On April 12, two Black men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, were wrongfully arrested at a Starbucks in Philadelphia after the manager called 911 on them for “refusing to order or leave.” It was reported that this call was made just two minutes after the men arrived to the store. In the video, the viewer can see one of the customers asking, “What did they do? What did they do? Someone tell me what they did.” In just minutes, the two men were surrounded by seven policemen, handcuffed, and being pulled out the door. This incident started the Starbucks leadership on an apology tour, which led them to Morehouse College on May 3.


Executive Chairman, Howard Schultz, and Chief Operating Officer, Rosalind Brewer, sat on stage where they were joined by Associate Provost and Professor of Psychology, Dr. David Wall Rice. At the beginning of the discussion, Schultz shares a story about his time spent in Israel, using that as a gateway to connect the Black American plight to his own. He says, “As a white person, I am disappointed that this happened not in Auschwitz, not in Rwanda, not in Germany, but on American soil.” In an attempt to draw a righteous parallel between the Black American struggle and that of Jews and Rwandans, Schultz unabashedly centers his own whiteness and ignores the long and egregious history of violence against Black people in America.


Two seats to his left sits Rosalind Brewer. A Black woman, Spelman College alumna, and currently sitting on Spelman’s Board of Trustees, Starbucks seemingly tokenized her to convince Black folk that the company is not racist and that it can be trusted. “The police were called too soon in this instance,” says Brewer. However, when asked about whether or not racism specifically played a role in this “incident,” she responds with “well, if I could sit down with [the store manager], I’d talk with [the store manager] about judgment.” Both she and Schultz avoided directly naming racism as a role in the Philadelphia incident and avoided directly answering most of the questions asked by facilitator, Dr. David Wall Rice.


Since the Executive Chairman and COO opted out of naming anti-black racism as a factor in the arrests of Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, I decided to take part in the questions and answers portion of the discussion. I asked, “Respectfully, we’ve seen the two of you dance around the questions that were asked. So my question to the two of you is how can we be sure that the training you will offer to your employees is going to actually benefit, not just the Black community in America, but the Black and brown communities abroad—like Palestine, which your company actively is complicit in the genocide of?” After a long pause, Schultz asked me to clarify my point about their derailing and dodging of the questions. I obliged. Brewer engaged the former half of my question, where she states that she doesn’t feel that she can say that racism played in a role in what happened to Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson. And Schultz responds to my claims about him being a capitalist by stating that the company pays for the tuition of a few students. However, neither of them answered my question about the training and Starbucks’ complicity in bloodshed of Black and brown people both in America and Palestine.

Zionism is a racist movement which calls for the development and protection of an Israeli nation; a continued push to build a home on stolen land at the expense of Palestinian people. Though Schultz has never publicly made a pro-Israel declaration, this long documented history of his company’s relationship with Israel, coupled with his glorification of Israel in his talk at Morehouse, can only be explained as Zionism. It is well documented that Starbucks has shared relationships with people and companies who have a vested interest in anti-blackness and zionism. It is for this reason that I have decided to write this piece; to share just how interconnected these two existing forms of domination are and Starbucks’ role in legitimizing both.


In 2014, the company reported that it “does not fund Israel or the Israeli Army” and that it remains a “non-political organization.” Yet, there sat Howard Schultz discussing politics in America on behalf of Starbucks at one of the top Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the country. In fact, Starbucks has a long history of being political; so much so that it is reported that the bulk of Schultz’s role as Executive Chairman will be to focus on the company’s involvement in social issues. Though Starbucks no longer operates in Israel, their decision to close down its stores there in 2003, they admit, was due to poor sales; that is to say that Starbucks has no issue with doing business in Apartheid Israel so long as it provides them revenue. This, too, is a political stance. It is not apolitical to preserve, defend, and protect capital over the lives of Palestinian people.


Weeks before Schultz and Brewer came to speak at Morehouse, Starbucks released a statement which detailed the four people that would be leading the anti-bias trainings at their stores. Amongst those four people was Anti-Defamation League’s CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt. Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has a history of being anti-Muslim, anti-Palestinian, and anti-Black. In 2014, after the murder of Mike Brown, ADL released a statement standing in support of the “grand jury” and their commitment to meeting the “heavy responsibility thrust upon them”—a reference to uprisings led by Ferguson organizers. It was not until pro-Palestine organizations led overwhelming protests that Starbucks decided to remove Greenblatt from their lineup of instructors.

Starbucks’ relationship to Israel and anti-Blackness is not the only history that has long been documented. The fidelity between Black and Palestinian freedom struggles also has a long and unique history. For decades, writers, thinkers, and influencers such as James Baldwin, Angela Davis, Cornell West, and more have been vocal about their support for Palestine and their commitment to its peoples’ liberation. Black-led movements like the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Black Panther Party held uncompromising stances in support of the Palestinian people. As recent as 2017, Cornell West called for the Democratic Party to relinquish its support of Israel and instead offer it to Palestine.


It is this history which led me to asking Schultz and Brewer these questions. It is not coincidence that the manager in the Philadelphia store felt justified in calling the police on two Black men, nor is it a coincidence that Schultz and Brewer skipped over my question regarding their company’s relationship to Apartheid Israel. Zionism and anti-blackness are interconnected, but so is Black and Palestinian liberation. This truth is what compelled me to confronting Schultz and Brewer. As they dressed their anti-blackness in the humanizing of their multi-billionaire company and shifted blame from themselves to the whole of America, I know that it is my duty to continue in the struggle for our collective freedom. We have a particular and necessary responsibility to prioritize Black Jewish, Black Muslim, and Afro-Palestinian people in this continued, interconnected struggle.

The company has finalized the lineup for their anti-bias training, releasing a video detailing who would be part of the training and what their end goal is. In this video, Mellody Hobson, a Black woman and member of Starbucks’ board, poses the question: “Can we structurally change the organization?” The video also confirms that Oscar award-winner and rapper, Common, would be one of the guides at the anti-bias training. This forces me to charge Starbucks with another set of questions. How plausible is it to change the structure of a multi-billion dollar company? What good does placing Black faces at the forefront of an apology tour—for a ‘crime’ which they did not commit, no less—do if the company itself has no intent on cutting ties with the anti-blackness and Zionism which plague it?

Hobson asks a great question when she inquired about whether or not the company can be restructured. The answer is simple: unless and until there is a redistribution of the company’s wealth, the structure of Starbucks will never change. Unless the company publicly supports and financially aids Palestinian liberation, protects African Jews who were threatened with exile from the country, and goes beyond an anti-bias training in defense of Black people in America, the structure of the company will not change. Because the reality is that anti-blackness and Zionism are both structural, they roam through the pillars which hold Starbucks up, and the only way to change that is to work adamantly against structural domination and violence.

I do not expect capitalists to bend at the first mention of their complicity in anyone’s oppression. Still–as my ancestors once understood and my elders and peers also understand–it is my responsibility to never remain silent in the face of those who benefit from what dominates my life.