Another day, another alleged racism video out of Starbucks. This one comes courtesy of activist and writer Shaun King, who posted it to Twitter.

I watched it, ironically, at yet another Starbucks where I'd been writing. I wasn't technically a customer, since I didn't actually buy anything--and yet, as usual, nobody had a problem with that. But more on that in a minute.

First, the video. It appears to show a black man--King says his name is Brandon Ward--recording an interview with a white man at a Starbucks in California. We quickly learn that Ward has apparently been denied permission by a manager to use the Starbucks bathroom without making a purchase first.

The white man, however, named Weston, simply walked up, asked for the bathroom code--and was allowed to use the restroom without buying anything. Ward is upset in the video, for sure, but he's pretty calm.

"Is it my skin color? Is it my skin color?" he asks the manager, who then calls either a cop or a security guard, and has him escorted away from the Starbucks (which seems to be in Redondo Beach, about eight miles south of LAX airport).

The video cuts out, and we also don't know what happened before Ward began shooting. But it's important to recognize that what Ward describes isn't just wrong: it would be flat-out illegal under federal and California laws prohibiting discrimination based on race in public businesses--including restaurants. 

Here's the video. (It's linked here, too.) Below, we'll talk about the context--along with the irony I can't get over, which is that as a middle aged white guy, I was literally sitting in a Starbucks without buying anything while I wrote this article about what happened at another Starbucks--and of course nobody said a thing to me.

I asked both Starbucks and Shaun King for comment, or context. I haven't heard back from either. And I've also been unsuccessful trying to find either Ward or Weston.

But of course, you'd think Starbucks would be all over this kind of thing, especially given the four days of national outrage that followed a separate incident last week, in which a manager called 911 to report two black men who were sitting in a Philadelphia Starbucks without buying anything.

The men were apparently waiting for a third man--but the police responded, the men were led away in handcuffs, and the video went viral. Starbucks issued an extremely ham-handed pseudo-apology.  

The whole thing was "reprehensible," in the words of Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson, at least in his company's second effort at an apology. Now, he's apparently going to meet with the two men who were arrested. And the Philadelphia Starbucks manager no longer has a job.

Against all that, what to make of this California incident, and the attitude of the manager? In the video--which has more than 1 million views in less than 12 hours--all we see is her telling Ward that she wants him to turn off the recording.

And now, because we're asking these questions--what to make of our own experiences at Starbucks?

I can only speak for myself of course-but there's a lot to talk about. I've probably spent hundreds if not thousands of hours in one Starbucks or another. I wrote nearly an entire book in one.

These days, I sometimes find myself writing columns for Inc.com at a Starbucks in New York City in the morning before I head to work. And as I say, I wrote the lion's share of this article in a Starbucks in New Jersey--which was where I first watched the video, in fact.

Of course, if you see my picture above the byline in this article: I'm a middle-aged white guy with thick glasses. So there's nothing surprising at all to me about the fact that I never actually bought anything today--and yet nobody said a word about it.

It's not right, but I take for granted that almost nobody in America treats me negatively as a result of my skin color. And I'd like to think we all agree with Kevin Johnson, that these incidents are reprehensible--but I can also very much appreciate why even people who like Starbucks a lot can find the idea of a boycott very tempting.

It's also why Starbucks needs to get its act together, and go above and beyond to make sure that this kind of discrimination stops. Otherwise, there are more than 27,000 other Starbucks in the world--and millions of Starbucks customers carrying smart phones. 

Published on: Apr 17, 2018