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Elizabeth Wellington: Starbucks tells workers not to show support for BLM on the job. Really?

By Elizabeth Wellington, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Fashion Daily News

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.

We are committed to taking action, learning, and supporting our Black partners, customers and communities. The Starbucks Foundation is committing $1 million to organizations promoting racial equity and more inclusive and just communities. Organizations will be nominated by Starbucks partners (employees).We will continue to work to confront bias and racism. We have partnered with Arizona State University to design anti-bias resources and training. You can access these courses at no cost at are actively hosting open and necessary conversations with our partners (employees) about racism the Black community faces. Our work does not end here.

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?


"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.

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