Last month I had a horrible experience at Glasgow Starbucks in Exchange Square. I went there quite early in the morning to do some work and was then forced to listen to a really racist “joke” made by someone who was chatting very loudly and laughing with staff. There was another woman buying a take-away coffee who was also apparently offended by the” joke” which went along the lines of “black people – there to mow my lawn and take care of my house”. The speaker made the “joke” and then said “only joking” as a throwaway comment. The speaker and a female member of staff then continued talking and he laughed about the woman who was clearly not happy about the joke; the speaker basically commented that it was her problem.
I was also offended by both the so-called humour and the dismissive attitude to the other customer, and I came down from the little balcony where I was sittiing and spoke quietly to a male member of staff and said that I did not like the humour either and would like it to stop. The young man was very courteous and polite and apologised, saying that the speaker was a friend of his and he would have a word with him.
As far as I was concerned that was the end of the matter and I returned to working on my computer. I realised that the male worker must have said something to the “joker” when I heard this individual ranting about anyone who objected to this kind of humour being the real racist, but I ignored this and carried on working. The next thing I was aware of was a middle-aged man coming up the stairs and entering the enclosed balcony where I was sitting alone, and saying in a belligerent tone, “I hear you have a problem with what I said.” I said that I did and that I didn’t like the racist joke at all.
He became increasingly hostile and aggressive and was clearly intent on intimidating me until I accepted his viewpoint that such humour is anti-racist, which, frankly, was never going to happen. The rest of the conversation degenerated into increasingly intimidating behaviour on his part until he was standing over me shouting at me with his face contorted with rage as I sat at my table, and I told him that unless he went away I was phoning the police. He did leave when I threatened to call the police, and went back downstairs where he made a few more insulting remarks about me to a staff member who did not remonstrate with him at all, nor did she hold him to any kind of account for his behaviour.
Although it must have been a member of staff who told this individual who had made the complaint about the joke and also told him where I was sitting, at no point did a staff member try to intervene to stop his aggressive behaviour, nor did anyone check that I was ok. This individual simply verbally attacked me and then carried on as if nothing had happened.
I was meeting my family later to celebrate my son’s birthday, but instead of a nice lunch and a happy occasion, I felt shaky and sick and couldn’t eat a thing. I complained to Starbucks whose only response has been to say that they have told this customer not to repeat his behaviour, however they have said that he will not be banned.
I am left with the clear message that either customers have to tolerate racist jokes at Starbucks, or be exposed to aggression, bullying and harassment. I could have been seriously hurt if the aggression had escalated and I do not believe that customers who are simply seeking a quiet space to have some coffee should be subjected to this sort of behaviour.
I’m just sharing this to let other women know that Starbucks clearly don’t place any premium on the safety or dignity of women or minority customers. It’s very disappointing that this is the situation in 2012
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