The things we forget.
I follow the news pretty closely, and as a Black man living in a society that keeps proving it wishes I'd just go away, any news involving Black men and injustice usually makes it on my radar.
So I am aware of the Starbucks story. Two Black men in Philly arrested at a cafe after a manager calls the police on them. Their crime? Sitting in Starbucks, and then wanting to make use of the rest facilities, without having paid the coffee chain a dime during their visit.
I've listened to both sides of the story ad nauseam this week. I get it. I laugh at conservatives who gripe that "these people" need to stop free loading, and I laugh at blactivists who think this is call for a revolution.
Full disclosure: I am a Starbucks patron. I've had business meetings there, as the two arrested Black men were waiting to do that Thursday. I wrote one book and finished another at my local Starbucks last summer. Starbucks for me is not about coffee. I worked briefly at an independent coffee house as an undergraduate, back when the earth was cooling. Starbucks, in my opinion, isn't selling coffee. Their coffee is just OK. They are selling WiFi and ambience and, frankly, really good people watching. By overpaying for some coffee you could better make on your home Keurig, you buy a pass to these amenities.
I haven't been to Starbucks in months, but every payday my Starbucks ap adds a sum to my credit balance with the chain. I like free stuff, and paying with the ap helps me get some. So when calls come over the media airwaves to stop spending with the chain, I'm a bit conflicted: technically, I've got triple digit credit in coin of that realm. Already spent. I can't get a refund. If I patronize the place, I'm not buying, I'm just cashing in. Decisions, decisions.
I've heard from my mother, my wife and some friends about "your coffee place" since the arrest. It was the kind of petty power move Black American men accept as just an inconvenience of living in this society. It was dumb. Honestly, though, it was the kind of lottery ticket folk like me pray for. A major international corporation (read: DEEP pockets) wrongs me publicly and puts my life in danger? I had visions of me driving in a Starbucks green Stingray with plates reading "PAYDFOR" while flashing my award winning smile.
It was too good to be true.
For me however, all I could do was curse my misfortune.
See, my habit at my Starbucks is to mobile order my drink from the car using my ap. Then I walk in, make a beeline for the men's room, relieve myself, grab a seat and arrange my stuff before strolling to the counter for my drink. In other words, I spend way more time in my local Starbucks doing stuff unrelated to making them money before I even grab what is supposedly my ticket to enjoy their facilities.
But can I get arrested?. No manager lucks me up by phoning the po-pos, who could put me in handcuffs while it's all being streamed live, thus guaranteeing that as long as I survive interacting with Law Enforcement, I'm assured FaceTime with the CEO and financial security that means my unborn grandkids won't have to work.
The most reward I ever got was the brilliant smile of the Ethiopian young enough to be my daughter every time she handed me my cup, assuring me she wanted my coffee made just the way I like it.
So, having not visited in months, luck would have it I popped into my local cafe yesterday. I wondered why it was so empty. I did my usual routine, sat down, and began writing.
You ever felt all eyes were on you?
I couldn't understand it. Can't a Black man have a cup of coffee?
Then I realized, "Oh-I'm the only Black customer here. OH. Is it boycott day?"
I mean, even the Black kid who works there looked like he'd rather be somewhere else, but he had too strong a work ethic to call off. Boy, if looks could kill. He shot me daggers and a look that screamed, "Traitor!"
I continued writing my journal, barely aware of the well dressed Caucasian couple who sat at the other end of my table. Soto voce, the man began discussing the Philly situation with his companion. After a few minutes of "Yeah, that was bullshit..." "I agree, I'd boycott, you can't DO people like that..." and whatnot, I realized they were trying to communicate with me.
I finished my journal entry, drained my cup, and left to keep an appointment, but I swear I heard applause as the vestibule door closed behind me. I'm pretty sure I heard the nasally voice of that one kid who couldn't call off utter the phrase, "Sellout Negro."
I'm going to need email alerts or something to remind me of this stuff. I'm also going to need folk to be a bit more consistent in their discrimination, so we can all get an equal opportunity to get paid.
Ya'll know better.