Posted on April 19, 2018

Starbucks: Hypocrisy as a Business Strategy

Gregory Hood, American Renaissance, April 19, 2018

In Greek tragedy, the protagonist is doomed by his hamartia—his tragic flaw or error of judgment. The hamartia of Starbucks is its professed love for diversity. The iconic coffee company has made “social justice” and “anti-racism part” of its brand. At the same time, its business model relies on convenience, speed, and ready access to relatively wealthy (and mostly white) customers. A conflict was inevitable.

The conflict came when two black men were arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks after refusing to leave the store. The company’s leadership is panicking; Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson has already met with the two to apologize. On May 29, 8,000 Starbucks stores will close so 175,000 employees can undergo “racial-bias training,” which will cost the company millions. Mr. Johnson vows that the training “is just one step in a journey that requires dedication from every level of our company and partnerships in our local communities.”

Those “local communities” are usually white, just like the one in Philadelphia. According to Vox Media’s Eater in 2015, “U.S. Census data on race and income shows 83 percent of Starbucks stores in the U.S. serve predominantly white areas, mostly wealthy or middle class ones.”

In a piece about the incident in Philadelphia, Brentin Mock at Citylab writes, “When opening in a black community, a concern is whether the cafe actually will adopt the character of that black neighborhood, or if it will traffic in the kinds of values that personify it as a ‘white space,’ as Jamelle Bouie calls it in Slate.” Starbucks mostly avoids the problem of a culture clash by not operating in black neighborhoods. Asia Reneé at WearYourVoiceMag admits she patronizes Starbucks, but writes, “In non-white, low-income neighborhoods, the cup is a symbol that gentrification has arrived, and that people of color are in danger.”

Protesters gather on April 16, 2018 for ongoing protest at the Starbucks location in Center City Philadelphia. (Credit Image: © Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via ZUMA Press)

Starbucks depends on attracting a certain type of customer. As Business Insider’s Kate Taylor noted in an article about the company’s rise, “Starbucks didn’t want an all-American identity.” Instead, it wanted customers to feel “sophisticated and elite,” unlike the people who get coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts or McDonald’s.

The relatively expensive coffee of Starbucks was originally perceived as a minor luxury—a way to set oneself apart from the common American. However, as the company expanded, its image changed from being elite to being ubiquitous and middle-brow. An analysis in Spotistic in 2013 found that those who patronize Starbucks were more interested in quality of service than the coffee itself. A local coffee shop may have a better product, but Starbucks has better WiFi, bathrooms, and service. Starbucks became less about coffee and more about convenience and atmosphere.

As it expands, the company has tried to maintain its brand in two ways. First, there are now different kinds of Starbucks, such as “Starbucks Roasteries” and “Reserve Bars” for true coffee lovers. Second, the company is pushing left-wing politics to appeal to its young, wealthy urban customers.

At a shareholders’ meeting in 2013, then-CEO Howard Schultz shrugged off suggestions that the company lost sales because it supported gay marriage. “You can sell your shares in Starbucks and buy shares in another company,” Mr. Schultz told a conservative. Also in 2013, Mr. Schultz called on Americans not to “open carry” firearms in any Starbucks, a move seen as support for gun control. In 2016, Starbucks announced a plan to open franchises in “at least 15 diverse, low-to-medium income communities by 2018,” including Ferguson, Missouri.

There were mistakes. In 2015, the company challenged its customers to have a “conversation about race,” leading to a massive backlash from whites tired of being lectured to, and from non-whites who felt the company was being condescending.

However, the company’s image recovered after it boasted of a plan to hire 10,000 refugees in the next five years, subtly criticizing President Donald Trump. As Kate Taylor of Business Insider put it, “[T]he coffee chain has created an image of itself as a brand that emphasizes progressive politics in hopes of elevating the chain over more inexpensive counterparts.”

Of course, the contradiction is that Starbucks still functions as a “white space.” Jamelle Bouie quotes sociologist Elijah Anderson, who defines a white space as an area whose “most visible and distinctive feature is [the] overwhelming presence of white people and [the] absence of black people.” Mr. Bouie suggests blacks face “heightened scrutiny” or even “violence” if they dare enter a white space.

