Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Race Card

Ever been called "a racist"? It stings, especially when its unwarranted.

Saturday night, I'm at Starbucks working. My fellow baristas include Chris on the bar and Brian behind the counter. I had noticed we hadn't been really busy, but as the hours grew later, we did get a large number of teenagers in the cafe, which is not unusual. We had also served several older people, including two named Jackie and... and I can't remember his name--doesn't matter. What does matter, only because this comes into play later, is that they were both black.

In the cafe, in one corner are a group of about five black kids. None of them have a drink, none of them have spent any money with us, they are all just sitting in the corner in our comfy blue chairs. On the other side, is a group of white kids, five or six, and only one has a drink. Everyone else is just there. Though I could have asked them all to leave, it would have been tougher with the white group, because one did in fact have a drink. So, as the shift supervisor, I let it go.

As I'm ringing up another couple, Chris hollers to me from the bar, "Hey Dave... we have a problem in the parking lot. Some of these kids are getting rowdy." Great. Just what I want to hear. I asked Brian to finish up the transaction I was doing, and with a sigh, I headed outside. Most of the kids that had been taking up space in our cafe have moved outside, and it looks like a rumble.

I walked out, first asking a few girls that I saw what was going on. "I don't know... we just got here," said one of them. "Ask those guys." She pointed at several boys--all colors, mind you--that were probably all 13 to 15 years old. None of them could drive, I think, because most, if not all, were waiting for parents.

I stood in the middle of the group and asked loudly, "Okay, whats going on out here?" I got about ten voices at once, and finally pointed at one guy, asking for an explination. He gave me some story about some kids who were pushing them around, and how they weren't going to take it and blah blah blah blah.

"Okay, I don't care who did what, there is not going to be a fight in front of our store. Take it somewhere else." I announced. All the boys started talking again, at the same time. I noticed a woman sitting in a van nearby, so I walked up and she rolled down the window. She was probably in her late 30s, maybe early 40s.

Van Lady explained that some sort of disagreement was going on, and that her son (sitting next to her) had been slapped by one of the boys who was no longer there. She was a teacher, and since she knew several of the kids there, she wanted to wait until their parents came to pick them up. I told her that I was planning on calling the police to patrol the area, because I didn't want something to happen in our parking lot.

Mind you, there are still about ten to fifteen boys roaming around here, many using all sorts of fun language, and one black kid who seemed to like the "n" word an awful lot. Van Lady then pointed to one kid in a Carolina Panthers and said, "...and this boy was very disrespectful to me when I tried to talk to him..."

Carolina, of course, came over. "I wasn't rude to you, I told you you'd better step back before you get hurt and..." and Van Lady responded with "...I am an adult, and you need to respect me and..." so I had to yell loudly, "Hey... calm down, calm down. You (pointed to the kid) step back. Step back, man. You (Van Lady) roll up your window and let it go" I wanted back inside and called the Vestavia Non-Emergency Police Line, asking for an officer to just come to the area before we had an incident. Remember the police department is about 100 yards from Starbucks Vestavia.

As I began to walk back outside, I noticed kids were starting to disperse (I'm guessing they told each other I was calling the police). Some of the main black boys from outside were now inside, all in the corner again, none of them with a purchase in their hands. I said, very nicely, "Okay guys... none of you are customers, you haven't bought anything, so I'm going to have to ask you to give up the comfy chairs and step outside." They all complied, and I followed them out. I announced to the other kids outside that the cops had been called. One tall white kid said, "Man... everytime we come up here, those guys always mess with us and..."

I had to cut him off. "Listen, dude. I don't care. You guys can rumble if you want, but take it somewhere. There is a parking deck there--meet up, have a ball. You are not going to do it here." Van Lady was leaving, Carolina was gone and it looked like the disaster had been averted.

I opened the door to go back in, when Jackie and her man were walking out. I forced a smile and said, "Have a good night."

Jackie sweetly smiled at me, simply saying "Now you know that wasnt right."
"You mean what happend out here?"
"No... I mean you asking them kids to to leave. You didn't say anything to those white kids."
"Ma'am, I..." and before I could say anything else, she and Her Man were walking away. He held up her hand behind her as if to say "don't want to hear it."

Essentially, my decision to clear the cafe of non-paying customers was viewed by Jackie as a racist move. Of course, assuming my motives were racist based on only what she heard (inside, not outside) and what she saw is itself a racist statement, because she didn't know what was happening outside--therefore she assumed because those kids were black, and I wasn't, I didn't want them around the store.

So, Jackie and Jackie's man walked away, thinking that someone at Starbucks Vestavia has at least somewhat of a racist tone.

If you go to Guthries, you get bad service, as in, cold chicken, bad tea, whatever, you tell your friends about it. Based on that, most will probably go anyway, because I personally have never had a really bad experience there. On the same token, Jackie will now tell her friends that she had a racial experience at Starbucks, undoubtably adding her own embellishments to what she actually heard and saw. This is unfortunate, because this is the type of experience that would keep other people from coming.

It really upset me, to be honest. I didn't let on, because we had a job to finish, but when I got home, I unloaded on Stephanie. We talked about it until probably 2 in the morning. I think it bothers me so much because when someone calls you lazy, stupid or arrogant, those are things that all be remedied... being accused of racism, or at least acting with racist motives... that cuts to your moral value and integrity. Really hard to handle, I think.

Anyway, the night finished without incident, the police, headquartered 100 yards away, never showed up (or I never saw them--I'd like to think they would come in to find out who called and why), and life goes on.

A few days later, I'm still rolling the incident in my mind, though I'm now thinking it won't join "Ryan Smith thinks I got him fired" and "Melanie Dill stopped hanging out with me" and "Why Jaci didn't come to my wedding" (just kidding...) as major events that years later, I'm still seeking closure on. I know me, I know who I am, and more importantly, so do most of you. So, Jackie, if you are reading this, come see me. We can talk "Free at Last", Rosa Parks and assumption.


  1. Temporarily disregarding the wedding comment....

    A similar happening occurred with my mom while at work a few weeks ago. We talked about it for a while when she came home because it bothered her. She’s never made a racist remark in her life, and since her job calls for her to be professional at all times, she had to let it go without acknowledging the false accusation. I could tell that it really upset her, and I think she’s come to terms with the fact that the woman’s retort was unjust, but that’s some messy stuff right there. I hope you're not letting this one bother you too much.

  2. It's okay. I forgive you. Just buy me lunch soon.


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