Starbucks, amygdala, and dog poop ///


Starbucks, the amygdala, and dog poop

You’re probably wondering what Starbucks has to do with an amygdala or even dog poop?  No, I’m not going to talk about caffeine or compare their coffee to canine fecal matter.  Instead, I’ll share with you my perspective on being a black man in America right about now.

The Amygdala

I’m guessing that you’ve probably heard about the incident at Starbucks on Thursday, April 12th.  If not you can read about it here.

There are things that the English language simply cannot describe. My feelings and many of my thoughts towards this are among some of those things, I will however attempt.

The amygdala consists of two almond-shaped clusters in the temporal lobe of the brain.  Research shows that it handles the processing of memory, decision-making, and processing of emotions.

When I see a video like this cell phone recording at Starbucks it bothers me.  In fact, it triggers something often referred to as amygdala hijack which you may know better as a fight or flight response.  Immediately I feel unsafe, threatened even, which is odd because I’m not the one in the video.  My heart rate rises, beads of sweat form on my forehead and palms, and my breathing picks up ever so slightly.

It’s because my brain senses danger and is telling me that it’s time to fight, flight, freeze, fawn, or flow or amygdala hijack mode.  The amygdala can sense danger and force physical reactions before you have a chance to process and think about what you’re doing. Said another way, the amygdala can skip your rational brain altogether.  So I see a black guy being arrested for seemingly sitting.  I’m watching in flight/fight response mode feeling really uncomfortable even though I’m in a safe setting.

Why’s this important?

Black man = danger.  This message is taught and reinforced over and over in our society both outright and subliminally.

Danger = amygdala time.  This could explain why a manager at a coffee shop opted for the police instead of talking to the two black men.  Could also explain why the police showed up with 3 officers and ultimately had 6 on hand to arrest two peaceful and calm black guys.

This same phenomenon explains why 14-year-old black kids are shot at as they ask for directions.  Or why they may be followed through a white neighborhood or a store.  This isn’t just bias, it’s response and action to conditioning.

Dog Poop

I have two dogs and I walk them, daily.  I make sure to always have bags to pick up their poop.  On the rare occasion that I forget bags or heaven forbid I only have one left I begin to freak out.  My wife thinks it’s silly but this creates two problems for me:

  • I dislike when people don’t pick up after their animals; its disrespectful and nobody wants to find poop in their yard

    1. I’m a black dude, I can’t afford any strikes against me in the neighborhood.  Especially for dog poop, might as well save it for something worthwhile

This makes me very anxious even right now as I write this.  I’m not a very anxious person.  I’ll be checking to see how many poop bags are left when I’m done with this.

This aversion towards drawing extra attention to myself neither begins nor ends with dog poop.  Take coffee shops for instance.  I’ve never walked into a coffee shop without buying something before sitting down.  If I’m there for an hour, I’ll buy something else.  Yes, I’m that conscious of it.

It’s just how it is.  People fear black men, I know this, so I don’t bring unwanted attention on myself.  It’s utter BS and I’m not saying it’s right, it just is.

The Bigger Picture

I couldn’t care less about Starbucks corporate policy, I’m positive that it doesn’t say be racist.  I do care a lot about the cultural amygdala hijack that happens when a black man enters an environment.

It’s like he’s a Martian.  He doesn’t belong here, something is off or wrong.  So people get into be sure to keep an eye on him at all times mode.  It’s really annoying and humiliating to be followed around a store.  It’s really not a good experience.

I’m thankful that I know the tools to help me back out of that fight/flight state.  Not all do.  Which coincidentally perpetuates the cycle.

It’s disappointing that this happened but on the grand scale, this was a pretty good outcome and yet… it was a terribly ridiculous outcome.  I hope my frustration really bleeds through here.

The status quo is so poor that I look at this and say, “well, at least they were calm and didn’t get shot”.

That’s a ridiculous reply.  One part because it’s true.  Another because we’re so far out of whack two black dudes were arrested at a coffee shop for loitering.  When’s the last time you saw someone (not homeless) arrested for loitering?  The shop wasn’t packed, they weren’t working away on computers stealing internet away from paying patrons.

We need a higher standard

I don’t have time to get into the police aspect of this deeply right now.  Let’s just say I was less than impressed that this required 6 officers and handcuffs.  I do need to ask some people I know about legality and their responsibility in a situation like that because I’m not clear on it.  We expect them to make life and death decisions with a modicum of intelligence.  I’d also expect them to investigate a scenario further than an initial call to verify the issues once on scene.  I’ve not seen anything report into what they did or didn’t do so I’m speculating and I really hope they did some sleuthing about before this arrest went down.

The point

It’s time to get America out of this perpetual amygdala hijack when it see’s black men.

Pick up your dog’s poop.

Let’s expect more from each other.


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