Two steps forward and one step back on race

Published on Monday, 23 April 2018 19:46
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It’s notable that both Facebook and Starbucks, two mega-giants of what has been called the new economy, have had public comeuppances within days of each other.

Last week, Mark Zuckerberg was called onto the congressional carpet to explain how his company compromised the privacy of millions of people and may have unwittingly distorted the last presidential election.

Starbucks’ woes are related to a single incident last week in Philadelphia, when two black men were arrested for not buying coffee, but the shock waves so far have proved massive, including protests, calls for a global boycott, and a public apology from the company’s CEO.

The scale of the missteps might appear to be different, but the potential fallout could be disastrous for two companies that have until now been seen as 21st century behemoths that share global impact in technology and social change.

Starbucks essentially serves as the cafeteria for the new economy; it would be nowhere, after all, without its WiFi signals.

Starbucks became a revolution not just for charging a premium price for coffee and giving an Italian name to its servers, but for blurring the lines between retail space and civic space.

The two men arrested last week broke the rules of that space by not buying coffee. But Starbucks broke a more important rule: By demonizing two people based on their race, it left democracy out of the public space.

Starbucks has never been shy about touting its values, or its belief in corporate responsibility. It created a corporate social-responsibility department in 1999, has been outspoken on a range of issues, and in 2015 started an ill-fated “race together” movement in response to police shootings of black men.

If a company this “enlightened” can stumble as badly as this single store did when it called the police on two black men, the message is not so much that Starbucks is evil but that racism still has an unshakable and tragic hold in this country.

The Philadelphia Inquirer



Posted in New Britain Herald, Editorials on Monday, 23 April 2018 19:46. Updated: Monday, 23 April 2018 19:48.