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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Race Dialogue Matters

Hear that,

disparaging commentary,

confront it today,

walk away tomorrow,

tonight,

every day we hear something,

close eyes, and imagine a beautiful sunrise,

anything to move me,

my mind, my attitude, my conscience,

elsewhere.

If we don’t talk about it, maybe it doesn’t matter

as much,

well, as much as,

in a manner of speaking, have you asked the question,

to those that do care about each other’s

well-being, freedom, respect,

a desire to feel intrigue about who I am,

in the light of others, them.

What matters is acceptance,

not just of you and me,

understanding the conversation is important,

helps, makes sense, builds bridges,

builds a passionate embrace

who we are,

why we need to have this

understanding,

in the light of not getting it,

we didn’t want to,

talk about it,

if we do, then it becomes an issue.

What a crock of shit.

when we choose to pretend it needs no discussion,

we then,

lose control of

the possibility

freedom to engage,

no sabotage,

instead scrutiny,

the sort the matters,

the kind creates a collective

eloquence, oh, I mean,

love.

A Conversation (prose)

peace

dialogue

I went to lunch with a friend today and we got onto the subject of coping skills. We’re both teachers and we encounter a lot of teenagers on a regular basis, most of which carry a lot of baggage into the classroom each day. There are times when we truly do not get the full extent of what is happening in their lives being so caught up in our own need to deliver an assignment, a lesson plan, an expectation. We seldom take the time to ponder a world outside of our own.

My friend began the dialogue by referencing a particularly charming young individual whom we both have had extensive interactions with. I mentioned this student’s personal struggles, and he agreed and we both immediately remarked about how this young person’s integrity is such a measure of their character surrounded by the constraints of having to survive in a society that can be ruthless and demanding. I looked at my friend and remarked about how times like this make my more prominent issues become rather trivial and this reality leaves me feeling shallow in the light of another’s personal struggles. He followed with a theory that we all provide ‘gifts’ in our own unique manner. I knew what he was saying but it certainly didn’t give me an opportunity to feel like I was off the hook.

We both chose teaching for the chance to change people’s lives in a positive way. We certainly didn’t choose this profession with a goal in mind to make our charges feel miserable. In education today, we are in an ever-changing atmosphere of new initiatives and proposals to address and hopefully change the way we teach our students. A lot of that focus is to better education, and reduce the constant scrutiny that schools, and more importantly in this case, teachers receive in regards to their ability to prepare children for a successful future. Conversations like this one often leave me feeling curious, not confused mind you, but simply wanton of a solution to my purpose both in the classroom and in my life.

Having the ability to know why we are who we are and what we will become is a huge asset when determining our path in life. I can easily use nostalgic memory and pointedly look at different periods of my life and know the mess I was as perceived by the society around me, and with more certainty my own evaluation of my accomplishments as I plodded through a couple of directionless decades of my young adult life. Today, I look back and recognize the frailties of my actions, and I also am left to consider how my life choices might have brought different results had I been more conscious of my future. I may sit in a room of group recovery and not have to wait long before someone makes the common remark, “I don’t regret any of the mistakes I made in my life. They have helped me become the person I am today.” Though there certainly is truth to that analogy, one must I believe, also acknowledge that those ‘life-changing’ mistakes could have been easily avoided, and life might have been a tad easier than the challenges that consumed the reparation of those errors. Ok, so back to my point of conversation amongst friends.

What today’s conversation left me with is contemplating how relative our lives may be in the bigger scheme of things. That seems like a shallow outcome at this writing, but it is what I am left with at the moment. When I think about a student who has lost someone at a young age, and is asked to return to their daily identity without missing a beat, I find myself rather impressed with that resilience. That reality makes my life feel trivial as I said earlier, so what do I do about it? Here is my partial solution.

I will appreciate the beauty of their being, their ability to endure the travesty or choices that have been placed before them, certainly not their own choosing. I will offer my own support and admiration for their ability to capture the true essence of natural humility that has allowed their lives to become easier within the face of pure terror and sadness, and express my gratitude for their showing me how to recognize the sweeter realities of our existence as human beings on this earth.

Feels like a God moment to me now … I do cherish these conversations!

Coffeehouse Moment

Do you mind if I sit here

I mean

No one seems to be there

Except you

I mean

Nobody might imagine though

Your jacket

Your newspaper

Your purse

Your additional cup of coffee

Clever ploy

To create an identity to protect your own

I mean

All the soft chairs belong to you for the hour

In the meantime

We will sit over here

Doing the same things as you

Though we cannot ever truly know

I mean

We are all a part of the white noise

A name that when given a little thought

Carries its own ironic twist

I mean

Is your coffee getting cold, yet?