Starbucks (Yay!) is Still a Corporation (Boo!)

A lot of corporations do things that are bad for the world, whether that’s the environment or people or both. Starbucks is not an exception to that.
 
In doing racial bias training in all their American stores, they are doing the right thing, insofar as there is a right thing. Yes, it’s PR. Yes, they should already have done it, and every company in America should start doing it yesterday and 20 years ago and 60 years ago, in perpetuity. 
 
If you are of the opinion that Starbucks shouldn’t exist because of your opinions about corporations in general, I don’t expect you to be happy with them. Nothing will make you happy about their behavior except for closing their doors.
 
If you have a less condemning view of Starbucks, you will appreciate the difference between Starbucks’ response and any major airline’s response to racist behavior on the part of their employees in the last couple years, or any police force after the summary execution of an unarmed black man or woman. You know that corporations are haneously bad at responding to backlash. You are relieved that Starbucks isn’t haneously bad in this way.
 
There are layers to this. Starbucks’ exploitative practices in sourcing and their use of non-compostable plastics is bad. They are doing a thing, unrelated to those bad things, that is not bad, at the very least, better than average.
 
The question for you, especially if you mostly don’t mind corporations, is whether or not to lean into the other layers. The other layers require something of you. If corporations are problematic, so might be how you spend your money on them. If Starbucks is exploiting POC in Central and South America and contributing significantly to our plastic problem, should you support them with your dollars? That’s a good question to ask yourself.
 
And I get that this is complex, that there are many, many people who depend on Starbucks for jobs and meeting places, and wifi. I get that condemning a corporation as whole runs the risk of, in fact, disenfranchising marginalized groups who use and depend on the services the corporation is providing.
 
I confess to not liking Starbucks’ products, so I do not personally spend my money there (side note: I am calling a moratorium on the practice of giving Starbucks gift cards as office gifts; please, get anything else at all). But Starbucks is inescapable in the world, especially in Seattle, so I know I have to contend with them one way or another.
I don’t feel like I have clear guidance or an opinion on this issue. Rather it has simply struck me as I see some of social media feeds consumed with debate about this that there is a difference between saying “oh that is better than usual; I will save my outrage,” and “corporations are bad; this is no time to let this one off the hook.” I’d even go so far as to say they are not mutually exclusive. I don’t think there is ever a good time to let a corporation off the hook, but just like with the airlines, I feel completely powerless to steer the fundamental function of the business model. If I don’t have to be outraged over their response to an employee calling the police on two black men for absolutely no reason (especially because I am already furious that the police were called in the first place), I will keep living my life, which includes not buying Starbucks 99.9% of the time.

National Moment of Silence

On Thursday, after work, I attended a National Moment of Silence for a young man named Michael Brown who was shot and killed by a police officer.

As far as we know, Michael committed no crime and was unarmed. As far as we know, Michael was killed because he was black.

I live in Seattle. Michael lived in Ferguson, Missouri.

I missed the vigil, which started at four while I was still at work. There were used candles in a box at the entryway to Queen Anne Baptist Church. Inside, people were sitting in groups around tables talking. I didn’t know anyone there. Just the same I searched the space for a face I might recognize. No one. I just stood there for awhile, unsure what to do. Should I tell someone that I’m here because I can’t take this anymore, and I don’t know how to help, but I thought I’d start with just being here? I noticed someone talking animatedly. I pulled up a chair, sat down, and leaned in.

She was talking about fear. I recognized the tone in her voice. She was talking about keeping something pointy in her hand when she walked alone at night in case she ran into trouble, but always being ready to drop it at a moment’s notice, in case she came across a police officer. I carry pepper spray with me. It has never once occurred to me that this would be problematic if I should come across law enforcement. But in Seattle, in this country, it is a problem if you’re black.

Someone else mentioned how little black boys they knew were being taught to hide from the police, were never allowed to play with water guns or dart guns outside of their house or fenced in area, just in case.

Someone else called out white celebrities who often appropriated black culture but have been silent on this issue. She also said the same of companies who market their product to black people. “We know who not to give our money to, now,” she said. I found myself nodding in agreement to the things people were saying.

As I listened, I found myself feeling this question weigh heavier and heavier on me, What can I do to help? I have been asking myself that question for months now. The longer I live in Seattle, the more dissatisfied I become. This isn’t ok, but I have found myself at a complete loss for knowing how to act. I know I have the option not to engage, but I also know that ignoring it because I can is wrong.

A young man named Jay added, “If you write, if you blog, if you are an artist, talk about this, share this. Include us in your stories, in your art. We need more representation.”

I talked to Jay after the group at the table disbanded. He had been vocal in the discussion, passionate and compassionate. I told myself not to talk when I had come in. I knew I needed to just listen. I knew that I didn’t know what to say or do, so I needed to listen. Something Jay said though, had so much feeling, so much grit, a stream of words came pouring out me.

“I just can’t live this way anymore. I can’t let myself ignore it. I can’t call myself a feminist and ignore this. I have too often been told that my narrative is invalid, that my experiences are false just because I’m a woman, and I can’t perpetuate that behavior toward others. If we ignore each other’s suffering, we’re failing at being human.” I looked Jay in the eyes, “Your experiences are real. They are valid. Your stories are true.” Our eyes were glassy. He didn’t scoff at me (I guess I’d been afraid he would); he nodded and continued to talk about how important it was to stick together at every level, to find camaraderie in our experiences, not to leave anyone behind.

I’m still not sure what to do. I want to buy a plane ticket. I want to scream and yell and cry and beat the ground. I want to hug people and tell them they are immeasurably loved, and we can face this mess together. I want to know why in my Sunday liturgy, there isn’t a litany for the racial struggles this country continues to face and fail at.

In the name of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit, Father bless
For those living in fear in this country that claims to be free
Lord have mercy
For the oppressed racial and ethnic minorities here and everywhere
Lord have mercy
For the establishment of a society where all are created equal and thereby treated with equity
Lord have mercy
For those who experience violence, hatred, and discrimination based on the color of their skin
Lord have mercy
And especially our all-holy, immaculate, most blessed and glorious Lady Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary, with all he Saints, let us commend ourselves, each other, and all our lives unto Christ our God
Amen

I know that those in power have a tendency to do whatever they can to stay in power. Maybe they think they are helping people. Maybe, like so many of us, like me, they just want to be comfortable. But a government that ignores the grievances committed against its people, that uses fear and force to control people is not long for this world.

So, Jay this is for you. I hope it helps. I hope there will be a growing number of people willing to cry with you, walk with you, stand with you. I hope that at the end of the day, we can build something together, not separate but equal, together. As evidenced in this tragedy we don’t all look alike on the outside, but when our hearts stop beating we die. If our proverbial hearts won’t be touched by this, moved to some kind of action, then our government may continue to march forward, but our spirit will have died.