequences of our actions were astoundingly unremarkable:

Police were not called.

We were not asked to leave.

Rather, we were offered free samples of a new coffee drink. 

One barista laughed at one of my expletive statements she’d overheard.

And at the end of our time, immediately after we filmed a Facebook live video about where we were, what we were doing, and the (non-existent) consequences of our actions — all of which the baristas were watching and quite well-aware — we were actually thanked for coming and wished a happy rest of our day.

This, dear readers, is how Whiteness works: 

Three middle-aged white women can loiter in a Starbucks for over an hour, purchase nothing, use their bathrooms, openly condemn the company and outspokenly challenge the racist norms that pervade the area of town we’re visiting, and we will be offered freebies and well-wishes for the road.

The worst we could note were the double-takes and wide-eyes a few customers gave in response to Sara’s Black Lives Matter shirt. And Heather noted how different her experience was from when she takes her black twins to Starbucks: Today, she was offered nothing but smiles. With them, she’s given blatant glares, looks of pity, and — occasionally — hero worship from white folks who fancy her the savior of those “poor black kids.” But never just the smiles like today.

It should go without saying in 2018,  but nevertheless bears constant repetition, that this is not how the visit would’ve gone for our darker-skinned friends. Had three women of color done exactly what we did? Given the public scrutiny Starbucks is certainly facing, they may not have been kicked out or had the police called; but it’s highly unlikely they’d have been given free drinks or been wished a happy day on their way out. They certainly wouldn’t have avoided the glares and stares and passive-aggressive judgments of the other guests. 

What’s most disturbing for us is that this whole experiment is utterly typical for a white person. I can’t count how many times I’ve used private business facilities or loitered for hours without purchasing a thing, and I’ve never yet been visited by an unfriendly comment, never mind police. This is how things should go — for everyone.

But the fact is, that’s just my whiteness talking and walking and breathing. 

People of color live in a different world with different rules and different consequences for breaking them. 

What my skin color allows me to get away with are the very things people of color are demonized, harassed, arrested, even killed for. 

The onus is on we who are privileged by and within the system to destroy the system because it destroys others. 

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  • Iain Lovejoy

    I think “white privilege” is an annoying misnomer. It is an annoying misnomer because everything that is described as a “privilege” isn’t one, or shouldn’t be: it is what is or what should be perfectly normal, unexceptional behaviour towards fellow human beings. What you are describing I would say in reality is the absence of, as it were, “non-white antiprivilege”, the absence of an increased level of conscious or unconscious suspicion / tension that people can respond with when faced with something or (more relevantly) someone they regard as different, unusual, out of place or “other”, and which (unless they are aware of it and check it) leads them to behave in a guarded or hostile manner which they otherwise wouldn’t do.
    I think the phrase “white privilege”, while describing a real thing, is unhelpful in that, firstly, white people (of whom I am one) do not experience it as a privilege, but as normal human interaction, and will often therefore deny that it exists, and secondly (and I think the post is unhelpful in this respect) that use of the phrase suggests that the behaviour displayed towards white people described as “white privilege” is wrong, and should be stopped or “destroyed”, which is not at all the case: what should be happening is that the same “privilege” of normal human interaction should be enjoyed by everyone regardless of race.

  • Paul Koopman

    Obfuscation. You admit privilege exists, and that white folks have more access to it than people of color. You just don’t think we should call it “white privilege” because in your mind, it’s a pejorative, so you suggest non-white underprivileged, a redundant suggestion which also mangles the English language. You think the post is “unhelpful”, not because of the content, but because Amy used vernacular you don’t approve of. You should let go of your semantic straw man. For one thing, you’re just wrong in suggesting that perhaps conservative white folks would be more accepting of equity if words were switched around a little. It’s an absurd argument. Losing an advantage feels to them like persecution.

    In reality, no one argues that privilege is a bad thing, or that no one should have it. Privilege isn’t a scarlet P branded on white abdomens. It’s a responsibility. The idea is to use it and leverage it to extend it to everyone.

  • Rudy Schellekens

    hm, let’s see. You did this when? After last week’s Philadelphia incident? What did you expect to happen? And if you kept up with the events, you would have read the comment of a WHITE police officer, who just a few weeks before had the exact same experience in the exact same location.

