Headline from an opinion piece by a lifelong black resident of Philadelphia:
“Starbucks wasn’t created for black folks, it was made to push us out.”
The piece appeared this week in response to the widely reported arrest of two young black men at a Starbucks in Philly’s affluent Rittenhouse Square section. The store manager called the cops on the men, who were sitting at a table but hadn’t yet bought anything. A customer recorded the arrest with her phone, the video went viral, and protests ensued.
The Starbucks story sounds like it’s about racism, and it is, but it’s also about classism. The fact that arrests were made, and made almost immediately, demonstrates how high a priority Philly cops place on protecting residents of affluent neighborhoods from real and imagined dangers.
Put another way, it’s likely that arrests wouldn’t have been made — that police wouldn’t even have been called — if the incident had occurred at a Starbucks in a poor neighborhood, where people are less likely to raise a fuss unless something truly criminal is taking place.
Wait, I forgot — there are no Starbucks in poor neighborhoods. The mere presence of a Starbucks in a neighborhood indicates that property values are booming to the point where poor people, black and white, have been pushed out, or soon will be pushed out, by people who can afford higher rental and mortgage payments.
(Check out the Zillow study, conducted in 2015, that documents the role Starbucks plays in the “gentrification” of city neighborhoods.)
Now Starbucks has announced it will close 8,000 stores for an afternoon next month in order to hold “racial-bias education” sessions for its employees. This may be a smart corporate strategy for avoiding lawsuits, but it will do nothing to allay the xenophobia so prevalent in wealthy enclaves where residents have enough clout at City Hall to make cops jump through hoops at their command.
Racial bias sessions won’t keep wealthy residents from raising a stink when someone plays a flute in the square, or when the so-called Friends of Rittenhouse Square try to ban wall sitting there.
More broadly, the sessions will do nothing to relieve tensions in big cities like Philly, where the gulf between rich and poor residents continues to widen.