Wake Up And Change The Racism, (insert: White) People!

23 Apr

Rashon Nelson, Donte Peterson

Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson

I almost used the cliché title of: Wake Up And Smell The Coffee, People, but that’s weak. Like, instant coffee weak. But enough with the clichés and play on words, as I reflect on what happened in the Philadelphia Starbucks last week, and if you don’t know, then you do need to wake up.

Two young real estate entrepreneurs, Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson, went to a Starbucks in the well-to-do Rittenhouse Square neighborhood of Philadelphia to meet with business colleague, Andrew Yaffe, to talk about a deal they all were working on together. While waiting for Yaffe, who happens to be white, to arrive, the two men were deemed suspicious by the store’s manager, a white woman named Holly Hylton. Suspicious by virtue of them sitting and not ordering anything while black. Rashon was also denied use of the restroom because he hadn’t purchased anything. Two minutes in, the manager calls the police on the men for sitting in a Starbucks and not ordering yet while black. The police came and the two men were arrested for sitting in a Starbucks and not ordering yet while black.


Video taken by customer at the Rittenhouse Square Starbucks, Philadelphia:

911 call made by Starbucks manager, Holly Hylton, two minutes after the men arrived at the shop:


Here’s the thing, though. These two young men are creating something positive out of their traumatic experience, and are now working with Starbucks to make what they hope will be lasting changes to the way the corporation does business. Work that goes beyond the company’s upcoming May 29th closing of 8,000 of its stores nation-wide to conduct an employee training on racial bias. According to the AP News article of April 19, 2018, by Errin Haines Whack, Men Arrested At Starbucks Say They Feared For Their Lives, the work Robinson and Nelson will be doing will call for new protocols to be put in place “including customer bill of rights, the adoption of new policies regarding customer ejections, racial profiling and racial discrimination,; and independent investigations of complaints of profiling or discrimination from customers and employees.”

Regarding the boycott of Starbucks called for by some people, Robinson said, “we need a different type of action..not words,” he said. “It’s a time to pay attention and understand what’s really going on. We do want a seat at the table.”

Though Robinson asks for action over words, his words are important ones.

Donte Robinson wants a seat at the table. He and Rashon Nelson currently have one. Let’s hope it’s for real. Starbucks ranked 131 on the Forbes 500 list of corporations, and earned over $21 billion in revenue last year. What Kevin Johnson, CEO of Starbucks says the work Starbucks is setting out to do is to take to task the real work of breaking down systems of institutionalized white supremacy. More specifically, they will address the impact that racialized thoughts, biases, and actions have on black people, and other oppressed and marginalized people. I want to be hopeful. This work is a start in including the lived experiences and voices of people of color whose lives have been negatively impacted in traumatic, and dangerously horrific ways by those who act on their racial biases. All of us carry racial, ethnic, gender, sexuality, and religious-based biases within us, and yet, as we have seen time and again in the recording of biased incidents in this country, it has been primarily white people who are shown acting on their biases, whether implicit or unconscious, toward people of color.

I am not naive though to think or believe that us white people will magically internalize and erase all the racialized thoughts we have, thoughts that turn into racist actions. As, Global Opinion Editor for The Washington Post, Karen Attiah, writes in her April 18, 2018 piece, Calling The Police On Black People Isn’t A Starbucks Problem. It’s An American Problem:

Starbucks will do what it needs to do to protect its brand. But what is America doing to protect its own citizens of color? Who will train Americans to stop calling the cops on their unarmed black neighbors? Who will train school officials not to use police force on black kids just for being kids? Who will train the convenience store managers? The mom-and-pop restaurants? And how can we up the social and legal costs for people who make life-threatening decisions by calling the police on peaceful black people?

To echo pop singer, Solange Knowles, the fundamental question I am asking white America is “where can we be free? where can we be safe? Where can we be black?”

In 2018, I don’t think America has an answer.


These are the real questions. The work to be done. Will I, will you, do it?

This blog post is not meant to serve as a rant about what happened to Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson, and to show my outrage, preach to the choir, or even, annoy those that don’t agree with me–the folks that gaslight, and say, “well, they must’ve done something for the manager to call…for the police to arrest them.” We’ve been doing this rant, this show of indignation over and over again–white people, myself included, have only been in this fight for a short span, while black people in this country have been living it and trying to tell us about it for centuries. This post is a call to action, a call for change.

As you stir your morning cup of coffee, tea, smoothie, practice your morning yoga asanas, or whatever morning ritual you partake in to begin your day, will you join me in speaking into existence these statements of affirmation and action? Will you join me in breathing in the will to change, and breathing out the will, and vow to action, to make this country a safe, welcoming, inclusive space for black people? Will you join me in being the change? Can we say them together, every morning? Will I? Will you? Let’s begin.

Breathe in. Breathe out.


Today I am creating a welcoming, inclusive, and most of all, safe space, for black people.


Today I recognize and accept that I have racialized thoughts about black people. Today I do the work to bring awareness to the moment I have a racialized thought, to acknowledge it, and use my heart, knowledge of racial stereotypes, history of racial violence, and erasure of black history, to break-down, challenge, and undo that thought.


Today I de-center my whiteness, and take in perspectives that come from outside my white, Eurocentric perspective. I acknowledge that “my way” and “society’s way” of doing things is not “the way,” and that I must “make way” for everyone’s voice to be heard, for everyone’s ideas to be considered, knowing mine are not above anyone else’s. Today I move my chair to the side, and make room at the table.


Today I believe what a black person tells me about their lived experience with racism and race-based inequities.


Today I acknowledge my white privilege, and I take one action to make things more equitable for black people (think: housing, employment, education, or criminal justice.)


Today I acknowledge any racial micro-aggression, racist comment or action, I commit, and apologize for it, without making excuses or becoming defensive.


Today I stand up and speak up when I witness a micro-aggression or racist act made by another person in my presence.


Today I am making certain there is a seat at the table for black people.


Breathe in. Breathe out. Let’s complete our mantras where we began, with:


Today I am creating a welcoming, inclusive, and most of all, safe space, for black people.


Thank you. Namaste.





www.apnews.com, Men Arrested At Starbucks Say They Feared For Their Lives, by Errin Haines Whack, April 19, 2018 (Errin Haines Whack on twitter  @emarvelous)

www.thewashingtonpost.com, Calling The Police On Black People Isn’t A Starbucks Problem. It’s An American Problem, Karen Attiah, April 18, 2018 (Karen Attiah on twitter @karenattiah)

www.youtube.com, Guardian News, 4/14/18, Social Media Video Shows Arrests Of Black Men At Philadelphia Starbucks

www.youtube.com, USA Today, 4/17/18, Moments Leading Up To Starbucks Arrest Revealed In 911 Call

Photo Credit: www.time.com


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