Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Black Bodies

"To be black in America is to never be able to have your presence be benign, and to always be in danger, of unease, humiliation or even arrest—or death by arrest—because of it." —Joy Reid

So I'm going to have to write about what happened in Starbucks, even though I don't want to. Even though I am exhausted by the accumulation of such incidents, and have been tweeting about the latest one all weekend. When I first saw that two black men who were doing nothing more than waiting for a friend in a Philadelphia Starbucks had been arrested, it was 2 in the morning. Unable to sleep, I was scrolling through Twitter in the dark. I happened upon a video of the two men being perp-walked out of Starbucks in handcuffs on Saturday afternoon by eight cops, all because the shift manager was uncomfortable with the men's black bodies in her space. One of the men asked to use the bathroom and was refused the code, ostensibly because he hadn't purchased anything. Yet moments later a white woman walked in and asked to use the bathroom and was given the code. She hadn't purchased anything either. Meanwhile, the two men, both realtors, sat talking quietly, minding their own business. Then cops swarmed the place. The thing that blew my mind? The men had been inside the shop for only two minutes when the shift manager called the police. 

The video of their arrest, posted by Melissa DePino, a white patron who refused to witness injustice and do nothing, had only a few hundred views and retweets when I first saw it. I was so outraged for the two men, and to be honest, hurt for them, too, that I started furiously retweeting the video and tweeting about the incident. I wanted to do my part to help it go viral. DePino, who saw the whole thing, was frustrated that her white friends kept asking her, "Are you sure they didn't do anything? There must have been something you didn't see." But no, there were just sitting there, waiting for their friend, also a realtor, a white man who showed up as the two black men were being led out of the shop in handcuffs. The shift manager said they were trespassing. DePino was even more perplexed by the friend who commented, "I didn't know this still happened in America in 2018."

Amid calls to #BoycottStarbucks, the CEO of the coffee chain apologized anemically, and then more robustly as Sunday wore on. To my mind, his statement was marred by his effort to excuse the shift manager, saying she did not intend for the men to be arrested. What the holy hell, Starbucks? Just about every black person and a whole lot of white people in America to know that when you call the cops on two black men who are not bothering anyone, you are putting their lives in jeopardy. This is not hyperbole: The men could have ended up dead. So please, people, police your imaginations. Just because a man is black does not mean he is about to rob you or do you harm.

The men were held for nine hours and then released with no charges. They have both retained attorneys. I hope they sue royally. The part that hurt me most as I watched the video was their absolute calm and resignation as they were handcuffed for doing nothing more than sitting while black. They knew that if they offered the slightest resistance, they might not survive the encounter. Some days, I am comforted that my family lives in New York City, a melting pot of humanity, which I tell myself should serve to keep my children relatively safe. And then something like this happens in Philadelphia, another melting pot of humanity, the place where the nation's laws were first encoded, although, one cannot forget that the U.S. Constitution at first legislated black bodies as "three-fifths of all other persons," not even a whole human in the eyes of the law.

Two hundred and thirty years later, not enough has changed.


30 comments:

  1. I am so sorry. I don't drink coffee and never go to Starbucks anyway. But this just insures that I never will.

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    1. Lisa, thanks for the solidarity! Nice to see you.

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  2. It seems this is never going to end. We live in a sad world.

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    1. Birdie, it is a sad world, but thankfully it is not only that. There is you, bringing light.

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  3. I stay silent so much of the time about incidents like this. It's not that I am not outraged. I am. I have been outraged and aware since I was a child and have felt absolutely powerless since then. I am ashamed of my inaction and to post on social media seems to only point out the hypocrisy of the vast space between my words and my actions. I speak about these things in "real life." Frequently. I will not keep my mouth shut there. I don't know what the difference for me is. Perhaps because on social media I feel as if I am shouting into the wind whereas if I am speaking to real people, I at least know that someone is listening.
    How can this still be happening? I am aghast, every day, at some arrest or shooting of an innocent person because of the color of their skin. I am ashamed of the sorts of humans who think this is all right. I am ashamed at our country for allowing this to continue to happen. I am grateful and humbled by those who step forward in body and in soul to protest and say, "No more."

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    1. Mary, i understand what you mean about social media. It is very much like howling into the void, and Twitter is the worst, everyone is so angry there, but that means its where I go when i feel outraged, so I guess I add to the tone. Still, there is so much that gets reported there first, and would never be known otherwise, so I keep my account open. I love that you speak to real people; there is nothing better. I asked my husband the other day, are things worse or do we just hear about more things because of social media and the 24/7 news? He shrugged. Worse, he said. But also better. i know what he means. I love you, woman.

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  4. I echo Mary Moon: how can this still be happening? It's crazy. I have to hope there is a tipping point coming, and soon. But it won't come without people of every colour spreading the word and taking action. Thank you for your post.

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    1. jenny-o, i too hope we are getting to the tipping point or at least to synthesis. thanks for caring.

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  5. It is terrible and it feels like we are hurtling backward dear god dear god dear god. I love you.

