Philadelphia Police & Starbucks: Shining Light on Racism

Original Image from Google Street View / Philly Voice
Coffee shops like Starbucks are a "fueling" station for me as a human being trying to exist in a hectic world. This was particularly true in my early years as a professional, navigating being on the road for school while working jobs that required a ton of travel. Working on a mobile team, I met many times in Starbucks for meetings to discuss non-confidential business. Not everyone always ordered a coffee or tea every time. Most meetings were an hour. Sometimes we had to sit idly and chat while we waited for one member to resolve a mental health crisis before they could join us.

It's easy to say that this is what Starbucks wants. Their structure, their "psychology of everyday things" implicates to most people to come in, relax on a couch, socialize, use our free wifi for work or play. You could call it a "loss-leading" strategy much like some quick marts do with cheap gas. Come in for the couches and music and we hope you'll order our costs-more-per-gallon-than-premium-gas-coffee while you're here. Never once arrested in a Starbucks for using Starbucks how it is meant to be used, I know this is because of my white privilege.

Right in my backyard, police  recently arrested two black men for their crime of waiting in Starbucks for a friend so they could order coffee together. It occurred to me that, not only does being white shield me from a situation like this, I have the luxury of not even having to consider that race is why I or someone else would be arrested. 

This is because racism not within my personal realm of experience. My brain has not had to develop a  hyper-vigilance to being at greater risk of harm because of my skin color. I have this experience to some extent because of my gender. I grip my keys tightly when I walk from the evening class I teach at my Alma Mater to my car, knowing my gender makes me seem like an easy target. But being arrested in Starbucks just for existing? No. I don't experience racism. 

What we don't experience or believe is a part of our responsibility on this earth falls into our "shadow." Our subconscious. It drives us, but we don't see it unless we shine light on it. And a lack of "light shone" is exactly why unjust scenarios like at Philadelphia Starbucks happen in the first place. There were multiple people involved here who have not shown light on their racist shadows.

The barista who called the police likely assumed that two black men who had not ordered were there for sinister reasons. When you don't shine light on your racist shadows, you assume that a white woman waiting is there for a play date or a business deal. You assume two black men waiting are a gang, trying to rob you, are being disruptive, or are otherwise misusing your space.

But since when do police offices arrest two people who aren't evidencing any concerning behavior or crime, at the direction of a coffee barista? If they had shined light on their racist shadows, they could have stuck up for the everyday citizen, identified objectively that no crime was committed, and given the barista education on what warrants a call to in-demand, tax-paid services. But they didn't. "Black" meant "trouble" and they arrested first and asked questions, later.

Then there are other employees and bystanders. Some did chime in. But none went so far as to really be disruptive or to stay with the two men to make sure they were safe. 

When I was younger, and in my first book, I referred to this as "other people's parents." I was specifically referencing adoption, and how being told how wonderful I was as an adoptee didn't negate how other parents did not teach their kids the same. Because other kids were not given tools to "shine light" on their assumptions about adoption in their subconscious, it drove how they treated me which in turn effected how I experienced the world and other people as an adopted person. 

When we don't teach our kids how to shine light on their shadows, which simply means to understand whatever is different from you and to challenge your gut responses about it, we create adults who will call the cops on two black men in Starbucks and police officers and other professionals who will assume the worst of someone based on their skin tone.

If you come here to read because you are an adoptee, or first parent, or adoptive parent, consider how your own diversity in terms of what is accepted and considered to be "family" shines light on your shadowy biases about family where you operate from a more conscious place. Identify your yearning for others to do the same so that you and your children can exist safely in a society in which you are a minority. If ever this is a moment to build empathy with our peers of color, our transracial family and adoptee brothers and sisters, this is that moment. I have a blog and a voice. How will you use your empathy to stand up to racism, today?