Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson wants the two black men arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks and the former manager, Holly Hylton, to meet. Johnson apologized to Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, the two African American men. And Starbucks intends to close all 8,000 U.S. stores on May 29 to hold a workshop for its employees on what it calls “unconscious bias” training or what I like to refer to as conscious racism.
In suggesting the meeting between the manager and the two Black men, Johnson says the former manager is suffering and needs to reconcile with the two men. That’s like Trump saying he felt there were very fine people on both sides of the aisle during the Charlottesville Neo Nazi rally. I am sorry but how does Johnson sympathize with the white privileged racist abuser? She is the abuser and Nelson and Robinson are the aggrieved parties. You cannot have it both ways.
Last week Hylton, the now former manager, called the police on the two men within two minutes after they arrived at the Starbucks while waiting for a business associate. After the incident was taped by a bystander, the video went viral with millions of hits. It has sparked yet again another conversation on race in America. Meanwhile, the two men arrested were detained at a Philadelphia jail for hours before the prosecutors declined to press charges. Does Johnson feel sorry for Hylton because she lost her job? Is that justification for Starbucks to suggest to convene a meeting between the parties? I hope the Starbucks CEO feels sorry that the two Black men will now have an arrest on their record—even though no charges were filed. Being a Black man in America is difficult enough but with an arrest charge, it is strike two.
While there are often two sides to every story, there is only one reason for the manager’s actions—racism. Yet, I am sure she now feels remorse too. Her remorse is most likely directed towards what happened to her—not to the two individuals. In the process, she had to either resign or was fired from her job. A video about her actions went viral for the world to see. And I am sure that she feels badly that the incident may have a bearing on her future employment if an employer Googles her name. It won’t be nearly as bad as future employment opportunities for Robinson and Nelson with an arrest on their record.
In 2009 when Harvard Professor Henry “Skip” Gates was arrested for trying to get inside his own house while locked out, President Obama suggested and held a meeting between the arresting police officer and Professor Gates. Gates is African American. The officer is white. It became dubbed as the “beer summit”. It served no purpose other than a publicity photo op. The arrest incident with Professor Gates also became viral with President Obama calling the actions of the police officer “stupid.” They were both stupid and racist. Ditto for the Starbucks manager’s actions. Nothing was accomplished with the “beer summit”; nothing will be accomplished with a Starbucks coffee summit.
Now if Starbucks wants to do something to effectuate change in its culture, sanctions should be made a part of any racially sensitivity training. Employees are discharged for stealing which is a crime. I am sure that Starbucks would not entertain keeping a manager who stole from their stores. Discrimination in public restaurants is also against the law. The Civil Rights Act passed in 1964 makes it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of race, among other categories, in any public accommodation such as Starbucks restaurant.
In order to affirm the importance of Starbucks understanding the deep resentment in the African American community against their actions, Starbucks should immediately change its policy to include taking immediate termination actions against any employee who is found to have discriminated against any minorities. That change in policy would speak volumes while upholding the law against discrimination.
A Starbucks coffee meeting between Hylton, the racist abuser and the abused and aggrieved two parties will serve no useful purpose—other than a photo opportunity for Starbucks. We need for Starbucks to take action to prevent future racist actions and not an Instagram photo opportunity.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is an attorney, legal commentator, speaker and former prosecutor.