Of course, Mr. Bouie does not mention targeted crimes against whites such as the “knockout game,” mob attacks against whites, or the mundane, everyday reality of disproportionate black violence. As American Renaissance reported just a few days ago, blacks are massively overrepresented as violent criminals in Philadelphia. There are many reasons white people fear “black spaces,” but a “white space” is usually a “safe space.” As long as the color of crime is disproportionately non-white, there will be tension, misunderstanding, and conflicts in every multiracial space.

This is what happened in Philadelphia. The white manager of the Starbucks, Holly Hylton, is now the subject of massive media scrutiny. She has lost her job and is facing accusations of racism from black co-workers. International media are trawling through her social media, highlighting a comment in which she said customers who didn’t order in English were “rude.”

However, in an interview with a hostile journalist/activist, a Starbucks manger identified as “Holly” (almost certainly Miss Hylton) said all Center-City Philadelphia locations have an anti-loitering policy because of repeated problems with loiterers. An eyewitness account suggests the two black men in this case were sitting calmly, did not cause trouble, and even offered to call their (white) business partner to prove they were at the Starbucks for a reason. Miss Hylton may have been a little too quick to the call the police, but her action was grounded in experience.

More importantly, while Starbucks may denounce the specific actions of Miss Hylton in this case, the company ultimately relies on managers like her to keep its locations appealing to wealthy white customers. Even more than being a “black” or “white” space, a Starbucks must avoid becoming a completely public space lest it be overrun by noncustomers who want to camp out. Like libraries that have turned into daytime homeless shelters, a Starbucks that tolerates noncustomers, especially unruly blacks, would lose its appeal and go out of business.

But to protect its “progressive” brand, Starbucks can’t come out and openly say this. Its “no-loitering” rules are like a dress code at a nightclub, a way to discriminate against certain people without admitting it. It’s worth noting Starbucks allows local stores to set the loitering policy, enabling the national chain to disown individual managers. Of course, this also means local managers must accept responsibility for failure if they do not enforce “no loitering” rules and their store becomes undesirable to white consumers and therefore unprofitable.

Starbucks’ balancing act has now capsized. No employee is going to deny a black person anything for fear of losing his job and becoming a media target, especially now that the company has shown it will not defend its employees. Bryan “Hotep Jesus” Sharpe showed this brilliantly when he walked into a Starbucks, demanded free coffee as a black man, and got it.

Users of the well-known imageboard /pol/ created fake “reparations” coupons that “people of color” can use at Starbucks, and anecdotal reports suggest some are being honored. Why shouldn’t they be? If a black man with a video camera starts throwing around accusations of racism and demands free coffee, why wouldn’t you give it to him after seeing what happened to Holly Hylton? More importantly, if groups of blacks start hanging out at various Starbucks locations refusing to buy anything, what employee or manager is going to call the police? It is better to go out of business slowly and find a new job than have your life destroyed by aggressive journalists and screaming activists.

Ultimately, it’s not about Starbucks, but about the contradiction urban white liberals live by. They view their politics as a status symbol that shows their superiority over other whites. Brands such as Starbucks cater to this self-image. At the same time, white liberals love what Mr. Bouie calls “white spaces” that are orderly, efficient, quiet, and pleasant. Such spaces have to be policed to keep the riff-raff out, and the riff-raff tend to be non-white.

However, if progressive political ideals mean those places can’t be policed, they will be overrun. White liberals will look for new places to patronize. They will never admit the racial motivation behind their actions any more than Starbucks will, but it doesn’t change the company’s reliance on white consumers.

The real challenge for Starbucks is not to make blacks feel better about the company. The real challenge is to appease blacks sufficiently so that they’ll stop protesting and demanding free products. Once it does, Starbucks evidently believes it can get back to selling wealthy white people overpriced coffee. However, as America becomes ever more racially diverse, there are fewer of those wealthy white people to go around. Hypocrisy as a business strategy won’t pay for much longer.