We have an area in my community referred to as the “homeless triangle”. In this area there are a number of service providers to the homeless community as well as a McDonald’s, Hardee’s and a QT convenience store.
The homeless congregate in this part of our city for obvious reasons. It is a place to get a free meal, health and social services and to feel a connection to something, a community. The businesses like McDonald’s, Hardee’s and QT have homeless proofed their locations by locking the bathrooms or, in the case of the QT, removing their outdoor seating.
I understand these companies rational for doing this, they are in the business of making money and someone there to simply use the bathroom or get out of the rain without ordering something doesn’t put any money in their pockets. I will occasionally visit one of these businesses and buy a homeless person a cup of coffee and a biscuit so they can sit inside. I do this because if I ever found myself in their shoes I would hope someone would do it for me.
But there is another reason businesses homeless proof their establishments and it has to do with their paying customers. At the QT, I assume their customers complained about the number of homeless people hanging around outside, smoking cigarettes maybe even asking them for money. What I have learned over the years working with and helping people living on the margins is that average Joe citizen would prefer not seeing homeless people and certainly not interacting with them. People make assumptions about the homeless and typically those assumptions are negative, maybe even criminal. But what happened in the Philadelphia Starbucks seems to be the other issue we are dealing with in a Trump America, appearances.
The store manager of the Philadelphia Starbucks called the police because two black men were sitting in the store without placing an order. They were arrested for trespassing. The men said they were waiting for someone who arrived at the coffee shop just as they were being arrested and escorted out in handcuffs.
I write this as I sit in my neighborhood coffee shop, a hip, cool place on the “right” side of town. There are no homeless people here. There is no diversity here. At this time of day the customers are a mix of affluent white middle age women meeting friends to talk about their weekend and young professionals with headphones on hammering away on their laptops. There are a few people here waiting on others but no one of color, no one with plastic bags of clothes at their feet and no one that looks “out-of-place” in white, affluent suburbia.
The CEO of Starbucks has called the arrest “reprehensible” and has promised to take immediate action so that an incident like this doesn’t ever happen again. I believe, as he noted that “Starbucks stands firmly against discrimination or racial profiling” but what about the affluent Starbucks customers who pay $10.00 for a Blonde Cappuccino, do they?
I hate to pin the division affecting America today all on Trump. Honestly, the separation has always existed it just seems that now it is okay to acknowledge it, to vocalize it and sadly to act on it. More Americans seem very uncomfortable around “different”. We cluster in groups that share our views, our beliefs and our skin tones. We are uncomfortable being around people who think differently than we do, me included. I have difficulty relating to people who support Trump. I don’t understand their undying loyalty to a man I find morally corrupt so I am guilty of intolerance myself.
What is the answer? Shit I don’t have any answers just questions, more questions than I am smart enough to even attempt to answer at this point. Americans have always lived separately. City neighborhoods have always been divided by ethnic and racial lines as have most churches and businesses. White privilege has dominated this country just as it has dominated our government. But if the demographic researches are correct the white majority is quickly coming to an end. The question we will have to wait for is will white America go quietly into the night?