Monday, May 28, 2018

Systemwide Training Will Not Correct Imaginary Systemic Racism In Starbucks


NewYorker |  Elijah Anderson, a professor of sociology and African-American studies at Yale, has spent much of his career exploring the dynamics of African-American life in mostly black urban environments. Three years ago, however, he published a paper, titled “The White Space,” which looked at the racial complexities of mostly white urban environments. “The city’s public spaces, workplaces and neighborhoods may now be conceptualized as a mosaic of white spaces, black spaces and cosmopolitan spaces,” Anderson wrote. The white spaces are an environment in which blacks are “typically absent, not expected, or marginalized.”

Academics are commonly dogged by questions of how their research applies to the real world. Anderson has faced the opposite: a scroll of headlines and social-media posts that, like a mad data set liberated from its spreadsheet, seem intent on confirming the validity of his argument. The most notable recent case in point occurred on April 12th, when a white employee of a Starbucks in Philadelphia called the police on two young black men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, who asked to use the rest room before they had ordered anything. They were arrested on suspicion of trespassing; it turned out that they had been waiting for a business associate to join them.

The incident was both disturbing and disturbingly common. A few days later, an employee at a New Jersey gym called the police, on the suspicion that two black men using the facility had not paid; they had. A couple of weeks after that, a woman in California called the police on three black women whom she thought were behaving suspiciously. They were actually carrying bags out of a house they had rented on Airbnb. Earlier this month, a white student at Yale called the police on a black graduate student for exhibiting behavior that struck her as suspicious: napping in a common area. Thousands of social-media users have since shared their experiences as persons of color in a “white space.”

Starbucks didn’t press charges against the men, but protests followed, along with the requisite hashtag directive, in this case, #boycottStarbucks. The men, though, settled with the city for a dollar apiece and a promise to invest in a program to assist young entrepreneurs.