By Ashley Gonzales
This morning, like many others, I was enjoying my iced vanilla latte when a man sat down next to me. He sipped his Starbucks beverage as he placed his two backpacks down beside me. I could smell the cigarette smoke on him. And I ashamedly judged him because of it.
He wore a plain baggy jacket and some ripped jeans that were a few sizes too big. He hadn’t cut his hair or trimmed his beard in a long time. As I got up to use the restroom, I asked my roommate to watch my stuff. And now, I’m ashamed of that. Because this seemingly homeless man was next to me, I felt insecure leaving my things out in the open as a result of the way society has formed my view of homeless individuals.
Society stereotypes homelessness as a broken condition, as incomplete people who come from a place of deficiency. Because of this, I, alongside many others, have been brainwashed into thinking that homeless people are in a different category than me. Although I have always had a heart for the homeless, I have kept my concern at a safe distance.
As I got a refill of my drink, the Starbucks manager approached the man. While standing in line, I realized that the manager was asking him to leave the premises. Afterward, I approached the man and asked if there was anything I could do for him. At this point, I assumed that the manager had asked him to leave because he had not bought a drink in a while.
The man told me that the manager had asked him to remove himself from inside the store because he had two backpacks. Immediately, I was appalled that a manager would kick someone out for something so arbitrary. Although I could not put a word to the injustice, I knew I was called to speak for this man whose voice society had stolen. The manager called over a security guard and began speaking to him about my newly made friend.
Once I joined the manager, the security guard and my new friend, I listened as the manager asked him to leave the premises. The only thing is, this man was like any other paying customer: quietly listening to the Starbucks background music while sipping a hot beverage.
So I questioned the manager’s reasoning, stating that my two roommates who were with me each carried two backpacks as well. Should we leave? The manager claimed that the man was more likely to be concealing a weapon or carrying roaches in his bags. In my opinion, the manager’s response poorly covered her obvious bias against the homeless.
Once the man had gone back to pick up his backpacks and buy yet another drink with his gold card (Yes, he even had a Starbucks membership.), I asked the manager to explain the reasoning behind kicking him out. Trying to keep my calm, I asked her what the difference was between myself and my friend.
I asked her why she deemed him dirty enough to sit outside rather than inside the Starbucks; was this not an act of blatant profiling? She proceeded to say that it was “important for her customers to feel safe.” Apparently, only middle and upper class customers were worthy enough to sit inside of this Starbucks location because only they were deemed clean, unsuspicious and safe.
This morning that I personally profiled a man sitting next to me, only to later empathize with and take action on his behalf, was an eye-opening and heartbreaking experience for me.
Society has encouraged us to be individualistic, to focus on our own comfort and use our own privilege to be ignorant of problems in our communities. Social profiling is embedded within us, almost as a natural instinct. It’s important to realize the instincts and natural biases that we possess and confront them.
Next time I see a social injustice, I will be sure to stand up for the person whose voice has been stolen by oppressive and exclusive systems, and I encourage you to do the same.