    And what about gas stations who do not let you use the “facilities” when you have not purchased anything, be it a full tank of gas or a candy bar. If two white guys had been arrested, would you have made the same noise as you make now?? It was a Starbucks rule (I know, my son worked at Starbucks). How many times was the same rule applied to white people? And when they refused to leave the premises, what happened?

    It is yet again the ignition of a fire without full knowledge of all the facts…

  • Nimblewill

    If I had been a customer I would have told the management how rude you were and got up and left myself regardless of your color.

  • Rudy Schellekens

    And now we have even more information. It is a Starbucks in an overwhelmingly black area of town, so having black customers is nothing special. It is also an area where there are many stores with the same problem, so it is not an exceptional situation. The hostess/manager who was on duty asked politely, multiple times. Rather than an explanation, the two were rude and unwilling to communicate (And bragged about it on TV).
    Does that make a difference as to understanding what happened? Does it make a difference in the hateful messages about this event? It better…

  • Bill Pavuk

    Oh, Rudy, come on, man. For every one “social media comment” about someone somewhere (a police officer of all things) denied the restroom as a white person, I can raise you 100 examples of white friends who sat in Starbucks to do some reading or wait to meet people or wasted time on their computer or worked on a paper as if it’s a library without books, and took up space for hours and used the bathroom at will and were never once told to leave. Anyone not lying to themselves knows damned well that while this is a rule, much like jay-walking or littering, it’s rarely ever enforced and when it is it’s done in a discriminatory manner.

  • Rudy Schellekens

    Actually, it was not a social media comment, but an interview on one of the “Standard” (ABC, NBC, CBS) news channels. But that does not make it as sensational, does it? How many people know, for example, that ALL INVESTIGATING agencies, from local to Federal, cleared the officer involved in the shooting in Ferguson, MO? But that does not make the news! How many people realize that the Rodney King riots caused an enormous amount of damage to, of all people, Korean and Vietnamese shop keepers? Or the damage done to black shopkeepers in Ferguson? But that is not news, is it?
    I am against police brutality. Where that happens, the law needs to be applied as vigorously as possible. There is never an excuse for brutality.

  • Martha Anne Underwood

    I am not surprised that they left you alone. Being white I thought about going to Starbucks with my computer and just sitting there for an hour to see if anyone would come over and ask me to leave. Never made it though. What is so distressing is that too many white people get all hot and bothered and claim there is no white privilege even when it is staring them in the face.

  • Paul Koopman

    In the immortal words of Curly Bill, “Well… Bye!”

  • countervail

    I fully condemn the management of that particular Starbucks for not talking to the individuals first and if it truly was a business necessity to open space for paying customers. I fully condemn asking the police to get involved in this issue as a crime. But the problem is white entitlement, not black disenfranchisement.

    White people want to use private businesses and government held spaces as an extension of their personal lives. Starbucks is not your living room away from home. I would never assume to loiter in such a space without purchasing product. I have often used a coffee place as a common meeting spot but I’ve definitely BOUGHT COFFEE there.

    So the problem isn’t in businesses accommodating non-paying black customers. The problem is the entitlement of white non-paying customers setting up an expectation of accommodation for their cheap asses with the threat of trouble from them if they’re not accommodated. Then when there’s a conflict with non-paying black customers, the uppity white ladies are all indignant that people of color can’t get away with their sh*tty white lady behavior.

  • mushypea

    Well they wouldn’t have received any smiles from me. I loathe people like this, regardless of skin color, that clutter up Starbucks, buying nothing, yakking aimlessly or tapping away on their laptops. When I go to Starbucks its to buy a coffee (an unusual event apparently), usually with a friend, and for us to have a chat. Inevitably there is never anywhere to sit because of people like this, and that is my real issue. Starbucks needs to stop wasters like this taking up room so that paying customers have somewhere to sit. Why can’t they go to the library or the park?

  • Shirley Blake

    Good point I would also add there is already a concise word for anti privilege. It’s called racism and the privileged folks don’t seem to like that one any better.

  • Paul Koopman

    Cite your sources. None of this “more information” is corroborated by what I’m seeing. Of course, I don’t listen to InfoWars or right wing talk radio, perhaps you have access to some “more information”. It would be helpful for you to tell us what you’re talking about.

