Starbucks Brings Jim Crow to Venice Beach

starbucks-350I ran up the sidewalk to the Starbucks on Navy & Main near Venice Beach, California. It was still dark out at 6:10 AM, but I had to get to my new job with the Salvation Army.

I’d been sleeping on the sidewalk nearby for the last few months, homeless. I’d lost my job through no fault of my own at the height of the great recession. Inside, I put my huge double sleeping-bag pack under the table where I usually sat. Though a straight-A from the University of Delaware, I definitely “looked homeless.”

I walked up to the counter and ordered my usual sausage sandwich, grande coffee and LA times when the new manager there, a white girl called Rebecca informed me that my status as a Starbucks customer had changed. She told me that because of a “hygiene issue” that from now on I would be buying their products there but that I had to immediately leave the store–I could no longer sit with the rest of the patrons.

Time stopped. She was not reserving the right to refuse service–she was making my patronage of a Starbucks restaurant conditional as condescendingly and tritely as if she was explaining to “colored” at the counter at Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960 that that was “just the way it is.”

Though I’m white, from an affluent family, a highly educated and articulate Phi Beta Kappa, because I “looked homeless” she tried to inform me that I and other “homeless” individuals would be adhering to this Jim Crow-style condition in the future. It was how things were going to be when I returned and was starting right away—I could buy Starbucks, Inc. product, but I had to immediately leave.

The Jim Crow laws were racial segregation laws enacted in the U.S. between 1876 and 1965. Most of them were overruled by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Laws such as: blacks couldn’t drink from the same water fountains as whites, blacks had curfews, that blacks could spend their money in “white” restaurants, but there’d be conditions such as they had to enter through the back door or they could order to-go, but they couldn’t actually sit with the other patrons.

Some of the most hated, blatantly racist, adhorent laws ever enacted–and Rebecca the manager of a Starbucks on the Venice/Santa Monica border was using the same reasoning to clear the “homeless looking” people from her store.

I’d never experienced discrimination before personally in my life, never, but there was only one word for what I began experiencing from that moment on. Rage. Burning, seething, caustic rage.

I refused her “conditions” and went down the street to the other Starbucks and spoke to the manager there:, a young Latino girl, as nice as could be. When I explained the conditions that Rebecca had stated earlier, she was flabbergasted. Refuse service, sure, but to tell someone that their money was good but that after they paid that they weren’t a full customer?

With most “homeless looking” people actually being people of color, what could be more racist, more discriminatory. Flash back to 1960 in North Carolina. The similar dynamic was in play back then as Rebecca was trying to initiate in 2013. White restaurants definitely wanted blacks’ money. Blacks might constitute 30% or 40% of a small restaurant’s revenue, just like the homeless make up a great deal of business in this equation–but with Jim Crow there were always “the conditions.”

Enter Starbucks, Inc.–under analogous pressures due to the crimes of the banks, the homeless population of LA and other cities has swollen to crisis proportions. When you’re homeless you learn the faces of who’s homeless from the homeless centers and churches. You see them “out in the world” later in the day and maybe they look homeless–sometimes not. Many live out of their cars.

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The first thing I began noticing after I became homeless myself was just how many people at the library–and at inexpensive restaurants like Starbucks–were homeless. The homeless are big business to Starbucks, Inc., but there is NEVER an excuse to bring back second-class status to any American under such circumstances. Refuse service, sure.

Refuse dignity to any human being, never.

Occupy!

Brian Connolly, aka Nowhere Man

Published by the LA Progressive on December 21, 2013
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Comments

  1. Carol Walter says:

    You are homeless, but you have access to the internet – library, perhaps? I hope so, because otherwise it means you have the means to buy a phone and pay for service. And you can afford to drink coffee at Starbucks? There is nothing affordable about Starbucks, and nothing special about their food/coffee that makes it worth the prices they charge. And if I owned a business – I don’t care who the targeted clientele are – I don’t want it overrun by people whose hygiene most likely leaves a lot to be desired. I also don’t want you sitting (loitering, actually) around for hours, taking up valuable space that can be “turned over”. When I waited tables, and people lingered for long periods of time, that was a table that could have been occupied by new customers – which meant more money for the restaurant and more tips for me. Are you even for real?

  2. Robert Ruedisueli says:

    I hope he wrote the main Starbucks company about that manager’s policy, as it was clearly a policy in that single location, likely made without consulting even the regional manager and should be addressed.

  3. Reverend Draco says:

    One thing I noticed in my years of being homeless – Since “racism” is no longer legal, the last safe target for the terminally ignorant and chronically bigoted are the homeless.
    Talk smack about Blacks? Racism, hate crime. Talk smack about Gays? Homophobia, hate crime. Talk smack about the homeless, abuse them, throw things at them. . . no problem – they’re homeless, after all – it’s not like they’re actually people!
    I’ve had jobs as a sign spinner, to pay for a room in a flophouse so I’d have a place to shower – and had ignorant Funyuns (my apologies to the yummy snack food) throw things at me and tell me to “get a job” – while I was at work!

