In mid-April, 2018, two young black men went into a Starbucks in Philadelphia, waiting to meet someone. One asked to use the men’s room and was told he could not because he hadn’t purchased anything. Within a few minutes, police arrived, handcuffed the men, and removed them.
In full disclosure, I don’t drink coffee, but I occasionally go to various Starbucks coffee shops to meet friends that like their coffee. Sometimes I order a hot chocolate; sometimes I order nothing. While waiting for a friend (I often arrive a few minutes early), I may sit down and use my tablet, which is common in these shops. I may use the men’s room. I have never been hassled for not buying a Starbucks product while I sat catching up on email or using the men’s room. But, then, I am a white man. Is this white privilege? That may seem to be stretching too far, but I think as a white man I usually get the benefit of the doubt. I don’t get stopped by police, when driving legally, for driving a newer car and asked to present my ID and registration. Blacks commonly have that happen. I don’t get suspicious looks in public settings. Blacks commonly have that happen in white majority settings.
Some think the long night of racism in country has ended. After all, we had a black president for eight years, elected by healthy majorities twice. And we may forget that the validity of his American birth was questioned for most of those eight years by whites, including the current president.
Later in April it was revealed that a fraternity of white students at Syracuse University, which is in upstate New York—hardly the deep south—engaged in vicious and demeaning anti-black and anti-Semitic language, caught on video. Then there was another neo-Nazi rally in Newman, Georgia, with white supremacists spewing their anti-black, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant hatred in a public square. I wonder how many white supremacist rallies are occurring that don’t make the news.
Those that think racism is over in the United States simply aren’t paying attention or are ignoring the facts. Our current president showed his colors in his feeble response to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville VA last year. Our current president showed his colors when in his campaign he pretended that he couldn’t remember who David Duke was. By the way, the boastfully racist David Duke eagerly supported and supports Trump. Our current president showed his colors when in his campaign he smeared Mexicans and Muslims. The leader of any organization sets a tone for that organization, sometimes very subtly.
Back to Starbucks, I am encouraged by the swift and unqualified apology issued by Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson. It included his desire and offer to meet with those two men face-to-face. Johnson has also announced that all Starbucks cafes will be closed for a portion of a day in May, for all Starbucks employees to have deeper training from a blue-ribbon panel on multi-cultural and racial prejudicial concerns. Some say that one afternoon of training will not be enough. Of course not, but I am impressed by such an action. Perhaps it will be a new beginning in the right direction in a time when hate crimes are on the increase.
Also in April, on the 26th, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration opened in Montgomery, Alabama, in the very heart of Dixie. Envisioned and constructed by Bryan Stevenson (one of my American heroes) and the Equal Justice Initiative, these twin buildings will help our country remember the siege of the lynching of black people following the Civil War, mainly in the south, but in all regions of our country, for over two generations. I hope to visit these memorials in 2019. It will not be enjoyable, but sobering. With our glorious Declaration of Independence and lofty founding values, our country participated in racial brutality for over two centuries in allowing slavery to be legal and acceptable, with much of the Church assenting. After the emancipation proclamation of President Lincoln and constitutional amendments following to ensure equality, we continued to allow African-Americans to suffer unjustly and be lynched in the thousands. We continue to see black Americans incarcerated at far high rates than white Americans.
The vision of the United States being a nation in which all people are equal, in which the law mandates that equality, and the government at all levels ensures that equality under the law, still exists and still falls short of the goal. And we still have a considerable journey before us in being that nation.