As many of you may be aware, in April this year, two African American males were arrested at a Starbucks in Philadelphia for trespassing. These two young men were waiting for a friend to discuss business. However, because they failed to purchase anything, and were waiting to have a meeting at Starbucks without purchasing anything (an action I have done numerous times with no issues) an employee for Starbucks called the police on these two young men.
Additionally, in April, employees of an L.A. Fitness in New Jersey, called the police on two young black men at their facility, accusing the men of not leaving when asked by the employees. The employees believed one of the men did not pay for his visit to L.A. Fitness, however, one of the men was a member of the club, and the other man was a paying guest.
Since these two incidents, both Starbucks and L.A. Fitness have taken measures to address these situations. Employees have been fired, diversity trainings have been scheduled, and public apologies have been issued. Despite the aforementioned measures, as a young African American male, I see no change in the near future in how myself or other young African American males are perceived as a whole in this country. We are seen as anything but positive. Thugs, troublemakers, gang members, rapist, drug dealers, etc.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 states in pertinent part (Sec. 201. (a)): “All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, and privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.”
The act was a monumental accomplishment for those individuals who worked for equal rights in the civil rights era. The 1964 law “legally” changed how young African American males “should,” be treated at places of public accommodation, such as Starbucks and L.A. Fitness. However, the perception of young African American males has not changed in the hearts of Americans collectively. Americans current perceptions led to the recent incidents of racism as mentioned herein at Starbucks and L.A. Fitness. I believe these negative perceptions can’t be overcome by these companies or any company. The problem can only be solved by people changing their current perceptions, and this takes time and most of all interaction between the races. A diversity training program without intense interaction between people from different racial backgrounds, or firing a racist worker, who will likely change jobs and continue to harbor racist sentiments is not the answer.
Throughout college and law school I continually interacted with people who came from various racial backgrounds, and I continue to do such on a daily basis in my law practice. These interactions helped me develop a better understanding on how young African American males are viewed collectively. I can say that most of these people’s perceptions of young African American males came from media (news, tv shows., entertainment, etc.) and that most perceptions were negative. However, after years of interacting with people outside my race, I believe that I have changed the negative perception of African American males in these individuals minds (or at least I hope I have). People truly won’t know who you are or what you are about until they are able to have some sustained interaction with them.
America is very much a segregated society in 2018. People often live, work, go to church etc. in areas where people look like them. People need to get out their comfort zones and interact with other races. In particular, America collectively should seek to get to know young African American males for who they are. We are people who have emotions, feelings, and strive to live life like everyone else. We even like to drink coffee and workout. We are not the negative images the media portrays us to be. Americans collectively would know who we are if they simply took time to welcome us with an interactive conversation, instead of a haste phone call to the police.