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Starbucks to Administer Racial Bias Training: Is it Enough?

Photo by Jason Cipriani.

Starbucks recently announced that it will implement a plan to provide racial bias training to all of its employees. On May 29th, the Seattle coffee franchise will close over 8,000 U.S. stores in an effort to address issues of racism and discrimination that have recently surfaced. This announcement stems from an incident that occurred in Philadelphia in which two black men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, were arrested for allegedly trespassing. To further add insult to injury, a separate incident occurred in Los Angeles in which a man by the name of Brandon Ward was denied access to the restroom by staff on the grounds that the man had to be a paying customer. Moments after Ward, a black man, was denied access, he recorded Starbucks staff allowing a white male access to the restroom without first requiring him to be a paying customer.

With the company reeling from a terrible PR week, Starbucks was quick to act, announcing that the manager from the Philadelphia location no longer works for the company. Executive Chairman Howard Schultz did not bite his tongue when questioned as to why police were called on the two black men.

“There’s no doubt in my mind, that the reason they (police) were called was that they (Nelson and Robinson) were African American,” said Schultz, in an interview with CBS. “That’s not who Starbucks is.”

It’s worth noting that in 2017, Starbucks hired Rosalind Brewer, one of the most successful black business leaders in America, as its New Chief Operating Officer. While Starbucks has taken steps to address the issues of racial bias, there are many questions that remain. Why is the company just now choosing to administer this type of training? Has Starbucks done enough to address the underlying issue? Racial Bias training is a positive step in the right direction, but by no means is it a complete fix to the issues of racial discrimination in our society. More substantial and effective action must be taken if Starbucks genuinely wants to attack the heart of the issue. The truth of the matter is that this is bigger than racial bias training. Administering training on racial bias in stores while neglecting to invest in the people and communities most affected by racial discrimination avoids the fundamental issue, and hardly scratches the surface of creating social change. If Starbucks wanted to be effective, they would contribute to communities and people decimated by the effects of racial discrimination. They could contribute to non-profit organizations whose aim is to empower, embolden, and uplift those who are systematically oppressed.

In a day and age in which social injustices and unlawful killings by law enforcement dominate our headlines, the announcement of racial bias training rings hollow and comes off as a feeble attempt to apply a quick fix to a deeper problem that has existed for centuries. Without definitive action, this approach is comparable to applying a band-aid to a gunshot wound-it isn’t feasible or sustainable, nor is it effective.

This isn’t the first time Starbucks has fallen under intense scrutiny for racism and discrimination. In April 2014, Dontre Hamilton was killed by Milwaukee Police Officers for allegedly sleeping on a bench after a Starbucks employee called the police. Hamilton lost his life, and yet, Starbucks didn’t deem it necessary at the time to provide racial bias training. Fast-forward to the present day, and efforts to include racial bias training seem well overdue.

Protestors shut down the Philadelphia location shortly after this month’s incident, demanding justice, change, and accountability in wake of recent arrests. I recently conducted a poll study in which participants were asked if they were in favor or not in favor of protesting the international coffee giant. The poll findings, which amassed a total of 40 participants, revealed a remarkable 50/50 split, showing a large divide among people in our local community.

Whether an individual is in support of the protest, or not, one thing remains substantially evident: definitive change must happen in order for us to move forward as a society, and the current policies in place continue to fail us. This is bigger than Starbucks- it’s about fighting back against the culture of implicit bias that runs rampant in companies and businesses across our nation. The mother of the late Dontre Hamilton said it best in an interview with WPTV.

“No one can be trained to not have that particular type of racism embedded in them,” said Hamilton.T”hat’s a waste of time. You can’t un-train hate.”

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