The Starbucks incident – An outlier, not a symptom of a larger problem.

The incident at Starbucks and the company’s reaction to it got me thinking about how things in the media are often totally out of context. But before I go into that, I understand that race is a very sensitive subject, and I believe that racism does exist in this world and sadly it will probably always exist at some small level, as humans will always try to divide themselves or allow themselves to be divided. So while “zero” racism should be the goal, we have to understand it is not possible. The same way zero violence should be our goal, but we understand such a thing is impossible. Our goal should always be zero, but we must not cry that we’ve failed when we don’t achieve perfection.

This brings me back to the Starbucks episode. As you probably know, two African-American visitors were asked to leave the store because they didn’t purchase anything. They refused to leave and eventually the police were called. I’m sure you know the story so I won’t dive into any further details here.

But the point I want to make is that there are 300 million people in America. Each one of those people interact with between 1 and 100 or more other people a day. That makes for billions and billions of interactions per day going on around the country. This is something that people have a hard time wrapping their head around as humans are notoriously bad and conceptualizing large numbers.

With billions of interactions happening on a daily basis, you are bound to get situations like the one at Starbucks. Maybe it was a result of racial profiling or maybe it was the result of a poorly spelled out store policy. But you have to examine the situation and come to one of two conclusions. Either 1) Starbucks has a serious problem with racism in its stores and it needs to be addressed on a national level. Or 2) this was just one of the billions of other interactions per day that went bad, it needs to be dealt with as a INDIVIDUAL occurrence and handled in a way to avoid it happening again.

Now I’m not defending Starbucks as a corporation here, as I feel they have made some missteps and very public mistakes in the past. However, I doubt any reasonable person could say that Starbucks as a company is guilty of systemic racism because of the incident in Philadelphia. I simply can’t imagine any rational person could argue that position.

So that leaves us with the only rational outcome, that this incident was one of the billions of interactions that happen per day, and it happened to go bad. So although racial profiling is an issue, one can’t use this as an example of it. This was simply a random interaction that took a bad turn. If you are trying to fight against racial profiling, do not use this incident as your center piece. It weakens your position.

Even if for the sake of argument, let’s say that the manager who called the police on the men was racially motivated, it still doesn’t invalidate my claim that this was one of the billions of interactions per day and it just went bad. Billions of other interactions happened that same day where no racism was involved. So to keep with the hypothetical argument that this was indeed a racist act, it simply needs to be dealt with as an individual incident.

Magnifying it up to a larger national issue not only defies logic, it makes any real discussion of racism harder to achieve since now any misunderstanding that happens among the 300 million people of this country instantly becomes a cry of systemic racism which weakens any argument for real racism.

So as I said at the beginning, context is very important, especially today when small things seem to instantly become a national story and debate. Remember, there are millions of interactions happening every second. A huge majority of those take place without any issue. We have to remember that when we hear stories that trigger us emotionally so that we don’t end up focusing on the outlier.