I don't usually stop at Starbucks in the morning. I make my own coffee, and even when I buy coffee, I prefer to get it from an independent shop. But 1) I had to go to the post office, which is near Starbucks; 2) I had a question about a package of coffee I'd bought; 3) it was St. Patrick's Day, and I thought maybe they'd have something interesting to drink. I'd already finished caffeine round one, and my tumbler was empty.
After deciding that nothing new was particularly appealing, I ordered a boring skim latte, made pleasantries with the cashier, paid, and went to wait at the end of the counter. Up strode a female customer who was clearly not happy.
Barista, getting to the counter as fast as he can (he walks slowly because of a health issue): "can I help you?"
Female customer, standing with hand on hip and making a pissed off face, waving her coffee: "yeah, this tastes like water." Throws cup across the counter.
Barista, remaining calm and cheerful: "sure, let me remake that for you. What did you have?"
Customer, sneering: "Caramel Machiatto."
Me, after the barista walks away, deciding I can't watch this silently, in as kind a voice as I can muster: "You know, you could try to be a little nicer. It's not the easiest job."
Customer, now sneering at me: "You could mind your own business."
Me, agreeing: "You're right, I could. But I didn't."
Customer shouting after me, as I'm walking out the store: "I'm going to be late for work because of this ... and by the way, get a sense of fashion."
I am walking down the street towards the office, holding my coffee, wondering if I care about the customer's desperate attempt at a barb. I love the sweater I'm wearing. It's my most comfortable sweater. I bought it at Urban Outfitters, ridiculously on sale, and was proud of myself for shopping, for myself, on a whim, at a store where I don't usually shop. My pants are a hair too tight because it's winter, but you can't see that because the sweater is like a tent. My shirt, deep forest green, is my only homage to St. Patrick's Day, not counting the shamrock socks, which you can't see because they're hidden by the old black boots, heels worn past the sole, right down to the plastic. The heels could be colored in Sharpie, but I don't bother.
In a moment of revelation, I decide that I don't care. And it is incredibly liberating to realize that the stupid comeback doesn't bother me. And that while I can have sympathy for that woman, who was clearly not a happy person that morning (or maybe even at all), we can't let people walk all over other people. For any reason.
Later, one of my students runs into me near the dining hall. "I just have to tell you," she says, grinning, "you are a rock star."
"Huh?" I say.
"I was there this morning. At Starbucks."
"Ohhhhh," I say, laughing. "You were there?"
She recounts the story for the people waiting in the lobby, and turns to me. "And I thought, 'I want to be more like that.'"
I couldn't ask for a higher compliment.
But I am not a perfect person, and I also know that there are times when I should have spoken up, and didn't.
That was going to be the end of my story, but just this afternoon, I learned that in the early morning hours of March 18 (today, for those of you counting), a young black man, a junior at the University of Virginia, an Honor Committee student, a leader on campus with no criminal record, was beaten by police, requiring ten stitches to his head, when he tried to enter a bar.
I don't care if he was presenting false ID. There's no reason for what happened to him.
I am not going to equate standing up for a barista at Starbucks with refusing to be a bystander to racism, with questioning white privilege and doing something to level the playing field. It is easier to say something when the stakes are lower, when all you have to worry about is someone critiquing your fashion sense.
But I want us to ask ourselves: how can we be bystanders, when injustice (both larger issues of racism and the smaller microaggressions that belie racist, classist, sexist attitudes) is not in our back yards, but on our front doorsteps? And in the places we call home?