It’s happened many times.
I walk into my local Starbucks with my toddler. We find a table, I set my daughter in a high chair, and I pull out the breakfast I’ve brought for her. Then I wait. Sometimes for up to thirty minutes.
My friend breezes in, the kids-were-drama-before-school look in her eyes. She sits across from me and we chat, waiting for the line to subside so we can order drinks.
Eventually, we take turns ordering and paying, one of us staying with the baby. It’s been over an hour since I’ve arrived, and I’m finally sipping my latte.
But this serene experience wasn’t what happened to two African American men when they went to a Starbucks in Philadelphia on Thursday to use the restroom and meet with a local businessman. When store employees were made aware that the men weren’t making a purchase at that time, they claimed the men were trespassing. The police were called, and the arrest was caught on video that went viral.
And unfortunately, this isn’t the first time a Black male has been arrested or worse because of his skin color.
19-year-old Trayon Christian was arrested for buying a $350 belt in New York because he was questioned how a young Black male could afford to purchase an expensive belt. Christian had worked a part-time job and saved his paychecks for several weeks to make his purchase.
22-year-old John Crawford III was shot and killed by police in an Ohio Walmart for holding a BB gun, which was store merchandise, in just a matter of seconds after being approached.
I know some people think, it’s just coffee. It’s just one arrest. But the truth is, African American males can be harmed for doing nothing wrong or violating a minor rule. Stephon Clark was holding a cell phone, mistaken to be a weapon, when he was gunned down by police in Sacramento. Eric Garner was just selling cigarettes when a police offer choked him to death. Tamir Rice was just twelve when he was murdered in a park while holding a pellet gun.
Starbucks’ CEO Kevin Johnson responded swiftly to the incident, offering a lengthy apology, and Starbucks recently announced that it will close its 8,000 stores on May 29 to provide racial bias training to its workers. But the damage has been done. And all the diversity training and staff meetings in the world cannot eradicate stereotypes.
A person who has been raised in a community void of people of color, or someone who believes in the gospel of Fox News, whose only exposure to Black people is that one time he watched a Tyler Perry movie on cable, or someone who embraces the rhetoric of MAGA, is already doomed to be racist. That person will see a Black man, woman, or child doing something so ordinary and assume that something bad is about to happen, that the individual is up to “no good” and is one of “those people.” The person reacts in a state of fear and ignorance, creating a scene, and further agitating by calling the police when he or she isn’t “obeyed.”
White privilege at its finest.
And I take this shit personally.
Yes, I’m a white woman. But at age twenty-seven, my world was rocked when I became a mother. And not just a mother, but a mother to a Black child. My family went from white to multi-racial with the swift signature of a judge who deemed my husband and I worthy of parenting the child we were adopting.
Up until that point, I knew racism existed. I had learned about slavery and civil rights in school, took an African American literature class in college, and worked alongside people of color in various job positions. But I hadn’t experienced racism until I brought home a baby with brown skin, brown eyes, and a full head of curly black hair.
It started off gently enough, almost unnoticeable. People would try to touch the baby’s hair, curious white hands groping at my daughter. Then there were the assumptions. Was her birth mother on drugs? Was my daughter a foster child? (Newsflash: many birth parents don’t use drugs, and the majority of kids in foster care are white.) When my daughter turned two and I enrolled her in a ballet class, and an acquaintance commented that, of course, my daughter liked to dance, because it was “in her.”
Sometimes the racism was subtle, while other times it was glaringly and painfully obvious. Like the time an acquaintance, after remarking how much my toddler son had grown, was “a cute little thug.” Or the time a young white male, who was driving by my house, spotted my two oldest girls riding bikes in the driveway and yelled the n-word at them twice.
Racism is exhausting.
Listen, I know some people argue, “Why is it always about race?” And what I want you to know is that when there is a person of color involved in any situation, it is ALWAYS about race. Colorblindness doesn’t exist. It’s a lie white people tell themselves in order to feel as though they are progressive. But colorblindness? It is dismissive and ignorant. It is, I believe, another form of racism.
Ironically, just hours before I saw the viral Starbucks video, my oldest two daughters and I were coloring together, when my seven-year-old looked up from her picture and said something I will never forget. She said, “Mommy, I’m tired of white people being mean to brown people.”
Out of the mouths of babes.
The truth is, I can do practically whatever the hell I want in a Starbucks, and no one is going to call 9-1-1. And I’ve walked into many fast-food restaurants while traveling with my kids in tow just to use the bathroom. No employee has ever questioned my motives, followed me around, or insisted I buy something or get out.
Failure to acknowledge deeply rooted racism is failure to see people of color. And failure to see people of color is failure to treat them as human beings.
Nothing will change until we can stop ignoring what is right in front of our eyes: both the beauty of diversity and the pain we’ve spent hundreds of years creating and maintaining.