“Do you think your white privilege helped you get that job?”
That’s what one Starbucks barista asked me after I told her what I did for work.
Starbucks decided to stop writing “RACE TOGETHER” on all of their cups, but they continued their campaign by encouraging
employees to start conversations about race. I decided to visit a handful of nearby Starbucks locations to see exactly
what this was going to involve. I went during off-hours, in the late afternoon, hoping that the employees would have more
time to talk to me. I didn’t know what exactly to expect, but this was worse than I imagined- not to mention incredibly
The first barista I encounterd was incredibly eager to do her part in Starbucks initiative to drag race into anything and
everything. I ordered an iced tea and stood near the pick up counter. Shortly, a college-aged barista with short hair dyed
black and an eyebrow ring came along to hand me my beverage. Noting my collared shirt and slacks, she asked me if I was on
my lunch break from work.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Where do you work?” she asked.
I indicated a nearby office building and told her that I’m the editor for a news site.
That’s when she asked if I thought I got that job due to white privilege.
Needless to say, I did not appreciate the insinuation that the only reason I’m employed in a professional job is because
I’m white. I actuality, I had met my CEO while I was interning for his attorney and impressed him with my writing skills.
“Actually,” I told her, “I think I got the job because I’m good at it and I have a degree in political science.”
This seemed to stump her for a moment. She thought about it, and then replied, “Did you know that black children are less
likely to go to college, because of institutional poverty where their parents can’t afford to pay for it?”
This line really ticked me off- she was making assumptions about me because of my race.
“Actually,” I said, “I worked my way through college, while taking care of my younger sibling because my parents were on
drugs. It’s not like I grew up rich.”
At that point, I think she gave up. She just sort of muttered, “Well, it’s still easier when you’re white,” and disapeared
into the back.
The barista at the second Starbucks I visited was much less enthusiastic about the campaign. Getting him to talk about
race was like pulling teeth. He was older, probably in his late thirties, and looked bored. When he handed me my coffee, I
asked him, “So how exactly are you guys going about starting conversations about race?”
I could tell by the look on his face that he had just about had it with this campaign.
“There’s a pamphlet,” he replied. “It’s going to have questions like, ‘have your views on race evolved from your parents?’
At that moment, a new customer appeared at the counter and he practically teleported to her to escape the conversation.
The third Starbucks was another story entirely. I’ll cover what happened there in part two.