Restrooms for whites only at Starbucks
By Ken Robinson
One day more than 20 years ago on a fishing trip with an old friend, he suggested we get a coffee at Starbucks. I wanted a beer but he was buying. He made a memorable comment. Starbucks, he said, is the biggest drug dealer in the nation.
I don’t know about size, but he might have been right to proclaim that a company that sells a lot of caffeine in a cup is the biggest.
Starbucks and its many similar offspring became the defacto meeting place for millions of Americans. It is a place to go to meet friends, business associates and where to go when you are interviewing someone.
There are many alternatives to Starbucks that also sell coffee. And many of those places draw patrons for the same reason: they are a nice, warm place to hang out, visit with people, or just plunk down and stare at a bright light on an electronic device.
If you need to use the restroom (and who doesn’t after drinking what is essentially a diuretic), you typically would ask for the restroom key. This unwritten policy typically was preceded by you buying something from the shop before using the key.
When two men who sat down in the Starbucks in a mostly white section of Philadelphia last week and then were arrested within 120 seconds of sitting, a ripple was sent across the land. If you have never felt the angst that these two men must have felt, you are damn lucky. They are black men, in the shop to wait for a business meeting with a third man.
One of the men asked to use the restroom key and was denied because he had made no purchase. Remember, he has must arrived. A story manager told him he could not have the key or use the restroom. And then he called the cops.
In every state, cops can be called in cases of trespassing. When the two men refused to leave, they were arrested, handcuffed with hands behind their backs and taken to jail. This on the word of the manager.
That news got Starbucks president Howard Schultz off his recliner in his lake shore living room and on a plane to Philly. He apologized and promised action at his empire. Stores will close for sensitivity training for a day in May.
Will it be enough? And will it address the racist heart of America?
When we put ourselves in the shoes of the two men who were arrested in a public place for asking to use a restroom, it feels like we have not made any steps toward equality since the Jim Crow days.
We cannot look into the hearts of everyone. That is why we have to address equality legislatively.
The incident at Starbucks made me feel ashamed of how little progress we have made.