It’s quite  ironic that a Starbucks has become the latest retailer accused of racial profiling.

When Starbucks founder Howard Schultz tried to jump-start a national dialogue on race relations, Starbucks was forced to end the campaign prematurely amid a barrage of criticism.

The idea was simple enough. Baristas would put “Race Together” on the customer’s coffee cup and engage that person in a “conversation starter” about race.

Industry leaders hated it. Social media mocked it. And most journalists treated the campaign like a bad joke.

OPINION

Coming in the midst of protests over police shootings of unarmed black men, critics accused Starbucks of being tone deaf.

But while the execution of “Race Together” might have been flawed, the goal was worthwhile.

We’ve got to find a way to talk about the issues that have led to racial unrest in this country if we are to ever achieve racial harmony.

Although America is home to every ethnicity in the world, too many of us are still struggling to treat someone of a different race with dignity and respect.

“[T] he promise of the American Dream should be available to every person in this country, not just a select few. We leaned in because we believed that starting this dialogue is what matters most,” Schultz said in a statement thanking employees for supporting the campaign.

Now, three years later, a Starbucks in Philadelphia is being accused of racial profiling.

Last week, two black men were in the coffee spot waiting for a third party when they were arrested after employees called police to say the men were trespassing.

Apparently, the men’s offense was not buying anything and wanting to use the bathroom.

The incident has sparked protests, a hashtag firestorm and calls for a boycott.

Kevin Johnson, CEO of Starbucks, called the arrests “reprehensible,.”

“I hope to meet personally with the two men who were arrested to offer a face-to-face apology,” Johnson said, promising a “thorough investigation” of the company’s practices.

Customers who were inside the Starbucks at the time shot video of the men being handcuffed.

“Regretfully, our practices and training led to a bad outcome…. Our store manager never intended for these men to be arrested and this should never have escalated as it did,” Johnson said in a statement.

Still, most executives don’t understand what racial profiling really is.

If  two white men had been in Starbucks waiting for a third party without purchasing anything, I doubt employees would have denied them use of the restroom, let alone asked them to leave.

When it comes to these types of policies,  employees often can use their discretion. The problem is that discretion rarely benefits black customers.

The black men were waiting for real estate developer, Andrew Yaffe, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

“What did they [police] get called for, because there were two black guys sitting here, meeting me?” Yaffe says on the video. “What did they do? What did they do?” Yaffe asked.

It was the same question that Dr. Carla Hightower asked when she saw a security guard at Water Tower Place escorting out a group of six black teens on a Saturday evening last month.

According to Hightower, the teens caught her attention because they were so well behaved. She was appalled to later see security staff loudly asking the teens to leave, and sought out the mall’s general manager to complain.

Because of Hightower’s intervention, Kevin Berry, an executive vice president at the mall’s management company, investigated the incident and discovered the teens had done nothing wrong.

Berry apologized on behalf of Water Tower Place and is hoping to meet with the teens.

Recently, Hightower met with security staff at Water Tower to discuss the racial profiling incident.

Although many thought the prickly issue of race shouldn’t take place in a coffee shop’s line, Starbucks was actually head of the curve.

 
Mary Mitchell and educator Leslie Baldacci are co-hosts of a popular new podcast called “Zebra Sisters” — a refreshing look at race relations from the viewpoints of two women – one black and one white. Mary and Leslie unwind awkward subjects and discuss current events with candor and humor. Subscribe (for free) on iTunes and Google Play Music — or listen to individual episodes on the Sun-Times’ website. Email Mary and Leslie at zebrasisters@suntimes.com or give them a shout-out on the Zebra Hotline (312) 321-3000, ext. ZBRA (9272).