    Of course, none of it really matters, just more obfuscation and red herrings. The usual suspects. There was a *reason*, you see, a *reason* for a store manager to call 911 two minutes after they arrived, a *reason* for her to suspect trouble requiring police intervention, when one of them asks to use the bathroom, and they indicate a reluctance to purchase anything until the full party has arrived. But of course that *reason* has nothing to do with skin color, how silly.

    Every important party agrees the action was inappropriate. The police even admit they handled it poorly (because no one was hurt, the stakes are low, so contrition is the best course, see how this works?). It is interesting and likely instructive to see folks continue to try to spin justification, as if it needs explanation beyond the obvious – people don’t fear white ladies; they do fear black people, and particularly black men.

  • Rudy Schellekens

    Actually, I referred to the main news outlets.
    And from a timeline of events as recounted by the two customers, the exchange took way more than two minutes.
    And yes, those things DO matter. If there had been enough restraint in Ferguson, there would not have been mass destruction of people’s livelyhood.
    And now again, actions have been set in motion for no reason at all. The more often that happens, the less people will pay attention when its for real.

  • Starbucks is the most liberal Corporate entity you could name and typical of a Progressive Liberal that is not good enough for you.
    Your self-serving visit and discourse is typical of a Progressive Liberal looking for another “wrong” to right. Now it’s “Whiteness.”
    In my long experience with restaurant/convenience store facilities I have been denied use of the facilities many times. I was not
    being discriminated against and because I was White they did not change the Rules for me.
    Your summary conclusions are your opinion and not shared by everyone for sure. In fact this one, “What my skin color allows me to get away with are the very things people of color are demonized, harassed, arrested, even killed for,” is a laughable joke. Please tell us what you have done that people of color are being killed for?

  • Paul Koopman

    Actually, you haven’t cited any sources, and none of your arguments match up with any reporting I’ve seen. We must assume you’re making up your own narrative at this point. Rittenhouse Square is in a zip code nearly 80% white, and only 6% black (according to Slate), while the NYT reports the population in the police subdivision (more specific than zip code) is only 3% black. Multiple sources place the 911 call at 4:37, 2 minutes after they arrived. Sure, the whole series of events took more than 2 minutes – presumably the police were not just standing outside when they got the call – but the fact remains, she called 911 2 minutes after they walked in. And I haven’t seen anything anywhere about her being “polite”; although if she was, it only makes her decision to dial 911 immediately following the interaction even more insidious.

    Your analysis is nonsense, predictably based on an imagined series of events and intentions.

  • Bryan Kisner

    Will NEVER go in a star buck they all ways been 2 face

  • Betorn

    What a crock of self-ridiculing “white privilege” propaganda only days after the Philadelphia incident. (Woke is a joke.) All they proved is the staff got the memo not to confront anybody loitering for fear of exactly what they tried to do here. Provoke an incident.

  • Is it really an experiment if everybody already damn well knows what’s going to happen?

  • MadGastronomer

    Privilege derives from the Latin for “private law”. It is one law (social as well as legal) for us as white people, and another for people who are not white. This is what privilege means, that some of us get treated better than everyone else. This is what privilege is. Your bs doesn’t actually make privilege a bad term for it.

  • TJ

    May your children gay marry black people.

  • TJ,
    Your comment makes no sense.
    No one is attacking you.

  • Black people and White people are privileged Americans. Stop the racial hatred and bigoted labeling.

  • enchess

    Isn’t that sorta the point? While the men arrested were sitting quietly, these women not only did the same “crime” but were also purposively annoying and in your face about it. Yet they still suffered no consequences because white privilege.

  • enchess

    But at both of the Starbucks incidents there were white people breaking the rules with 0 enforcement while the black people were punished. So it’s nothing like when you’ve been denied facilities, unless the location you were denied allowed someone of another color to do what you wanted to do moments before. You are being purposefully ignorant at this point.

  • One could argue that you are being purposefully obtuse on this matter.
    Quit trying to inflame bigoted passions by claiming racial discrimination for everything that happens every day.
    Take a close look at what is happening in the Black Community right now – black people are finally starting to “leave the plantation” of democrat deceit and control – Kayne West isn’t alone….

