Starbucks. An international coffee chain that is an obsession for many and the bane of others’ existence. For the latter group, many feel that it is strongholds of capitalism like the Seattle, Washington based company, that will obliterate the mom and pop shops of small town America and put an end to the entrepreneurial spirit for which the country is so well known.
In fact, Starbucks is at theoretical war with artisan coffeehouses in gentrified neighborhoods throughout the United States. As hip millennials repopulate inner cities, they seek out unique, exclusive enclaves of quirky homogeneity. A haven for progressive, upper middle class artists with beards and man buns, these gathering spots serve as restaurants, but also places to be see and be seen among the hippest of hipsters.
But are these idealistic young persons falling for false consciousness when it comes to diversity? Possibly.
I reached this revelation myself a couple of weeks ago while sitting in a Starbucks just outside of Atlanta. As I sat sipping my decaf nonfat caramel macchiato with sugar-free vanilla, I lifted my head from my laptop long enough to notice the incredible diversity of the staff. This particular location employs at least two open members of the LGBTQ community, two immigrant women, one immigrant man, and a couple of beautiful, plus-size ladies. These identifiers should not mean much, but when I realize that the patronage mirrors the staff in cultural composition. People feel comfortable to be themselves; I personally delight in the cacophony of tongues heard throughout the cafe.
Contrast this image, then, with the very singular image I’ve seen working at many small, privately owned coffeehouses. While several tout liberal stances and call themselves allies of the oppressed, their staff does not often reflect this attitude they often exclusively hire the aforementioned white, upper-middle class male sporting beard and man bun. Occasionally, they may hire an equally yoked female with plastic framed spectacles and quirk to spare.
I do not know the hiring practices of these privately owned places, but I imagine the lack of diversity in many of the establishments is synonymous with “vibe,” an effort to create a certain look and atmosphere. Provision of a place where like can congregate with like sans tensions often associated with difference.
So as I sit in Starbucks again on this day that we set aside to remember and celebrate the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I bathe myself, again in the sea of varied languages, observing the diverse faces belonging to the coat of many colors. I smile openly as I appreciate this moment in my America. A country where all are welcome and everyone is made to feel at home.