    If there’s a better term for the nonsense and abuse heaped on the homeless than Jim Crow. . . I haven’t heard of it.

  4. the Nose Knows says:

    Lost my job through no fault of my own…, highly educated…., Jim Crow? Your Phi Beta Kappa should be revoked for a serious lack of critical thinking skills. None of this intellectual clap trap has anything to do with the basic problem-Do you smell? Starbucks just happened to be a convenient target for you to deflect. You can also move north or south. The Starbucks in Santa Cruz is very tolerant of the manly street people there and the homeless guy who spends his afternoons on the computers at the Manhattan Beach Library spends his mornings at my local Starbucks in Torrance.

  5. Spike Lewis says:

    Merry Christmas, everyone. ;)

  6. Mr. Connaly ;

    Your entire premise is bogus as $tarbuck$ is always the MO$T EXPEN$IVE coffee anywhere . the 7/11 is where I go when I need a quick cuppa joe , I suggest you stop whining and grow up a bit .

    -Nate

  7. As a white male, never having been discriminated against, you felt “rage”. LOL! Of course you did! You’re used to getting your way!

    Welcome to peoples of color everyday existence! And that’s even when we’re clean, employed & not lugging around a sleeping bag. Your gripe with Starbucks has some basis, as far as them discriminating. But, I think you are really off base comparing this with Jim Crow. Just being incendiary & dramatic! They told YOU that you couldn’t stay. So why are you pulling in all these other factors that has nothing to do with your altercation with them? Like noting the race of the two managers & bringing up that most of the homeless are POC, when this seems more to be an issue of policy? Why would you immediately start throwing around the term “colored”? You really need to check yourself.

    I consider myself somewhat liberal, but I’ma tell you right now, I don’t want to be in Starbucks or any other establishment with a bunch of homeless people hanging out with all their belongings because they have nowhere else to go. And while you may be educated & from an affluent family, many of these people aren’t or are so down & out, they have lost their way. And a great many also have mental health issues. That, combined with challenges to access to regular bathing facilities could make their prolonged patronage of an establishment a turn-off to many of the regular paying customers.
    So, while I can sympathize with the gist of your beef, I can’t say I entirely blame Starbucks for trying to address this issue.
    Seriously, would you rather that they deny service to homeless people entirely?

    • A lot of homeless people don’t look the way you think they look. I worked at a cafe in Venice once, and a lot of homeless people came in to sit down, have coffee and so forth. Some looked like what you described, but some didn’t. I’m sure there were more who didn’t, but I just didn’t notice.

    • Opie G. Manager says:

      maybe we should just lock them all up in jail and then you won’t have to be near them anywhere, problem solved!

    • You put into words everything I was thinking while reading this article. Thank you.

  8. I recall a couple of decades ago, a new library built in San Jose. Huge comfortable high-backed chairs to read in, good lighting throughout… Wasn’t long before all the comfy chairs were permanently infested by reeking homeless.

    The microfilm library upstairs became a “safe” daycare center where people of whatever circumstances left their children while they were at work, shopping or whatever. I stopped using that library soon thereafter.

    You may have a “right” to stink in public, but businesses, do, I hope, have a right to exclude you from the premises for it, and I as a person, have a right to be somewhere you’re not..

    Brian

    • Opie G. Manager says:

      I don’t know why more people don’t understand that if you just keep the homeless out of sight the problem goes away.

  9. Starbucks still has a lot of growing up to do. They are a pretensious business for pretensious people. Starbucks won’t even open a franchise in poor communities as it is not in their corporate image.

    • JoeWeinstein says:

      Of course it isn’t in their corporate image – or rational business plan either! People with enough disposable income to spend several bucks on a cup of coffee (that could readily be home-brewed using beans that can be store-bought for well under a buck), are widely and correctly assumed not to congregate in poor communities.
      But yes, Starbucks – as an enterprising adventure – likely still has some growing up to do. Remember that coffee houses was not their original venture. When I lived in Seattle in the late 1970s, Starbucks was just our local supplier of coffee beans (allegedly gotten in turn from Peet’s Coffee down in San Francisco) for home brew and had not yet even thought to start up a chain of coffee house.

  10. Brandon Lewis says:

    If you’re comparing this expierence to “Jim Crow” you would have never been allowed into Starbucks.

    • Many segregated establishments took black people’s money but forced them to purchase from the back door/window and keep it moving.

      • It wasn’t just Blacks. The same thing happened in our allegedly non-segregated county of Los Angeles to Black, Brown, and Yellow people. You could enter through the back door, and only order food to go. This was the 1950s,

  11. Brandon Lewis says:

    “With most “homeless looking” people actually being people of color, what could be more racist, more discriminatory”
    Wow! Wow! You must be lookiing at the dirt from not bathing. Look a little closer.

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