  • enchess

    You are the one trying to inflame bigoted passions with your angry attitude and refusal to acknowledge the context of the situation. If a business allows white people to use their facilities without being customers, but not black people, it’s racist. It would be one thing if the Starbucks in question called the cops on white people who weren’t customers waiting for people or refused bathroom use to non-customer white people, but they didn’t.

    No one, seriously, no one thinks it’s racist for Starbucks to blanket not allow non-customers to use their facilities. You are straw-manning with your example of being denied. You are determined to view Democrats (which I don’t even and have never identified as) as bigots, so you refuse to acknowledge the nuances of the situation.

  • Exactly. We are sick of Progressive racists telling us what is right and wrong.

  • Pocket Nerd

    “The only REAL racism is when liberals acknowledge racism exists!”

  • enchess

    “There is no worse oppression than being told to not be racist. All the people we discriminate against just don’t understand how hard we have it!”

    It kinda makes me sad that your quote almost sounds like something they’d actually say unironically…

  • TheSunnyLife

    Lol. You’re a fat p.o.s. begging for handouts from productive people who actually work for a living. What privilege do you have for being white? People of all races avoid you because you’re fat and gross with a terrible personality.

  • TheSunnyLife

    Wouldn’t it be a lot easier if black people just stopped pissing and moaning and learned to behave?

  • prissy

    I feels white privledged cuz i MAKE $150,000 A YEAR BUT i dont do anything but wear LV and I got the real not the fake. I have a Audi 7 and I am a minority business consultant for a car company. I travel and I am have awards. so I axe fuh free coffe to.

  • Judgeforyourself37

    You are wrong, my dear. I have been seated at a Starbucks while reading a book that I might or might not purchase without buying anything. Starbucks is at one end of the Barnes and Noble Book Store. I am an elderly, white woman, and no one said a thing to me. I wonder if I had been a young man of color would it have been the same scenario?

  • Judgeforyourself37

    Furthermore the men in question were awaiting the arrival of a client. Yes, white privilege is still alive and well. As an old white woman I am ashamed of what happened. In fact, sadly, I lost someone whom I thought was a good friend. She asked if I was proud to be white, and said that I was not! How can a white person with a soul be proud of what Caucasians did to our Native American sisters and brothers and later what we did and still are doing to our African American sisters and brothers!

  • skenl

    Some are more privileged than others. This is quite obvious if one follows the news.

  • Please clarify a bit so I can respond. Money has its privileges. Skin color not so much as i view it.

  • Ivlia Blackburn

    Only in the US. Go into my local Starbucks and there will be as many Africans in there as paler skinned customers, none have had the police called out to arrest them and I suspect this is unlikely to ever happen, so long as they remain law abiding (this also includes those of paler skins though I have seen the cops called out a couple of times for some of them). My local Starbucks isn’t in Africa but nor is it in the US, and THAT is the crucial factor. Not the name of the company but the fact that the branch in question, and the employees, are in the US. Stop demonising the company and start instead on the staff and management in the country where it occurred, because it wasn’t the fault of the company but of the staff and local management, and the country, government and population that allow this to happen in the first place.

  • Rudy Schellekens

    Starbucks inside a B&N store are a totally different matter and environment. Same as a Starbucks inside any other entity, such as super markets etc.

  • Kyllein MacKellerann “

    Error of thought, 2nd level, fourth item: Over-generalizing. While this was engendered by ONE person in ONE Starbucks (and counter to Starbucks own standards), some people have used the incident in a racist-shaming manner without support from the overall sample. Starbucks is an entity comprised of people who drink coffee and are willing to pay for the beverage and the surroundings. Race is generally ignored (actual experience, first person). By claiming a racial bias, the writer exposes their own racist viewpoint.

  • Matt Sornz

    I’ve never seen so many butthurt black people who want to be white like MJ, are are thirsty for HDC(Honkey Donkey Cock) and so many butthurt white people who have stockholm syndrome and are craving BBC(Big black cock) in a single comment section before. Thank god you people do not interact with the outside world

  • Matt Sornz

    My dear you sound like you are really craving that BBC. May I suggest buzzfeed or craiglist?

  • Nimblewill

    Would a white person be privileged in China. I just came from Jamaica where I was constantly taken advantage of by Jamaicans. Over charged at every turn, even cheated! I don’t say its because of Jamaican black privilege. Its cultural privilege, if its privilege at all. This is quite obvious if one follows logic.