Tag Archives: Brown v Board of Education

How Long Does It Take to Figure Out Equal Treatment?

This has been a rough stretch for Starbucks, what with the arrest in Philadelphia of some black men who hadn’t ordered anything while waiting for a friend to arrive. I have done this more than once myself, back in the day before Starbucks did away with Sumatra in favor of “blonde” coffee, whatever that is.

I had written on Twitter that Starbucks needed to do more than issue the customary “equality is one of our most important values” talking point. I was impressed when the company announced it was closing operations across the country for a day to engage in serious training of its entire staff, including awareness of implicit bias and other factors that can, without one’s conscious awareness, influence how we react to people different from us in some particular.

At the same time, I was aware of the earlier announcement by Starbucks that it had “reached 100 percent pay equity for partners of all genders and races performing similar work across the United States.” https://news.starbucks.com/news/starbucks-pay-equity-for-partners That same announcement stated, however, that the process had taken ten years to finish. Flush with that news, the company Chief Partner Officer said that it would work “with deliberate speed” to close the gender pay gap worldwide.

I am seriously puzzled as to how a company working with “deliberate speed,” a phrase borrowed from the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education wherein the Supreme Court unanimously held that “separate but equal” education was unconstitutional. The Court directed the lower federal courts to enforce its decision “to admit to public schools on a racially nondiscriminatory basis with all deliberate speed the parties to these cases.”

The phrase was ultimately understood to mean “slow,” and that was indeed the pace of integration in the face of massive resistance by whites, especially in the South.  A fascinating discussion of the background, internal discussions and aftermath of the Brown decision can be read at https://ampr.gs/2HcERkx, including the etymology of the phrase “with all deliberate speed.”

Desegregating schools was a massive culture change for the entire nation, overturning practices that had persisted from the very origins of the country. Starbucks is just one company. It has records of who does what and what they are paid. Doling out coffee and tea is no doubt more complicated than I imagine, never having been a barista myself, but it is certainly not equivalent in complexity to desegregating the educational system of an entire country. The Starbucks announcement of its achievement goes on at great length to discuss how complicated the process was. Maybe so, but it reads somewhat like a set of excuses for a ten-year process that could and should have been accomplished much faster.

Setting aside my perhaps overly cynical reaction to the pay-gap announcement, Starbucks gets kudos for at least reaching the goal and committing to expand its scope in the near future. Meanwhile, we can only hope that it does not take another decade to convince its employees that treating black people the same as others is absolutely necessary, starting now.