I don’t drink coffee, so I can’t boycott Starbucks. But I wouldn’t if I could.

Yes, I understand – and share – the national anger over viral video of last week’s arrest of two African-American men at one of the company’s Philadelphia stores. The men, who have yet to be identified, were reportedly doing nothing more threatening than waiting quietly to be joined by a man they were meeting there, having asked to use the restroom and been refused. Their waiting apparently scared the bejeezus out of the manager, who called police.

Cellphone video of the incident shows a white guy asking if the men are being arrested because “they were black guys, sitting there.”

An officer, attempting facetiousness, says yes.

But his facetiousness is misplaced because obviously, that’s exactly why they were arrested. On the video the white customers are upset, but the men accept it placidly, as befits veterans of the exhausting job of Being While Black.

Now Starbucks faces a public-relations nightmare as people swear off its lattes and macchiatos. Protesters have appeared at the Philadelphia store. “Starbucks Coffee is Anti-Black” they chanted. “Shame on Starbucks,” one sign declared.

But Starbucks isn’t the point.

To pretend it is is a comforting fiction. It allows the company to apologize, vow to do better and move on. It allows protesters to feel righteous at having proven they will not tolerate intolerance.

Meantime, we know as a statistical matter of fact that somewhere, a little boy was just suspended from school for a minor infraction because he is black.

A desperately ill woman was just denied sufficient medication to ease her pain because she is black.

A highly qualified applicant was just passed over for the job of her dreams because she is black.

And sometime soon, another unarmed man will be shot by police because he is black.

Most of it won’t make the news. If it does, we will treat it as we are now treating Starbucks – as an individual, albeit outrageous, story requiring good people to rise in protest. But you see, these are not individual stories.

No, it’s all the same story.

The circumstances change, yes, but the story never does. Nor does the moral thereof: America is a nation still infected with the same idiocy that has bedeviled us since before Thomas Jefferson wrote those noble words he didn’t believe about all men being created equal. Now, as then, some of us think you can judge a person’s intentions and worth from the color of his skin.

They may heatedly deny that they believe this. They may not even know that they believe this. But they believe it just the same.

So it’s useless to single out Starbucks for opprobrium. Granted, it may come out that it – like Denny’s and Cracker Barrel before it – has a corporate culture of denigrating black customers, in which case, the company deserves all the opprobrium we can muster.

But absent that development, what happened in Starbucks isn’t really about Starbucks. Nor are police shootings of unarmed black men really about police or the denial of palliative care to sick black people really about doctors. No, it’s the same story and the story is all about us, about we the people and the truths we claim to hold self-evident but don’t.

Last week, the story unfolded at Starbucks. It could just as easily have been Red Lobster or McDonald’s. It still could. So to make this about Starbucks is to let the real culprit off the hook.

This is the coffee maker’s embarrassment, yes.

But it’s America’s ongoing shame.

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 N.W. 91 Avenue, Doral, Fla. 33172. Readers may write to him via email at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

(18) comments


Johnnie Lynn says because Leonard is black. I say it is obvious that Leonard does exactly as his white corporate imperialists employers expect him to do on each and every matter that he writes about. That kinda makes him worthless to the cause of black dignity if you know what I mean. Not to mention kinda funny to even expect Leonard to go against the machine. Folks, much of the black conscious community don't even care a bit about these corporate hacks. I suggest the white folk try and catch up.


Uh Oh , Starbucks has individual store policies . No broad statement policies. Bereal might be more right than wrong and I might be more wrong than right. Starbucks needs to get the check book out. Hey I have never been in one of the kooks nest. It just seems .


If Bereal's statements are true, Id say Starbucks is in real trouble and should be prepared to pay a few bucks . I am pretty sure they aren't true, and are a lot of wishful thinking. Time will tell.


First of all Starbucks is known for people going there to sit and use the WiFi and buy nothing and they were not the only people just sitting in there. Second they are not asking for money or attention, they were not the ones who posted the video it was actually other patrons who where there and felt they did nothing wrong. It truly is a shame how Elkhart county always comes out and show their prejudice behind the scene but we already know how prejudice you are. We should be standing behind these gentlemen because they did nothing wrong and were treated badly as we should any other human being when it happens to them.

