The latest news this week has been about the incident at Starbucks. Two black men were arrested after they didn’t make a purchase, but wanted to use the bathroom in the store. The manager said that because they refused to make a purchase, but still stayed for a business meeting they were trespassing. The police were called and they were taken out in handcuffs. Their fellow coffee lovers were there to record and express their outrage at this injustice. Due to the severe backlash, Starbucks was quick with their PR and apologies. They will shut down all 8000 US stores one afternoon next month and hold mandatory racial bias training. While I do think that this issue is less about Starbucks as a whole and more about this particular management/store, I am upset that any customers would be treated this way. I also have a severe love affair with Starbucks and honestly have never had any issue worth mentioning while in their stores. In fact I’ve been to Starbucks this week which made me think, is it easier to protest something if there’s no love lost?
Several companies have experienced severe and swift backlash after racial incidents. Pepsi’s commercial making light of Black Lives Matter Protests, H&M’s racially insensitive ad last year, and countless others. But there have also been several calls to protest that went nowhere. Monique asked black people to support her protest of Netflix because they refused to pay her what she was worth for a stand-up special. No one supported her quest. It could be because many people don’t support Monique or the fact that many people, myself included, are not giving up their Netflix. Are we more inclined to protest a company if we dislike them? I would argue that our protests have as much to do with our personal ideologies as they do with personal spending habits.
Ever since the H&M ad fiasco, I have only purchased one item from the store and this was an emergency( I forgot to wear earrings that day). I wasn’t surprised that H&M made this mistake of putting a little black boy in a shirt that said “coolest monkey in the jungle”,but I also wasn’t going to support them anymore. The thing is, I had stopped shopping at H&M months ago so it wasn’t really an issue for me. I have never bought clothes from Zara because several of their employees have said that they target blacks when they’re in their stores on the basis of shop-lifting. I’ve also never shopped at Zara before I heard these claims. As an African-American women, I have personally been followed at one of my favorite stores, Anthropologie but still continue to shop there.
But even as I’ve read the news this week, the thought of giving up Starbucks never occurred to me. Yes, it is in part because I love Starbucks. But I also respect their swift response. Granted it’s probably more about the optics than the actual issue, but they at least made it seem like they care. Starbucks also has a pretty good track record of caring about their employees offering health insurance for part time employees, paying for college tuition etc. Knowing this, it’s easier to believe the companys’ claims about caring for this situation. But at the end of the day their response is about the bottom line. Any company knows their clients and in all honesty, Starbucks has a big enough client base for who this would be an issue. H&M’s main client base probably weren’t phased by the ads. Zara’s client base has not shrunk despite these reports being released for years. After I was blatantly followed around Anthropologie, I contacted them via email to let them know. They never responded because I’m not a part of their target client base, so my experience isn’t important. I know this but still shop there. Not that I wasn’t upset about what happened but because I like the store.
In the case of Anthropologie, I have been a fan of their other companies, Free People and Urban Outfitters for many years. I had stopped shopping at Urban Outfitters because they kept selling culturally insensitive clothing and it became apparent to me that as cute and trendy as their clothes are (and overpriced), they care more about making headlines than they do about being respectful to their customers. I know that Urban Outfitters is owned by the same company as Anthropologie but I will still shop there(at the sale section of course). Is it my love for cute clothes that is overpowering my moral compass? The bottom line is yes. I am no longer drawn towards Urban Outfitters, but I am drawn to Anthropologie. I think it’s harder for us to protest a company if we have any sense of loyalty to them. But this also makes me feel bad as an African-American. How can I support a company that doesn’t support me? The answer is easily. It’s nothing new for us to support companies, industries, organizations that don’t support us. There is definitely a movement in the country about racial issues and companies wanting to avoid appearing sympathetic to any sort of racism.
However if their biggest concerns are the bottom line we should hit them where it hurts. African-Americans have one of the largest buying powers in this country at an estimated 1.3 trillion dollars annually. I worked in Media for a few years and African-Americans are known as trend-setters in the industry, meaning we are seen as the ones to watch in terms of current trends. This means that we have more power than we realize. And as I write this, I realize I need to put my money where my mouth is.
If you have been openly disrespecting us then we shouldn’t support you. People work hard for their money and it shouldn’t be spent in places that don’t care about their customers. As a millennial, part of what drives us to support a company are their ideologies. I hope that as my generation continues to become a driving force in the economy companies will learn that they need to change. No, I’m not giving up my Starbucks, but I might be able to give up Anthropologie. $80 for a pillow is a little steep for my pockets anyway.