being black in america
being black in america

When you’re black in America, you’re either seen as a problem or not seen at all.

Last Thursday, an employee at a Philadelphia Starbucks called the police on two black men who were waiting for the arrival of a business partner without having ordered anything at the counter. When police arrived, the men were arrested for trespassing. A bystander caught the encounter on video, which showed the men resigned to their fate as other white patrons protested the arrest, and the incident went viral.

Starbucks is now in full-on damage-control mode, with plans to shut down its stores nationwide for an afternoon of employee unconscious bias training. Meanwhile, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross said that the officers acted according to protocol, but his department has launched an internal investigation.

The events have sparked yet another conversation about what it means to be a black person in a public, predominantly white space, but it’s unclear whether this will lead to any real shift. Below is an edited and condensed conversation between Slate writers Aisha Harris and Jamelle Bouie, NPR’s Gene Demby, and sociology professor Tressie McMillan Cottom about the significance of this happening at Starbucks in particular and about navigating public spaces while black.

Protesters gather on Monday at the Starbucks location in Philadelphia where two black men were arrested.
Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images