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Coffee Shop Racism

By Alfredo A. Weeks VI

I open the door to a coffee shop, and as soon as I get inside I feel the stares. Me, dressed how I’m dressed in a pair of light blue Jeans, cream wallabies and black long sleeve shirt underneath a winter vest. As I walk towards the counter I see the barista, quickly eyeing me, then looks away. Not sure exactly why, he seems to act as if he didn’t notice I was walking straight towards him.

Once getting to the counter I begin placing my order, and I ask, if I can get a double shot espresso with equal parts steamed milk. I’m given a look, as if I’m troubling him to add details to my order.

I look for a decent place to sit, until finally finding a table at the corner of the cafe. I take a seat and start working. I sit for a while until nature calls and I head towards the counter to ask for the key to the restroom. After asking, the guy behind the counter says: “We can only give the keys to paying customers.” First thought in my head, was why did he think I hadn’t ordered anything. What details did he realize in my presence that he noticed so much, that he came to the conclusion where he thought I wasn’t a paying customer.

I brushed it off, and as I’m forming my lips to respond, someone behind him says: “He’s good.” With a look on their face telling me I’m sorry for the other guys ignorance.

I head back to my table and as I come out, stares from everywhere. Like lasers from across the room, I feel like a moving target. I finish up my work and head out on to the next task for the day.

A while ago, when it was warm out I headed to the pool with my wife and a couple friends. It’s a nice area and all, but I feel a weird vibe everytime I want to go for a quick swim. On this particular day it was packed, so there were very few places to sit. We found our spot in the pool area and started scouting for chairs. I had spotted a chair all the way across the pool and as I walked to go get it so my wife could sit down, everyone’s eyes were locked on me. As if I were an art piece, just not the kind of art they liked.

I get to the chair and asked the lady next to it, if anyone was sitting there? She didn’t even look at me. I asked a little louder and she didn’t even acknowledge my presence and looked in the opposite direction.

“The officer was pressed to find guilt of some kind.”

Fast forward to just a couple of days ago, my wife had come home close to tears. She walked in, and told me how she needed to tell me about what happened to her while shopping with our two-year-old.

At five months pregnant my wife heads to the grocery store. While shopping, she starts feeling a bit hungry, and noticed how our daughter was feeling a bit hungry as well. She went to the the deli, asked if it were ok to purchase a couple items and eat them in the seating area and continue shopping afterwards. They said it was completely fine, but for some reason the manager had come over and showed less customer service than the employee had. With the weird stares and a less inviting attitude by the manager, my wife brushed it off and continued to purchase her food.

My wife tells me how they had been eating for about 15 minutes until she noticed a police officer walking towards them. He started questioning her on what she was doing, how long she had been there, and if he could look at her receipt.

The officer was pressed to find guilt of some kind. He looked through the trash to see if she threw anything out. He said she wasn’t supposed to be eating while shopping. Even after my wife told him the manager said it was completely fine, it still didn’t matter to him.

Everyone in the seating area witnessed everything. My wife trying to control herself asked: “If there was anything else?.” The officer just hovered right over my wife and child antagonizing them. Not saying anything, he just stood there, staring them down. He left a couple minutes later as if nothing ever happened.

After finishing, my wife, close to tears stood up, looked around and realized how there where so many people sitting around her doing exactly the same thing she had just finished doing. Shopping and eating. Sandwiches spread out, bags opened with shopping carts next to them containing unbagged items.

“Contemporary Jim Crow is alive and well.”

The one difference that stood out, was that she was the only minority in the whole area. Why wasn’t anyone else picked out? Why didn’t they ever consider the people who were sitting there before she was?

In all of the before mentioned scenarios, me and my wife were the only minorities to be seen. We stood out, as if guilt was our last name. We brushed things off as well as told ourselves, it wasn’t a life or death situation so why bother. The thought of how easily you can be accused, arrested and convicted by not only police officers but also these seemingly white-only zones.

Contemporary Jim Crow is alive and well. The micro aggressions, and the smiles that say: “Hey I’m trying so hard to prove to myself that minorities are people also.” It’s as if we have to prove to people, or be interrogated to live in a nice neighborhood, shop healthy, get hungry while shopping and just might need to use the bathroom when in a coffee shop.

Heading into upscale spaces, spaces of higher education even a half-way decent neighborhood have some believe there is no way a minority can afford or even have reasons to be in these environments.

Some think you’re uneducated, not a professional and you’ve never been anywhere other than to the hoodmart. It’s mindless when we have to prove to our peers that we graduated college. Seeing the reactions from people who have heard about your accomplishments only translates into either I’m lying or exaggerating. In the words of the late 2pac Shakur, I tell all of them: “You cant see me!”

The stares, the comments, and micro-aggressions all tell how just being a minority is bothersome to so many. We know, that no matter what the world does, people will find some way to hold on to their racist ideologies. It gets worse when people in positions of power perpetuate the culture of discrimination.

“We know, many see a threat in our voices, skin color and presence.”

Seeing those two young men in Starbucks could have been anyone of us black men. Suit and tie, or a t-shirt and hoodie, anyone of us could have been arrested that day. We cant even ask for the bathroom key without being profiled. Anyone of us could have been that woman on the floor in Waffle House, completely exposed while being arrested. All while the police officers showing no care in the world.

The recently surfaced Starbucks video that went viral, replay in my head just the same way those old black and white civil rights videos show students sitting at the diner counter, being refused to be served. That era hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s just more covert now days. And unless you have video proof, it just won’t matter.

Just look at what just happened at Syracuse university. How fraternities are caught on video making countless racist remarks. C’mon! We all know there are countless ‘white’ fraternities out there, whose first step into the initiation process is making sure their initiates hold the correct pigment.

Countless Universities have known this for years. Sometimes, even video proof won’t do enough. Many place guilt upon minorities way before we’ve even entered the door or a crime has ever been committed.

From colleges to coffee shops there is an undertone of Jim Crow era discrimination deeply embedded in today’s culture.We know, many see a threat in our voices, skin color and presence.

Our main plight today is to hold people accountable when there weren’t any obvious physical threats. How many times should we keep brushing ‘small’ things off when we know that too often minorities die because of ‘small’ things. Mike Brown, Philando Castillo, Treyvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Freddie Grey… on, and on, and on…



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