Coffeehouse Blues

Coffeehouse Blues

Once again, I can’t seem to come out on the right side things. 

Actually, that’s not completely true. I agree that if white people are allowed to sit in a coffee shop without buying anything, black people should be able to do the same. Perhaps I’m not completely off base.

I get in trouble because I wonder about all the details of this little conflagration that’s been in the news lately. Such as: do we know that white people can sit in a coffeehouse for an hour without ordering anything and that black people can’t? I’m guessing it could be true. 

Do we know that white people can get the code for the bathroom without ordering and black people can’t (assuming neither is a regular customer)? This could also be true. There’s just so much bad faith on the part of white Americans that it’s pretty easy to imagine that black people aren’t making these things up.

Was the place even crowded? Nothing I’ve seen or read answers this. Would the coffeehouse manager have called the cops if the person refusing to order or leave had been white? I’m guessing not, especially if the person hadn’t been disturbing anyone. It’s just really hard to picture this situation happening to a white person.

Still, even though it’s possible for me to see the injustice of this incident, it’s hard for me to get all up in arms about it. Perhaps this is because I’ve wandered into coffeehouses more than once only to see tables full of people, comfortably ensconced in little nests, who clearly have no intention of leaving anytime soon. Most have laptops or tablets, they seem to be working on something, they may or may not have food or coffee, but there’s definitely no seat available for me. 

The incident in question happened in a Philadelphia Starbucks, so that’s part of the problem. Starbucks doesn’t get any sympathy from anyone for anything. It’s big. It’s corporate. It has deep pockets. And, for Seattleites, there’s always Viretta Park. Perhaps they don’t deserve any sympathy. Yet, as corporations go, Starbucks does have a better than average reputation for employee benefits, hiring policies, and training. I’m sure they’ll be hurriedly scrutinizing their diversity training and tweaking it to make sure they don’t get this type of bad press again.

But back to me, please. I want a seat if I buy something to eat or drink. Yeah, I know that there are busy times and every cafe can fill up at certain times of day. But really, is it unreasonable to think that a person of any color might order a cup of coffee just to help pay the coffeehouse rent? And isn’t it just fair for customers to have first dibs on seats?

The ACLU is hot on the trail of this case, assuming the white store manager’s action were racially tinged. I certainly doubt it was policy, but I agree that implicit bias could be lurking. Perhaps as the ACLU pursues this, we’ll learn some vital information such as the ratio of refusals of restroom keys for blacks vs whites, and ratio of 911 calls for blacks vs whites. Will we also learn the ratio of blacks vs whites who capitulate to a manager’s request to order something? 

Meanwhile, no I’m not boycotting Starbucks over this incident. And I’m betting that all those independent coffeehouses who also don’t want people sitting forever without ordering are just glad this didn’t happen at one of their places. Although it would hardly be national news if it had.

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