Race & Identity
No Matter How ‘Respectable’ Black Folks Are, We’re Still Going To End Up With A Starbucks Story
Respectability: been there, done that.
Respectability is bulls**t.
Troubling footage recently circulated of two black men being arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks for waiting while black.
Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson, who are 23-year-old best friends and business partners, were awaiting a third person to discuss a real estate venture they'd been working on together at the coffee shop. After being refused access to the restroom because they hadn't bought anything, Nelson went back to sit alongside his friend. When asked if the two wanted to purchase anything, they politely declined.
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The store's manager, who no longer works at that location, then found it appropriate to call the police on the two young men, whom she at one point referred to as a "group of males" during the 911 call.
But what rivaled the discomfort I felt watching two black people being arrested for not ordering bottled water, was the placidity of their facial expressions. They didn't seem to be in shock nor indignant despite the heinous implications of the moment. They instead seemed accustomed to the humiliating treatment they were enduring: being criminalized for simply existing as black beings in a public space.
Robinson and Nelson, who is a member of the esteemed black Greek organization Omega Psi Phi, were meeting to discuss business. They didn't look thuggish or ruggish. They weren't being loud or belligerent. The two were in no way befitting of the stereotypes so often attributed to us when elitists -- black, white and brown, alike -- attempt to justify our dehumanization. They were what would some deem to be respectable black men -- and even if they had acted differently, it wouldn't have warranted the racist treatment they received.
We can dress in Marciano, style our hair after the Europeans and be mindful who we're saying "n***a" around, we're still going to have our own Starbucks stories -- and know there will be more to come. There's no way around it-- take it from a former card-carrying member of the respectability cult. I'm going to be followed around in Sephora by workers who think they're being paid enough to monitor me, whether I'm making more or less than them. A high-powered executive can be perceived to be just as threatening as the corner boy as long as they're both black. All that matters is our pigment -- not our pay, not our politics.
It's so common, we've had to start chuckling about it.
In light of the Starbucks incident, on a Tuesday episode of "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah," the comedian suggested police hire more black 911 operators because they'll be better equipped to discern actual emergencies.
In the "Money Bag Shawty" episode of "Atlanta," the character of Earn, played by Donald Glover, was excited to take his girlfriend, Van, played by Zazie Beetz, on a date night after coming into some money. Despite his attempts to pay for both a movie and club entry with legal U.S. tender, his money was deemed untrustworthy at both locations by a black worker as well as a white one.
So he was forced to find joy in being finessed at a strip club -- a lil' finesse trumps being belittled to a typecast any day.
But of course, "Atlanta" imitates life.
A black professor was once racially profiled on the campus of the college where he worked, a Missouri Applebee's admitted to racially profiling a few black women after accusing them of having previously dined and dashed at the restaurant, cops were called on a black woman after she balled out at a Saks Fifth Avenue in Michigan and a New Jersey LA Fitness called the cops on two paying black members after telling them they had to "leave or pay."
A CEO and Google executive even shared her story of harassment on Twitter after the Starbucks video went viral.
The Starbucks crime was not isolated. @getkristiluv & I were forcibly removed from Nobu in NYC in Sept ‘16 for dining while Black & I still suffer from PTSD. The table next to us were disturbed by our presence & called the manager who then had security escort us out. (Cont...)— VALEISHA (@valeisha) April 18, 2018'
I never shared the story & understand the very calm look on the gentleman’s faces, first-hand, for fear of the ultimate consequence of my showing human emotion. #noburestaurant— VALEISHA (@valeisha) April 18, 2018'
What's more notable, however, are the countless number of stories that have yet to be shared -- and our knowledge that such tales are never-ending. But they're going to keep happening -- they may not yield in an arrest, go viral nor lead to a national boycott, but they're as promised as the public relations fix to follow (*cough* racial bias training *cough*).
Racial profiling happens so frequently, at some point, you'll be bereft of the energy to be agitated by its ubiquity and angered by its audacity. It'll merely present as an inconvenience when trying to enjoy a date night, shopping for your next kill 'em look or still determining which macchiato you want order.
We don't know how much longer our blackness will continue to be a bother. But in the meantime, we can take solace in the knowledge that we have nothing to do with that.