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.

Starbucks Skype Date

The classical music, ambient lighting, and general bustle of Starbucks make a perfect atmosphere for our chat. As the light begins to fade outside, I can imagine us spending hours talking: long after our drinks are gone our voices continue. We take in each other’s inflections, learning the corresponding facial expression for certain tones of voice. As I concentrate on a story I’m telling, I look into the bottom of my cup, as if expecting there to be something in it besides a dry coffee ring. That’s all that has been in there for over an hour. 

But, for now, all of this is just my imagination. Today, you’re miles away, and all I can make out of your face on my roommate’s Mac is its general shape and blurry blobs that I assume are your eyes, nose, and mouth. I turn my webcam on and see one of the blobs move. You are smiling. My memory fills in what your smile actually looks like, and I smile back, happier than words to be with you from so far away. I want to reach my hand through the screen and rest it on your cheek. I want to do more than that.

I approach the counter once you’ve told me what to order. One of my friends is the barista today. She has a big, red flower made out of fabric in her hair, a symbol of her devotion to Saint Valentine, a subtle reminder that, today, we are supposed to love each other. I order a “medium drip coffee with room.” My friend convinces me to try the roast of the month while the other barista (her head is shaved and she’s beautiful) tells me I’m cute and she likes my outfit. I smile and thank her sincerely, glad that someone else could appreciate it.

Soon, we are talking and sipping our drinks. I’ll realize later how comfortable I’ve become talking to you. I can talk to you about so much more than just first date sorts of things. I’m glad when I make you laugh, even gladder when I make you smile, real smiles, not your psychotic-looking, plastered-on grin. I realize that, in some ways, you remind me of my dad. He doesn’t have a chin either.

The time doesn’t go as quickly as I expect it to, but our conversation is still over too soon. You have to go, but we make plans to talk again before the day is over. Again, I silently lament the screens and miles that keep us apart. Finally, after lingering goodbyes, the screen goes blank.

Even though Skyping on Valentine’s Day is less than ideal, we seem to make it work. More than that, it’s almost magic. Maybe it’s just the hormones. Maybe the internet makes us seem cooler than we actually are. I’d like to think it’s because we’re becoming part of one of those epic love stories, not just the ones people write or sing about, but the kind that people want to live, because we all want to live poetry, not just write it.