On Friday, June 12, after this column was published, Starbucks announced they were partnering with black employees and corporate leaders to make 250,000 shirts available to stores in U.S. and Canada in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Until these shirts arrive in stores, partners will be able to wear their BLM pin or T-shirts.

Luckily I’ve become accustomed to making my coffee at home.

Because apparently, according to a memo obtained by BuzzFeed News, our friendly neighborhood Starbucks baristas are banned from wearing clothing and accessories that show support for the Black Lives Matters movement. They told employees last week, while people were still marching through streets across the country, and before George Floyd’s body had even been laid to rest.

According to the memo obtained by BuzzFeed, “partners are not permitted to wear buttons or pins that advocate a political, religious or personal issue,” and that includes Black Lives Matter. The explanation for the policy, the memo explained, was that “there are agitators who misconstrue the fundamental principals of the Black Lives Matters movement — and in certain circumstances, intentionally re-purpose them to amplify divisiveness.”

I get that, like any company, Starbucks has the right to enforce a dress code. But Starbucks’ decision to ban Black Lives Matter clothing just makes no sense. Especially since, on its social media channels, Starbucks seems to have gone out of its way to show its support for justice for black people in the wake of Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police.

On May 30, the company’s CEO, Kevin Johnson, posted a letter to Starbucks’ website pledging to find ways to “help each other heal” and “contribute to society in a positive and constructive way on the topic of racism and injustice.”

In the days that followed, Starbucks tweeted its intentions to stand in solidarity with its black partners, customers, and communities, that “black lives matter,” and that Starbucks was “committed to being a part of change.” That tweet included a four-point plan to make lives better for black people.

So last week’s decision to prohibit employees from expressing that same solidarity is a problem.

This morning Starbucks released the image of its Black Lives Matters gear that staffers and baristas will be allowed to wear in the coming months. Starbucks also lets staffers wear LGBTQ gear to work that it provides for staffers to wear during Pride month. Maybe it’s me but approving protest gear somehow takes the protest out of it, doesn’t it?

Here is Starbucks image for its Black Lives Matter T-shirts. On Friday, June 12, after this column was published, Starbucks reversed its earlier call to prohibit staff from wearing symbols to show support for the BLM movement; it will allow staff to wear this approved design.
Starbucks
Here is Starbucks image for its Black Lives Matter T-shirts. On Friday, June 12, after this column was published, Starbucks reversed its earlier call to prohibit staff from wearing symbols to show support for the BLM movement; it will allow staff to wear this approved design.

“Starbucks is committed to doing our part in ending systemic racism,” said Reggie Borges, a spokesperson for Starbucks. Borges said. “We respect all of our partners’ opinions and beliefs, and encourage them to bring their whole selves to work while adhering to our dress code policy with a commitment to create a safe and welcoming third place environment for all.”

The fact still remains true: Even as Floyd’s death put a big old, bright-as-the-dickens spotlight on how the feelings of black people are constantly dismissed, Starbucks was still more worried about offending white customers than it was in allowing its workers to celebrate black lives on their own terms. That wasn’t a good look.

And it’s an even worse look when you think about how Starbucks still has a lot of work to do. We still remember that time two years ago when one of your employees called the police on two black men minding their business in a Center City Starbucks because they didn’t order any coffee. The police were called, the men were arrested, and the ensuing firestorm made national headlines.

I don’t know how many times black people have to say this: “Black lives matter” doesn’t mean white lives don’t. Black lives matter means that you shouldn’t be able to snuff us out without repercussions. The Pride movement is important for the same reason. And our symbols of solidarity matter, too.

These symbols stand in opposition to the symbols of those who have killed us: white hoods, swastikas, Confederate flags. The difference? Black Lives Matter hasn’t called for the death of one white person. Get it?

So let the people who work for you celebrate black lives while making all of us our favorite lattes.

That’s stronger than a few tweets.