Opinion

In Starbucks Controversy, America’s Anti-racism Industry Opts for Symbol Over Substance

The Starbucks affair didn’t demonstrate pervasive racism at the company, it demonstrated how left and right get free rides on the issue of equality and opportunity

Protesters marching down Market Street are seen reflected in a Starbucks storefront in Philadelphia, a week after two black men were arrested at a Starbucks coffee shop
\ DOMINICK REUTER/ REUTERS

From the Jewish perspective, the biggest problem in the Starbucks "racism" affair is that the Anti-Defamation League was unceremoniously dismissed as one of the groups chosen to conduct a day of anti-bias training for the coffee chain's employees.

The Starbucks incident began with two black men entering a Philadelphia café, sitting at a table and asking to use the bathroom without placing an order (against company policy), prompting the staff to call in the police. They were arrested on charges of trespassing, although ultimately, Starbucks declined to pursue the matter.

Ironically, they had come to the café to meet a Jewish fellow, who came to their defense when the police arrived.

The ADL is subject to withering criticism on the left ostensibly it sponsors visits by American police officers to Israel, where they supposedly learn how to oppress African-Americans and other minorities. On that basis, Tamika Mallory, co-chairwoman of the Women’s March and Black Lives Matter, accused the ADL on Twitter of “CONSTANTLY attacking black and brown people.”

The accusations are absurd. But the point was to send the message that in the race wars, American Jews are in the “white” camp. They have to cure themselves of the racism so ingrained in white culture. They have no role in teaching others.

The designation of Jews as “white” shows how the fight against racism has morphed into a complex system of racial distinctions and hierarchies that would make the discredited race theorists of the 19th century like Arthur de Gobineau feel quite at home.

For some modern-day anti-racists, for instance, the Holocaust isn't a cause relevant to them because it was just “white on white” racism.

But the Starbucks affair says even more about the business and racism.

The lessons not drawn

It beggars the imagination to think that the Starbuck employees or the police would have reacted as they did if the two men had been white.

But the lesson drawn by the race industry – the collection of NGOs, activists, academics and social-media loudmouths for whom racism is a business – is that the incident proved that Starbucks is a hopelessly racist organization.

The fallout prompted Starbucks to call for a day of training May 29 and called in four organizations (now three) to lead the sessions.

The fact is that Starbucks, just like the ADL, is not a racist organization unless you want to engage in the kind of innuendo that typifies the race wars.

Contrary to what the organizers of the training sessions say, Starbucks has long history of diversity training and initiatives, and its (Jewish) founder, Howard Schultz, has publicly committed himself to those goals in ways rarely seen in corporate America.

Of all the big corporations in America, Starbucks doesn’t need to be doing more. The incident seems to have been the private initiative of local employees and police. If it shows anything, it's how little leadership can do to ensure everyone on the payroll shares the vision.

Prima facie evidence, for some

More fairly, you can say that Starbuck’s diversity has its limits. The company properly boasts that 43% of its U.S. employees are “minorities,” and it claims that pay on the basis of race and gender is now 100% correlated with the job.

But the fact that 43% of its staffers are minorities doesn’t say much for a business where most are working espresso machines and cleaning floors. In the executive suite, only 18% are minorities, a term Starbucks doesn’t define.

For the racism industry, this is the number that might out Starbucks as a bastion of white privilege.

Instead, Starbucks got slammed for an isolated incident that runs counter to its corporate policies. 

Since the incident was caught on camera and went viral, it became ammunition par excellence for the racism industry, which prefers emotional confrontation over Confederate statues and problematic tweets rather than the hard work of identifying and addressing the gaps in education and opportunity in America.

Thus Unilever came under attack for a supposed racist GIF ad for Dove soap because it showed a black woman lifting her brown t-shirt to become a white woman in a white t-shirt. H&M was savaged in South Africa because of a catalogue picture showing a black boy wearing a shirt emblazoned with the phrase “Coolest monkey in the jungle.”

The fact is the Dove ad went on to show the white women lifting her shirt to become a brown one, and the mother of H&M model couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

It’s hard to believe that big companies sell products by appealing to the latent racism of their customers. If so, racism would be as common as sex in marketing, where the consumers’ appetite is routinely exploited.

For businesses, this situation isn’t as bad as you might think. It gets them real attention and lets it them assuage public outrage with an apology, while deflecting the real problem of a lack of diversity in business by focusing on nonsense.