I’m Upset About a Coffee House in Philadelphia

Last night, I turned on the news and there was increasing coverage everywhere about the Starbucks incident with two African-American men being arrested for ‘trespassing’ in a local store. The incident has gained national momentum and attention to the degree that the CEO has met with the two gentlemen and proclaimed a day of sensitivity training for nearly 8000 stores. I listened to Don Lemon on CNN interview the CEO and ask him whether or not he really believed that ‘one day’ would be a sufficient amount of time to desensitize the discriminate nature of this revealing expose of racism in our country. The CEO didn’t have an answer but expressed an emotional reaction to the controversy.

In a followup after the interview, Don Lemon brought on W.Kamau Bell to speak to the general reaction and commentary of the CEO, Kevin Johnson, of Starbucks. Bell hosts the exceptional series, United Shades of America, (Season 3: Premieres Sunday, April 29 at 10 p.m. ET/PT) on CNN.

To be clear, I’m a white guy reacting to an issue that impacts black people every day, not just an isolated incident in a Philadelphia coffee shop, and that was the general pitch of Don Lemon and W. Kamau Bell’s final commentary. In a manner of speaking they theorized how might a white CEO of a major industry empathize with the reality of racism in today’s society. Certainly, Kevin Johnson is putting a face on a possibility, but I think our society needs to realize that is only a start. Much like the students of Broward County and their efforts to raise awareness in a privileged society, I listened to their final words because I personally am looking for an answer.

I know racism exists. I know I have my own prejudicial misgivings. I think what bothers me the most is when people seem to suggest that not talking about it will just make things better, make things go away. The reality is, by not having dialogue, the resentment, the frustration, the explosive backlash becomes a greater concern than if there were a conversation. The discussion takes time though, takes courage, demands commitment from all people involved.

I think what Lemon and Bell are suggesting is that too often we bandaid the issue, and it rises up again. Tonight, in social media a friend of mine indicated that everything is about hate. What if we actively turned that around? What if we made everything about love? What if we got past the idea that it is easier to despise than it is to put effort into understanding? What if instead of declaring the Philadelphia incident as an anomaly, we admittedly took action to recognize such discrimination exists? We don’t have to define it, we simply have to accept the reality of our society’s ills and the need to open our hearts to admitting the surface level of fear that creates such a problematic mindset is real and not overstated by a liberal versus conservative party of thinking.

I can’t help wonder what it might be like to create dialogue between differing parties without onlookers with agenda and attitude to tear down the chance to allow people to learn from one another rather than destroy opportunity. Seems idealistic certainly, but its really. If we understand each other, we can look one another in the eye. If we remain afraid of one another, then the wall will remain in tact.

In Philadelphia an individual seemingly, well quite obviously overreacted to a normal gathering of two human beings who began their day never imagining their world to be turned upside down by a discriminatory motive. Let me restate that. The two gentlemen in Philadelphia began their days completely aware that at any moment their lives could be marginalized by racial profiling because of the color of their skin. However, in their lives, they have learned it is a necessary reality for them to constantly be aware of a negative circumstance unfolding right before their very eyes.

That happened in a Philadelphia Starbucks, and the two individuals wrongfully arrested created a hailstorm of controversy that speaks to what certain cultures have to accept and go through every day. I’m a white guy, and I don’t have to experience this, but I see it. I’m a teacher and I have students of every race in my classroom, and the one thing I demand of my day, is that every individual in my room is respected as much as the next person. The two gentlemen in Starbucks need to have been treated as equally as anyone else in the store.

The need exists, the dialogue, communication, desire to understand must begin. We cannot continue to simply look away.

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