Joe King

well said. It is sad how one manager can cause so much trouble....I wish they would have enter viewed the manager so we can see them before they were let go.. This way other business wouldn't hire them and make the same mistake...I have yet to hear an apology from the former manager....


hmmm....I see some strange things happening here. When I first was aware of this situation @ Starbucks, it was stated by newscasters that at least one of the gentlemen asked to use the restroom. The manager told him it's use was for customers of Starbucks only. It was company policy. Since these gentlemen had not ordered, they were not customers. They said they were waiting for a friend. I guess he could have waited to use the facility since they stated their friend would be arriving at any time. I have been in many a shop where I have seen signs posted, for customer use only. When the 2 gentlemen refused to order, they were asked to leave. When police arrived they were informed of the problem. They asked the gentlemen to leave by the store's request. They were arrested and cuffed. One newsreader made a huge deal about cuffing them. Especially behind their back. I don't know of any cop trained to handcuff anyone in the front. Where is the PROBLEM! I'll tell you where. With the failure of Starbucks to support their employees. And now we have police commissioner who originally said his officers did nothing wrong, collapsing like a slug under a shoe on the sidewalk. You can't make policy, whether right or wrong, and expect your employees to follow it. Then condemn them when they do.

Johnnie Lynne



It’s not America’s ongoing shame. It’s the shame of the media that continues to claim this only happens to African Americans. It happens to all races and doesn’t get reported. The people who continue to separate races by only speaking out for one are the problems!

Johnnie Lynne

BS! It happens to people of color MORE OFTEN than a white person UNLESS they're a homelesss white person, then all bets are off! WHAT would YOU have done? AND the media got involved when WHITE PEOPLE THOUGHT IT WAS WRONG and posted videos online. SO, it was NONRACIST people who reported it in the first place, THEN the media picked it up! OBVIOUSLY, people were outraged at the level of "profiling" the manager was doing on her own! AND because SHE was an idiot racist, she no longer works for Starbucks!


Folks, they were asked to leave three times before being arrested . So wouldn't it be nice if it was looked into as to whether or nor not Whites are allowed to sit , use facilities and buy nothing. A little info would go a long ways here.


Exactly. I have gone in many establishments that have signs saying only paying customers can use facilities. Was this any different? Must not have had a sign? Maybe someone who thinks this was wrong will let them come sit in their home next time?

Joe King

they were waiting for a 3rd person... that's why they didn't order anything...they were waiting and it made the manager nervous....this all happened within 2 minutes.....racist much?


America’s ongoing shame is race baiters like pitts who continue to wallow in self pity. Maybe people like him would be happy if the government just handed out free money to those who feel entitled to things you get for working. Oh wait, the government already does that ! Nope, they will never be happy, but keep it up, since it’s working so good for you, right??

Johnnie Lynne

Since Leonard is black, I think he understands the race challenge more than you could EVER IMAGINE, Rick. I also think that THIS particular article is spot on about the racism/bigotry. If only you could experience these same scenarios as a black person, maybe you could understand what people of color go through EVERYDAY since BEFORE their birth, because of the color of their parents!


The only thing pitts understands is how to keep things stirred up preaching hate ! He thrives on it.


They did not buy anything. They were in a large city. Can you imagine how not buying anything but waiting inside of the business could get way out of hand ? In the winter time especially ? Surely you can easily imagine the problems from those that would seek warmth and facilities. Have we lost our minds ? Thanks conservatives. For speaking so idiotic about so many issues. You have empowered the liberalism that is being used by the fascist industrialists to destroy this country. Hope you are happy.


This was a set up from the start, a ploy to make money and draw attention to themselves. Just wait for the big check from Starbucks. The "I am a minority and You owe me" crowd. Pathetic!!

Joe King

wasn't a ploy...put your foil hat back on...

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