When you’ve spoken out about the removal of racist symbols in the American south, how do you respond when a video shows apparent racism in one of your own stores?
This was the situation facing Apple CEO Tim Cook after video emerged of several black teens being asked to leave the Apple store at the Highpoint shopping center in Melbourne, Australia.
The reason, so an Apple employee says in the video, was that other workers were concerned the teens “might steal something.”
The video, posted to Facebook on Tuesday by Melbourne resident Francis Ose, shows the teens’ incredulous reaction when being told why they were being asked to leave.
In his posting, Ose wrote: “Simply Racism, made them apologise tho.”
On Friday, BuzzFeed published an email it said was sent by Cook to his employees. In it Cook said Apple is an “open” company and called the incident “unacceptable.”
“One of our store employees gave an answer which shocked many of us,” Cook said, adding that the employee “immediately” expressed regret to the students.
Neither Apple nor Ose responded to my request for comment.
Cook’s and Apple’s sensitivity to accusations of racism or a lack of diversity has been considerable. The company added Denise Young Smith, an African-American who’s been with Apple since 1997, to the executive leadership page on its Web site in August of 2014. Smith, vice president of worldwide human resources, has spoken passionately about the challenges Apple faces in making the company more diverse.
In October, Apple added former Boeing CFO James A. Bell to its board of directors. Bell, like Smith, is African-American.
For Cook what happened in Melbourne was “an isolated incident.” But such incidents do occur, with subtle or less subtle overtones, all over the world in many stores and businesses.
In his email, Cook said the company would “learn and grow.” There might still be quite a lot of room for both.