If You Think the Philadelphia Starbucks Arrest Wasn't About Racism, You're Kidding Yourself | Opinion

This originally appeared on Quora. Answered by Amanda Tendler.


I'm the stereotypical 30-something white woman Starbucks customer (with the app to get my stars and all—both in the U.S. and in China). In fact, this morning for breakfast, I ate their everything bagel bites and am currently drinking a cinnamon almond milk macchiato.

Starbucks announced that they will close more than 8,000 U.S. stores on May 29 to conduct ‘racial-bias education’ following the arrest of two black men in one of its cafés in Philadelphia. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

I consistently go into Starbucks and request an extra-large water for free. Not just at one Starbucks, but Starbucks all over Southern California while driving for Lyft and Uber, all over the U.S. on roadtrips, and in multiple other countries around the world. In fact, I make it a point to use Starbucks bathrooms because they tend to be cleaner than average and are guaranteed to have western style toilets when I didn't feel like squatting abroad.

The worst thing I've ever been told is that they can no longer give me the extra-large cup—they can only give me the large cup. I was indignant about that too, but they were patient and kind in their explanation that it was a new policy and yadda yadda yadda.

I probably asked to use the restroom on no less than 50 percent of these free-water visits. I've never been asked to verify my purchase. Never been told I couldn't have the code. Literally. Never. And if they did, you can bet I'd be on the phone to Starbucks customer service to let them know that I'm unhappy about that kind of treatment and would also not be surprised if they compensated me for the inconvenience and nonstandard service with a free drink or two.

In fact, most businesses that have the no public restroom sign will still let me use their restroom if I ask nicely and even if I don't purchase anything. One time a bouncer at a super bougie place on the beach gave me a tip: Just tell them I'm pregnant, and they can't deny me access to the restroom. So while I hate to lie, my bladder convinced me there wasn't another option so I told him I was pregnant and voila—I was granted access.

On top of that, at Starbucks specifically, I've done hour long private tutoring sessions where both the student and I drank free water and used the restrooms to our hearts content. I've also attended a regular Meetup group for people on the spectrum where multiple members didn't purchase anything, asked for waters, and used the restrooms without a do.

I never realized just how much privilege I have for something so damn basic.

Starbucks is a cultural icon—a branded meeting place—we feel a certain affection for the company because the spirit there is advertised as being so welcoming and inclusive. Sit down and enjoy a coffee for a few hours and get some work done. (They even refill drip coffee and iced tea for the duration of your in store visit.)

In this case, they hired a racist (so acknowledge it and fire her) who did not represent their brand image accurately, and that's why it is so shocking. They're supposed to be a liberal bastion of tolerance where people don't mind paying $5 a cup because they feel good about the company and the company's values. That feeling isn't so strong right now because Starbucks representatives decided two black men should be forcibly removed from the premises for the same behavior they've advertised and encouraged myself and other white folks to have for the last two decades.