Is it just me or does Starbucks find itself in the middle of a new racial controversy every year or so? It’s like ever since a Philadelphia Starbucks employee called the police on two Black men for simply existing without having made a purchase—and then days later, a similar incident happened at a California Starbucks—the ghosts of gentrification past, present and future have come haunting the popular coffee shop chain by putting it in the news with fresh headlines on whiteness run amok.
Anyway, a new incident of alleged white fuckery happened at a Starbucks in San Jose, Calif., where a Black man—who said he was the only Black person in the store during the incident—alleges that a manager demanded he wait for his order outside because the store was at capacity per COVID-19 social distancing orders, but he watched non-Black customers walk into the restaurant hassle-free. He said it’s not just about what happened, but the manner in which it happened.
“Come straight up to me points to the door and says I need you outside,” Bryce Ward told ABC 7 News of the incident. “And at that moment, man, it’s embarrassing. It’s irritating. Humiliating. Why me?”
One tenet of white privilege is that when random and unpleasant things happen to white people, they never really need to wonder if their race is the reason for it. But the question, “Why me?” hits different when it comes from a Black person because of our lived experiences with racial profiling and racial discrimination in America.
“I was the only Black [person] in there,” Ward said. “I don’t know what was going through her mind, I’m just stating facts.”
“You see all this traffic coming in and out and you didn’t say anything to anybody else?” he continued. “Why are you singling me out?”
So now Starbucks—the same corporation that barred employees from wearing Black Lives Matter attire, then swiftly reversed the ban after getting dragged across social media over the policy—has apologized to Ward, promised to retrain its employees on how to deal with customers and COVID-19 restrictions in the future, and has agreed to just start playing Anita Baker’s “I Apologize” over the loudspeaker whenever Black people get within a few feet of one of its chains. (I made that last thing up, but they should consider it.)
“We have no tolerance for discrimination of any kind in our stores and we never want a customer to feel discriminated against,” Starbucks said in a statement. “We apologize to Mr. Ward for his experience and have retrained staff on how to respectfully navigate capacity limits to protect the health and safety of partners and customers.”
Starbucks also confirmed that additional training for employees has already happened at the location of the incident—which took place around 9:30 a.m. on March 13, according to a receipt Ward showed ABC—and that additional training has been planned for 11 stores across the district in the South Bay. Apparently, that time they shut down shops across the nation for four hours so employees could train their racism away wasn’t enough.
Starbucks also told ABC the “company does not have video available of the incident.” Because Starbucks has security cameras in its stores, as ABC noted, and because the company is probably tired of going viral for all the wrong reasons, civil rights attorney Adante Pointer, who is representing Ward, isn’t buying it.
“How convenient that the very key piece of evidence that would corroborate what took place here, and would probably turn into a viral video once it was released, no one can seem to find it,” Pointer said.
Meanwhile, Ward said he’s speaking out about the incident for a simple reason: “I just want to make sure it doesn’t happen to anybody else.”