So sorry to bust your narrative, but

By now, I guess that just about the whole world–other than those suffering and dying in Syria, fleeing persecution in Myanmar,  rebuilding lives that ISIS destroyed in Iraq, starving in Venezuela (well, maybe not quite the whole world after all)–have read or heard about the incidence of “racism” at a Starbucks store in Philadelphia. The narrative that follows is predictable. I searched on the phrase “Philadelphia Starbucks incident” on both Google and Bing, and here are some of the headlines: 

  • Men Arrested At Philadelphia Starbucks Speak Out; Police Commissioner Apologizes. (NPR)
  • The two black men arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks last week say they were handcuffed within minutes of entering the store. (CNN)
  • Starbucks incident not about ‘unconscious bias.’ It is about racist behavior in America. (Chicago Tribune)

Scrolling through the search results I found pages of similar headlines, from sources as disparate as the Bangor Daily News and Yeshiva World News. In fact, no matter how many pages I scrolled through, all the headlines were the same narrative. I finally gave up looking for a different perspective. It has to be about racism! You know that Google and Bing (owned by Microsoft) are the two most popular search engines, and their algorithms decide which search results appear soonest. They apparently decree, there is only one narrative (unless you’re a racist, which you automatically must be if you are even trying to find another narrative). 

Then, I got an email from another news source, The Daily Wire, with this headline: The Facts Are In. The Real Story At Starbucks Is Entitlement, Not Racism. Oops, how did that get in there, you racist? For one thing, this writer, Matt Walsh, actually waited until he had verifiable facts. Here are a few: 

1) The 911 call placed by Holly (the manager), in which she says, very reasonably, “I have two gentlemen in my cafe that are refusing to make a purchase or leave.” This is significant because it confirms that the men were given the option to at least buy something and, incredibly, they refused.

2) Their own testimony, which they gave to “Good Morning America” on Thursday. According to their own version, they walked into the store, grabbed a table, and then asked to use the restroom. The manager told them that they had to buy something to use it. They declined, and went back to sit at the table without having purchased anything. She (the manager) approached them and offered to get them drinks or anything else they might want. They declined. They were asked to leave and they declined. The police came and asked them to leave and they declined. This is their own version.

When asked on “Good Morning America” how they would respond to people who say they broke the rules by loitering and not buying anything, their lawyer declared that Starbucks is a “place to meet.” In other words, they have decided that this private establishment is more like a camping ground or a public park. A person is entitled to take up seats in a busy restaurant without buying so much as a $2 coffee (a “tall” drip coffee is $1.64) in order to earn the privilege. The Starbucks CEO, who has spent all week cowering to the mob and throwing his innocent store manager under the bus, has now affirmed this interpretation. 

But this is not the only version of reality. According to NBC news: Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Thursday and described their arrest. They said they went to Starbucks for a business meeting that they believed would change their lives. Nelson said he asked to use the restroom shortly after walking in and was told it was only for paying customers. The two men were waiting for a third person when a white store employee called 911 minutes later. “I was thinking, they can’t be here for us,” Robinson said of the police. “It didn’t really hit me what was going on, that it was real, till I was being double-locked with my hands behind my back.” Nelson and Robinson were arrested for trespassing. No charges were filed. Video of the incident went viral and ignited protests and calls for boycotts.

What really happened? Even days after, with videos of the arrest, interviews on GMA and other programs, there are still two narratives, two alternative versions of events. I will therefore apply my simple #1 question for how to act in life, and see where it leads: “If my action was multiplied by 1 million people, what would the likely consequences be?” With that question in mind, what DO YOU think the consequences would be of: If I were the manager, instead of escalating, I offered to buy them each a tall coffee so they could stay? If I were another customer, or the police, and made the same offer? What impact would such an offer have on the store, the company, other customers, the two men in question? 

Since it’s a theoretical question, your answer is really more about you than anything else. I would have made that offer, as manager, customer or as police….simply because I would hope to de-escalate the almost inevitable storm of….well, what happened. But it is possible the men would have cried racism (“how dare you imply that I can’t afford a cup of coffee”), or the other customers would have demanded the same treatment…I don’t know. Could there have been any other possible explanation of the behavior of the manager and/or the police? Why did the bathroom require an unlock code–every other Starbucks I have entered didn’t even have locking bathrooms. A police crime map shows 337 crimes committed in the immediate area of that store in the last 6 months: including 16 armed robberies, 170 thefts, 25 burglaries, 2 rapes and 7 aggravated assaults!

Here’s some things I do know: If I were meeting someone for a business meeting that would “change my life”, I would not want to call negative attention on myself nor dress like a slob (see image, above). Food and drink businesses DO expect patrons to spend money if they are taking tables from paying customers, and I have never had to be asked to buy something in order to earn a table–because I know that is merely my obligation. I have been to hundreds of Starbucks in dozens of cities, witnessed thousands of interactions between employees and customers, and not once have I seen any evidence of racism or even rudeness from the employees (yeah, have seen it from a few customers). While my observations do not meet the “beyond reasonable doubt” standard, I do believe they meet the “preponderance of evidence” standard. I have used their bathrooms numerous times before I bought anything, and no one even looked up. Ah, but you’re white, so none of that matters! Nah, that’s not it–the principle here is, you will always find what you are projecting on others! You will always find what you expect! That is nowhere truer than with human behavior.

So now Starbucks will close all their stores for half a day training on “unconscious racism”, at an estimated cost of around $18 million. In addition, “community leaders” are calling for Starbucks to build more stores in similar neighborhoods to “invest in the community.” I presume that somewhere in that plan, the stores are expected to be profitable. With more “customers” like Nelson and Robinson, there may not be very much investment in the community. After all, don’t we reap what we sow?

(Author’s note: On re-reading my blog, I notice I used the term “de-escalate”. Let’s be clear: The right thing to have done in this situation would have been for Nelson and Robinson to have been paying customers. The manager and the police did the “right thing” if that is defined by the law, but it wasn’t the smart thing. Given the tenor of the times we live in, the results of their right thing was predictable. Sometimes, it’s simply better to be smart than right. As for the two erstwhile “businessmen”, they were wrong! Does that make me racist?)