White Space in Today’s Society Draws Protests and Need for Training

Is Starbucks at fault? Or are the irreversible effects of racism to blame for white space?

On April 12, 2018, the police were called to a Philadelphia Starbucks when two young black men were accused of trespassing. The men had asked to use the restroom before buying anything since they had been waiting for a business associate to join them.

This incident is not something surprising or rare. Incidents like this have been happening all over the country and relate to what Elijah Anderson, a professor of sociology and African-American studies at Yale, describes as “white space.”

Essentially, there are certain environments where blacks are “typically absent, not expected, or marginalized”, as they were at Starbucks and countless other public spaces.

After protests around the country and the trending #boycottStarbucks, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson announced that all Starbucks would be closed on the afternoon of May 29 to conduct a “racial-bias training” for employees. Former Attorney General Eric Holder, Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League, and others were consulted for this training.

The training addressed the topic of “implicit bias”, which are “the subtle, unconscious responses that we’re conditioned to display”, or unintended, indirect forms of bias. Since implicit bias is not as direct as blatant racism, it is much more difficult to identify and address. It is even more difficult to address during a time when President Trump has made the nation itself feel like a white space, according to Jelani Cobb, a writer for The New Yorker.

Starbucks did not create the concept of white space nor did other current events. In fact, white spaces can be traced back to the legal process of redlining in the 1900s, a process done to separate minorities into impoverished areas with insubstantial housing. Even after segregation was outlawed, the practice of redlining maintained racial separation.

On May 16, 2018, Monarch Housing Associates hosted a Public Policy Forum “The Color of Law” where author Richard Rothstein and a variety of New Jersey advocacy experts spoke about the history of housing segregation in America. Rothstein’s book, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, explores how these white spaces still exist today. These spaces do not only cause vast inequality, but discrimination and implicit bias.

For more information, follow the event on Twitter: #ColorofLawNJ

New Yorker Article on White Space

Interview with Richard Rothsteins

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