Racism isn't going to steal my weekly Starbucks breakfast with my daughter
Decision paralysis grips my 7-year-old inspecting the decorative rows of doughnuts. The server eyes her with a patient smile while the weekend mob awaits their turn at the counter. Finally, tapping the glass, she says, "That one please." Cash and goods exchange hands, and we complete our weekly ritual next door at Starbucks.
Days before, in a Starbucks half a continent away, two African-American men were arrested while waiting for a friend. White patrons protested as the police handcuffed and escorted their compliant captives away. The public degradation recorded, their silent resignation bore testimony to the collision of implicit racial bias and systemic racism.
Back here in Dallas, I sit marveling at my daughter's tenacity nibbling the frosted doughnut top bare before attacking the remnant with gleeful mouthfuls. Save one barista and a Dallas police officer, there are no other black faces.
I'm trying to engage her in conversation, but she has no interest in being daddy's girl. Accepting that this balanced breakfast of weaponized sugar and chocolate milk has supplanted me as the center of her universe, I watch with bemusement and ponder many things. Leaving in handcuffs is not one of them.
But, being here is a reminder that, as a black man, there is no safe space in America. The actions of one employee had reached across the country to our Starbucks, sullying our beloved tradition and tainting a corporate brand.
Satiated, she again allows me into her world. A part of me feels today I should forgo our usual chit-chat about school, gymnastics and knock-knock jokes to have a critical teaching moment. Is it ever too early for her first course in Racism 101?
Do we need to discuss how racial microaggressions, the subtle ways in which racism is communicated, will become her daily reality? I could also explain how decades of research confirm the negative impact on the psychological development and physical health of children of color.
Maybe we should discuss implicit racial bias, those unconscious beliefs about the inferiority of people of color. Our case study could be a crisis management team using implicit racial bias as cover for the decision of an employee that might have had lethal consequences. I could share peer-reviewed research explaining how implicit bias training without individual accountability will never lead to institutional culture change.
Instead of using my phone to watch Kung Fu Panda 3 for the umpteenth time, should I have her take the online Harvard Implicit Association test? Explain how the 15 minutes needed to complete this free test will give her a wealth of insight regarding her unconscious racial biases?
Or, I can dispense with this soft language about racial bias and launch into a real discussion about systemic racism.
I will teach her about the racialized society in which she lives. One where little will change until grown-ups reckon with the legacy of slavery and genocide. One where glacial progress toward inclusivity and equity is damaging another generation of innocent children of color navigating a society hostile to their very existence.
But, I must also teach her that racial microaggressions are not always the result of malign intent. That although implicit bias may be incongruent with one's conscious beliefs, it is not a fixed moral defect. That the foundation of systemic racism was laid centuries ago before all of us were alive to protest.
And, I will tell her that none of it is an excuse to acquiesce. For the spoils of racism, in all its manifestations, are enjoyed not only by those who exploit it but also those who stand by in complicit silence.
While I know all this is too much for her to comprehend, I also know this is not our last visit to Starbucks. Not because the baristas greet me by name and prepare my order without my asking. Not because it is a convenient location for me to work and to meet friends.
I will go back because it is where I bonded with my spirited little girl careening toward independence too fast for my liking.
It is the place where she knows I struggle to say "no" when she asks for extra time to watch movies on my phone.
It is the place where she schooled me on the legacy of Martin "Loofer" King and Rosa Parks.
How am I to tell her we can no longer come because, in a faraway store like ours, two men who looked like her daddy were removed in handcuffs just for existing?
And when she looks me in the eyes and asks "why?" what am I to say?
Dr. Brian H. Williams is a Dallas Morning News 2018 Community Voices columnist who likes chocolate glazed doughnuts and puts too much sugar in his doppio. Twitter: @BHWilliamsMD