OPINION: Viral video underscores bias in America

Millions of people have watched the video of two Black men getting arrested at a Starbuck’s coffee shop in Philadelphia while waiting to meet a colleague for a business meeting.

According to reports one man asked to use the restroom but was denied because he hadn’t made a purchase. The manager reportedly called police and said the men were trespassing and when police arrived they were handcuffed and arrested.

On the viral video, the men were shown acting calmly and asking questions quietly as other customers repeatedly inquired what they did wrong.

Outraged customers and observers have lambasted Starbucks, some people are boycotting the coffee company and Starbucks announced it plans to shut down 8,000 stores on May 29 for racial bias training of staff. The company’s CEO immediately publicly apologized, saying the incident should never have happened and is not in keeping with company policy or philosophy. He and the men have had a private meeting.

Perhaps this humiliating situation will make people who are blind to present-day racism and bias a little more aware of what segments of society face every day. In big and little ways, people who are Black, Brown or are other marginalized individuals are shown discriminated against and disrespected. Sometimes it’s slow service or no service, other times it’s being spoken to in a rude manner or not being told of options or specials. Bias can translate into being rushed along, being charged more, being lied to, being selectively scrutinized by security. The message is perfectly loud and clear—you aren’t worthy of respect, you aren’t welcome here.

Most times these everyday occurrences don’t make headlines and the people at the receiving end of the treatment have learned to ignore it and or have a few choice words of their own. Other times more serious pushback happens and an incident possibly involving the police may occur. Usually the persons on the receiving end of the bad treatment are made to feel that they did something to deserve being treated this way or they misinterpreted the words or actions or they simply over-reacted. They know better.

The Starbuck’s incident occurred not due to company culture but due to the thinking, attitude and actions of one individual—the store manager, who has since reportedly resigned. This individual apparently felt he was entitled—whether due to his position, race, background, experiences—to treat individuals in this way. Unfortunately he’s not alone in holding these views and using a position of power to carry out his personal agenda.

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