COMMENTARY: Dealing With The Racially Illiterate

Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson
Rashon Nelson, left, and Donte Robinson, right, were arrested by police while they were waiting for a third man at a Philadelphia Starbucks for a business meeting. Their arrests quickly became a viral video and galvanized people around the country who saw the incident as modern-day racism. (JACQUELINE LARMA / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)


This week on Hashtag on Vibe 105.5FM, we’ll be discussing the incident at the Philadelphia Starbucks, that saw two Black men arrested while waiting for a business associate.  

There’s so much wrong with this story, but first off let me say this; it’s not Starbucks’ (the company) fault.  They have a staff of hundreds of thousands of people. The probability that any of their employees are racist, bigots, homophobes, etc., is high.  It’s impossible to have no bad apples in such a large work force.

What bothers me more than anything about the actual incident, is people’s response to it, particularly white people.  I can only speak from what I’ve personally witnessed over the past week, but everything from comments on social media to listening to other talk shows on the radio, it seems if you see no fault with the Starbucks barista that called the police (2 minutes after the Black men arrived), if you don’t see any racism here, then you are most likely white and there’s a larger problem here. You’re probably racially illiterate.

Since we’ve started doing Hashtag and covering racial issues in more depth, there’s a disturbing reality that has come to light; a lot of white people are racially illiterate.  Racism is something they likely have never had to deal with, so I can understand that trying to talk about racism is challenging for them. As a man I struggle with talking to women about #MeToo related issues. What I cannot tolerate is the authoritative bravado when discussing racism from white people; and often with a callous dismissiveness.  They say “so and so” is not racism and that’s all there is to it. Let’s all forget about it and move on.


If you haven’t had to deal with racism in your life, how the hell are you going to tell someone that has had to deal with it all their life, what is and what is not.

There’s a popular article (that eventually became a book) called “Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race” by Reni Eddo-Lodge, which speaks to exactly this; the frustration people of colour experience when trying to discuss race issues with white people. I very much recommend reading it, but only those that are already willing to try to make things better will read it. The people who really need to read it simply won’t. They already have all the answers, and as far as they’re concerned Black people are just paranoid and see racism everywhere.  They have no idea what it’s like to navigate a world that wasn’t built for them. Your view is your reality, and they’re reality has always been free of racial issues.

I really don’t have an answer to this dilemma. I’m about ready to take a page out of Ms. Eddo-Lodge’s book. I’m hoping someone can help me figure this out, because things cannot continue like this. Things will come to a head sooner or later and I fear for the worst when it does.  Both the U-S and Canada have problems with racism and very little will change if those that hold the keys to the locks portend the problem does not exist.


BTW, this type of stuff happens often, there’s just not always a white person there to record and stand up for the people. If the video didn’t capture a white man defending them I wonder how viral this would have gone.

BONUS: A Flowchart For People Who Get Defensive When Talking About Racism


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