Black and White Americans Have Very Different Views of the Philadelphia Starbucks Incident

A recent survey suggests the majority of white Americans see the arrest of two black men at the coffee chain as an isolated incident.
April 25, 2018, 8:28pm

As a result of the backlash following the arrests of two black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks earlier this month, Starbucks will be voluntarily shutting down over 8,000 of its stores across America for an afternoon in May so its employees can undergo mandatory anti-bias training. But a recent survey conducted by HuffPost and YouGov suggests major discrepancies between the way that the incident has been interpreted by white Americans versus the perception of black Americans.

The majority of white respondents see the arrests as an isolated incident, one entirely unrelated to any greater racist ills plaguing America. Black respondents, in contrast, are more likely to draw links between the incident American society’s treatment of black lives.

The survey, which you can read in full here, was conducted online between April 19 and 20 and released on Monday. HuffPost and YouGov asked 1,000 participants—who provided their gender, age, race, education, and their voting records during the presidential elections of 2012 and 2016—a variety of questions about the incident and their experiences navigating public spaces.

HuffPost and YouGov wanted to know whether participants had been in situations where they’d felt comfortable asking to use the restroom without making a purchase (as was the case for the two men in the Philadelphia scenario) as well as if they felt they’d been treated ”unfairly” in a store or restaurant within the past year because of their racial or ethnic background. The survey then gauged participants’ familiarity with the incident; 40 percent of white respondents had “heard a lot,” compared to 61 percent of black respondents.

The most striking statistic gleaned from the ten-question survey, though, might be that 48 percent of white respondents thought the incident was unrelated to the larger principles of Starbucks or American society’s treatment of black folks. Compare that to a mere 10 percent of black respondents who said it was an isolated incident.

Sure enough, 57 percent of black respondents said the arrests were directly related to the way American society treats black lives (33 percent of white respondents said the same), while 19 percent of black respondents said it revealed how Starbucks treated black lives. Only 6 percent of white respondents agreed.

As PhillyVoice notes, it's crucial to keep in mind that HuffPost and YouGov's methodology presupposes that every response is unique and operates independently from the ones preceding it. If anything, though, these results aren't terribly surprising, and serve as further proof that the incident was a real litmus test regarding how different Americans perceive racial bias within America.

While the differences between these groups' responses may not come as a shock, they surely reflect the necessity for further conversations about race in America.