Starbucks Racial Profiling Incident: 7 Tips To Respond to Racial Controversies

Starbucks Racial Profiling Incident: 7 Tips To Respond to Racial Controversies April 18, 2018

The last few days, I’ve been reading and hearing about two young, black men getting kicked out of a Starbucks in Philadelphia (see here and here). Apparently, a white, female store manager called the police because the two were sitting there and appeared to be not paying customers.  The cops allegedly asked them to leave but after 12 minutes of them refusing to leave the store, arrested them overnight. Reportedly, the young men were waiting for a friend and were not disruptive.

I remember reading this news and just feeling flabbergasted. Again? Who, what this time? I want to know the whole story, not just part of the story or what the media chooses to tell. On second thought, I’m tired of bad news again. Who is being racist in this day and age? Why can’t this stop already? Surely there must be a misunderstanding and white Americans can’t be that bad? Then I read that the friend the two young men were waiting for was a white man who protested their arrest to police when he saw them being handcuffed away. The video of the incident was taken by a white woman, then posted and shared by another white woman to raise awareness of this injustice as it occurred.

Then I think of my husband, in laws, church friends, colleagues at work, and neighbors who are white, and I know that the world has not gone mad. It’s full of imperfect people playing their roles and having a hard time figuring out how to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. But they (may I include you and I also?) are trying.

Still, it’s tiring to hear about racial injustice incidents happening to Black Americans on the news so regularly. I’m Asian and I’ve never been discriminated against in this manner.  I’ve been followed a few times for browsing in retail shops too long and not buying anything. But, never have I been asked to leave a store for not being a paying customerIn fact, when I was writing my memoir/parenting book, I would frequent the local Starbucks or Stripes (corner store) with my laptop for months, and a few times did not order. Mostly, I did order a drink because I would feel guilty for using their facilities without being a customer. Still, these racial profiling incidents against fellow Black Americans are starting to make me feel guilty for having Asian privilege, which I hear from Black social work colleagues is almost as good as White privilege.

Thankfully, the latest news is that the CEO of Starbucks came on television to apologize and offered to work toward a solution. Within 24 hours, it was announced that Starbucks has contracted with prominent leaders of the racial justice movement to conduct a racial bias training for all its employees nationwide on May 29th. All Starbucks will be closed, so get ready to miss your coffee fix that day, folks! No pain, no gain.

Well, I’m not a social justice warrior, so I will not beat you up as racist, oppressive, or ignorant. I am a fellow sinner, saved by grace (Romans 3:23), who has been trained in the battlefield of social work, so I can share a gentle guide on how to navigate these racial controversies. Here are some simple tips:

  1. Be quiet. Someone is in pain. Someone is hurt. Lots of people are crying out loud. Some people are mad. Some are confused. Others are annoyed or tired of this again. Now is the time to respectfully take it all in as a bystander, a fellow citizen, a neighbor.
  2. Listen. Listen to what the people involved are saying. Listen to what the people who are triggered are saying.
  3. Listen some more. Listen to unspoken words. Put aside your feelings and thoughts momentarily and listen to their feelings. Listen to their hearts. It may unexpectedly help you in another relationship you are in.
  4. Educate yourself on the topic of racism and white supremacy in America. The reading opportunities are endless: books, articles, tweets, Facebook postings, blogs, columns, comments on any social media forum, comments on comments, etc… Trigger warning: some are more reader friendly than others. Choose from someone you normally don’t follow. Read writings from people you don’t normally associate with. Keep reading.
  5. Ask questions. Ask clarifying questions to get to know more. Ask about any statements that seem confusing or odd to you. Ask to explore. Seek to understand and to reduce implicit (subconscious) bias.
  6. Learn. The learning opportunities are endless. But learning requires humility and vulnerability. It requires that you and I  momentarily suspend our need to impart our education, knowledge, or experience to educate others. It requires an open mind to see things from another point of view.
  7. Share from your heart. Share your feelings using feeling words (“I feel confused…” rather than “I feel like this is confusing.”). Share your thoughts in a humble way. Share what you have learned that might uplift someone or give someone hope. Share your hospitality with others, especially others of a different race, ethnicity, or culture.

Then won’t you come back here and share with us your insights? Here’s to more respectful dialogue, working together, reaching out, and building bridges of connection. Do you think these tips will help? What are your tips?


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