Tag Archive: starbucks


Micro-Aggressions

On my way to the north woods of Wisconsin for a much needed spring break, I heard a new term on the radio: micro-aggressions. The term refers to the many little ways that people, in particular white people, most often privileged white men, continue the legacy of racism with snide side comments and little asides thrown out carelessly, denigrating African-Americans and their accomplishments. It’s almost as though these insecure people seek to cement a privileged position and are afraid, on some level, that giving another race equal treatment under the law will somehow take away from their rights.

There’s that famous cigarette ad saying from Virginia Slims: “You’ve come a long way, baby,” and when it comes to civil rights we have indeed come a long way in the last fifty years, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t have much work to do. Racism is no longer socially acceptable so I find people making derogatory remarks under their breath, usually among peers who don’t dare confront them or disagree.

At the same time, we have the dilemma of the well-meaning heterosexual white man who has inherited a position of privilege, and may indeed feel guilty about having certain birth rights, but doesn’t know how to start or continue a conversation about race and racism. I’m thinking in particular about a friend named James, Gentle James of a previous post, who doesn’t feel comfortable making much of any comment on race and racism for fear of speaking out of turn, or God forbid, not being forward-thinking enough.

Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, recently tried something radical in having his baristas, also known as partners, write on random coffee cups the term, “Race together.” I think theoretically it’s a great idea to try and start a national conversation on race relations, and indeed the coffee community would seem like a great place to start, but I’m not certain that the average Starbucks customer wants to have any kind of meaningful interaction at 7am while waiting for that first cup of coffee. Perhaps if Starbucks had framed the conversation, saying that on Sunday afternoons, baristas will be approaching people to talk about racism, the whole project might have had better parameters. The way it played out, as I was driving out of town, one of the Starbucks employees who is a casual friend of mine named Dominique, waved at me through the drive-thru and asked about my weekend plans, while another employee, a black man named Marquise who I really don’t know all that well, rushed to the window, seemingly in the effort to raise the profile of the African-American community. Is it really fair to put the onus on all the minority employees to insure that they are noticed and appreciated? How does Howard Schultz contend that his employees respond to someone who might very well react in a racist fashion? Is it enough to say, “We don’t need the business of close-minded people?” So I guess my point is, I give Starbucks an A for effort in its attempt to redress the wrongs of recent racist flare-ups, but only a B minus for the way the company has executed its “race together” campaign.

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The Eros of Attraction

I’ve been playing a song a lot on ITunes recently, a song called “Happy,” by Pharrell Williams. I’ve met someone new, and perhaps what I really should be listening to is Liza Minnelli singing, “Maybe This Time,” but even I have to admit that grown up romance feels far different than those long gone youthful dalliances. The rush, urgency, and yes, even desperation of young love no longer dictate my approach to love. Having a romantic relationship now isn’t the same as when I was in my 20’s.

I realize I need to be careful what narrative I tell myself about the possibility of romance blossoming. If I am jaded and cynical, I believe I’m far less likely to attract a worthwhile person into my life. I also don’t want a toss away, meaningless experience. I want to draw a great guy into my life.

Having said that, it occurred to me that eros still rules me, more than I’d like to admit. Luckily, this new guy is very handsome, but nevertheless there’s still something about the attention of a stranger that inevitably draws me in.

Patrick and I headed into the city to walk around the gay neighborhood, catch an art film, and go to dinner where we could be comfortable, rather than self conscious, about being ourselves. We stopped into a Starbucks, simply to use the bathroom, and suddenly, a stranger glanced up, staring into my eyes, and I could feel the electricity between us humming like a tea kettle. Something about the attention of a total stranger is a turn on. Flirting is a turn on.

In the Greek language, there are four recognized words for love: agape, philia, storge, and eros.

I crave agape most of all, I think, agape meaning a “spiritual love,” a deep abiding affection for someone, something that transcends the merely physical. Agape is selfless, and is truly unconditional love whereas philia refers more to mental love, and includes affectionate regard or friendship. The term philos includes loyalty to friends and family as well as loyalty to your community. Storge is more specific to one’s family, meaning affection like that felt by a parent for her child. And then, of course, there’s eros. Eros drives physical and sexual attraction for another person.

I get the sense that without eros, I would be “faking” my attraction for someone else, but I find myself wondering, What is it about that immediate physical attraction, looking up to capture the attention of someone I will never even meet, that appeals to me? The attention itself is addictive. Luckily, my higher sense of self rules my head, and I have more than one way of feeling and demonstrating attraction for a new person. I am seeking out someone who will make me into an even better person, a more complete expression of who I am and what I’m capable of, someone who encourages my creativity and, on a selfish level, someone who makes me feel attractive.

Motion In The Ocean

One of the givens in life: if you find yourself standing in line at Starbucks, a long line snaking around the store, and you watch people inching forward, almost imperceptibly, you will, I guarantee, become annoyed if the person in front of you stands staring at his cell phone, checking messages, failing to shuffle towards the cashier, even if the forward movement is practically undetectable. In the grand scheme of things, you’re not saving any time, but getting someone else to conspire with your version of how things should work becomes somehow essential. The same holds true when you stand in an elevator and obsessively push the “close door” button. In reality, it’s doubtful whether you’re speeding up the elevator or getting to your destination any faster, yet it seems so important at the time that you do something, anything, to get where you’re going a minute quicker. Important to do something rather than nothing.

I must say, however, that when it comes to creativity, this “line shuffling” is critical to success. Many a day I don’t feel like sitting down to write, but when I do, even if all I’m doing is blogging, I feel more accomplished. I have done something to head in the direction I want to head. I have put pen to paper, and at least thought about the writing process. Writing, for me, is not a series of clearly directed forward steps. Rather, I shuffle along, in fits and spurts, and inevitably, those baby steps lead to revelations that have helped me as I work on my MFA in creative writing. Sometimes it takes twenty minutes of paper shuffling, looking over chapters I have written previously, before I am ready to sit down for “real writing.”

In this respect, I say, give yourself permission to shuffle impatiently in line, just try to do it without getting too irritated, trusting that it’s simply part of the creative process.