Reexamining Racial Bias

Natalia Lazor

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On April 12, Two Black men meet at a Philadelphia Starbucks to wait for a friend. They sit down before ordering drinks because their friend has not yet arrived. The employee is nervously urging them to either buy something or get out—but they aren’t ready to order yet and continue to wait. Their reluctance to purchase something results in the police being called by a Starbucks employee and the men being escorted out in handcuffs.

This scene would not transpire with two White men. According to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Black people are five times more likely to be incarcerated than White people. Unfortunately, some people can’t look past the pigmentation of another’s skin. Their evaluation of a person’s character is tainted by the preconceived notions that people of color pose a threat. Racial bias in America is still very much alive, and while we’re not in the shape we were in 60 years ago, intolerance persists.

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Illustration by Natasha Arnowitz

In a video scattered across numerous media outlets, including The Washington Post, the acquaintance of the two men can be heard saying, “What did they get called for? Because there were two Black guys sitting here eating?”

To which the policeman replied, “Yes.”

As a result of their misconduct, Starbucks issued a formal apology and sent the employees from nearly 8,000 franchises to a mandatory training to examine racial bias, according to the Washington Post. In addition, after sit-ins and protests from angered consumers, Starbucks chose to temporarily shut down that Philadelphia location. This is the power the people possess to make change.

But this calamity isn’t really about Starbucks, the franchise serves as a reflection of the greater racial divide in America. People seem unwilling to waiver even in a time of progressivism and major social changes. Parts of America aren’t always as accepting as they claim to be.

The police and the Starbucks employees could have (and should have) handled the situation differently. One could only hope that this racial bias training will provide future Starbucks’ employees with the necessary skills needed to rid their corporation of overt racism. It’s easy to say that the problem is on track to being solved, but it will be much more difficult to change the ideals of those with entrenched prejudices and the thought that African Americans are any different from the rest of the country.

Some media outlets, such as CNN, were ambiguous in their portrayal of Starbucks, stating that Starbucks decided not to press charges on the basis that the two were trespassing. It paints the company in an honorable light for making the tough decision not to press charges; stating that the men were not charged with a crime even though they were detained. This further proves the modern day racism that the African American community experiences on a day-to-day basis.

It can be argued that this could have happened to any person—male, female, Black, White—but most of us know, deep down, that it wouldn’t happen to a White person, let alone two White males. It’s strange to think that if the employees had just let the men wait for their friend before ordering, this entire debacle would not have occurred and this would not have served as a reminder that America still sees provincialism and discrimination. Maybe the stereotypes are even stronger than we see because irrational fear and haste propels the ignorant to act unjustly.

I implore you, examine your own biases, even those which you might not be aware of. It is impossible to expect America to eradicate racism entirely but we can try our best to minimize it. It’s crucial to be aware of the prevalence of racism because it does exist at this time, whether we are conscious of it or not. We don’t need any more examples made, such as the Starbucks mishap, in order to review the parts we play in perpetuating discrimination.