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  6. There is something wrong with a society that allows the police so much power. I don't know what it's liking living in the states but watching from up here, it seems to be a very militarized police force. Ours is slowly turning that way, but the cops are still mostly seen as the good guys that help you. Or maybe that's just my perspective.

    There are far fewer black people here but aboriginal people are highly stigmatized. I don't know what the answer is but I do know that there is a huge fucking problem that needs to be addressed. Judging people based on their skin color, their accent, their dress, their religion, you name it, it shouldn't fly in a civilized, educated society.

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    1. I completely agree and this shameful incident is but one of many and puts into perspective something that happened a few years ago. I was with an African American woman in a restaurant and the wait person completely ignored us both. I did not hesitate in to speak to the manager but my friend kept urging me not to do so, saying she did not want any trouble. I now understand why and it makes me sick to how racist this country is.Though I'm disabled and in a chair, I saw the fear on her face and understood racism differently than I had before.

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    2. Lily, it really does seem that the police force is militarized. Things can so quickly go wrong when cops are involved that i honestly would hesitate to call them if i were in trouble. Sigh.

      e, an interesting experience you had. Most people who aren't subject to your friend's reality think we are imagining these responses.

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  7. This incident was utterly disturbing and disgraceful. Philly's my hometown and it saddens me that this still can -- and, clearly, does -- happen. It's horrible.

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    1. Melissa, sadly it happens everywhere. much worse happened in brooklyn a few weeks ago. I'm trying not to dwell in a place of negativity though, so I bear witness, and try to do something constructive. A Tibetan monk once told me that sometimes, consciousness alone can be constructive.

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  8. "The part that hurt me most as I watched the video was their absolute calm and resignation as they were handcuffed for doing nothing more than sitting while black. They knew that if they offered the slightest resistance, they might not survive the encounter."

    Your words of hurt carry my thoughts to the pain with which Maya Angelou spoke of survival apparatus. May these ongoing disturbing images stand witness to the need for real change.

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    1. am, I honestly can't tell if things are worse or just more transparent because of social media. if the latter, then perhaps we are indeed witnessing the paroxysms of change.

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  9. The Starbucks incident is disgraceful. The Starbucks manager should be fired. How dare her? Clearly she should not manage anything or anyone. Her judgement is seriously flawed. The police action is equally disgraceful. I, too, hope the men arrested lawyer up. Starbucks and the Phily PD must be held accountable. Susan

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    1. Susan, I agree with you! The police could very easily have deescalated the situation! I heard the men have lawyered up, so I hope they will be well compensated for their trauma. Thank you.

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  10. This story has featured in our media here ( UK) so it has spread . All commentators are aghast at what happened. Apparently Starbucks are closing 8000 outlets for an afternoon of " racial bias training". !!

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    1. Frances, Starbucks' CEO does seem horrified by what happened, and is very quickly moving to address it, after initial missteps. He's assembled quite a panel to come up with the anti-bias training. May it contribute to a gentler atmosphere all around.

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  11. I cry for these men, for the lives lost, for the insanity gripping our country. I wish humanity would wake up finally. That this is still happening is outrage. ENOUGH!

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    1. robin, i remember the time you wrote about going to that yard sale, and feeling a chill in the response from the homeowners. i thought, she knows what it feels like. she knows that it's not imagined. thank you for sharing that then. it always helps to have our reality mirrored back to us in large and small ways.

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  12. It is just so exhausting. Having to be "alert" at all times. Having to shrink myself so that others are not frightened by my height, by my skin, by my hair. Having to justify why I'm occupying a certain space. Having to explain over and over and over and over again that we - people of color - are not making this up. We are not playing the d*** race card. This happens daily. It wears on us physically, mentally, and spiritually. I'm exhausted.

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    1. Nerd Girl, I sooooo understand what you mean about the exhaustion. It takes such a psychic toll to be so vigilant all the time. And the news reports of one shooting after another of unarmed black men--that wears me out too, because I feel as if I have to pay attention, i cannot become numb to it, i have to honor their lives with my awareness, and yet, sometimes, i can barely take anymore in. I know you you. Thanks for being here.

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  13. This is wrong and disgraceful.

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  14. I honestly did not know that “tidbit” in the Constitution and now I feel nauseated. It’s a disgrace. I’m embarrassed to be seen as white while in truth I am only half white. I appreciate your writing this. I feel such despair I have no other words.

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    1. Joanne, don't be embarrassed to be who you are, friend. You aren't doing this. You are doing the opposite, believing we need to do better. We need to achieve critical mass. Thank you.

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  15. This episode was shocking and disgraceful. Like you, I didn't buy the Starbucks line that the employee didn't intend for the men to be arrested -- what did she THINK was going to happen when she called the police?! And yes, she had to be aware that a police call of that nature had the potential to go disastrously wrong, as the men were obviously aware. I hope they sue royally, too. Starbucks and the PD both deserve to lose their shirts over this injustice.

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    1. Steve, I'm having a hard time maintaining my outrage at Starbucks the entity, as their CEO is doing what he can to be responsive. My outrage now is that this culture of bias persists, and that it too often goes hand in hand with lethal violence. I appreciate your being outraged, too. Thanks, friend. In another life, you might have been covering this news yourself!

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