For Starbucks, racial bias training is just a PR stunt

May 7, 2018 — by Muthu Palaniappan

On April 12, two black men were arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks. The men walked in and sat down, waiting for another man to arrive before ordering. A white female manager asked the men to leave. When they told her that they were waiting for someone else, she called the police.

The men had done nothing wrong or illegal, yet they were arrested on the spot.

Since the incident was clearly rooted in racial profiling, it drew widespread national condemnation on social media, and Starbucks was forced put out a statement outlining its plan to eliminate such blatant acts of racism from occurring in its stores. On May 29, the company will close 8,000 locations to administer racial bias training to over 175,000 employees.

Despite Starbucks’ seemingly good intentions, the training is nothing but a temporary fix aimed mainly at restoring the company’s reputation. Although the police ultimately arrested the two men, Starbucks’ employees called for the emergency services with no valid reason. Starbucks should be held accountable instead of being praised.  

The reasons this afternoon of training will likely fail is that racial bias is often unconscious and ingrained in people’s minds.  

Instead, Starbucks should establish clear-cut rules that outline what customers can and cannot do while waiting or using the bathroom in a shop. That way, even if employees have racial biases, the company’s policies would prevent them from repeating what happened on April 12.

People should stop applauding Starbucks executives for implementing their racial bias training and instead ask for real change to happen. By creating more standard rules and outlining customer rights in the store, there is less of a chance to act on racial bias.

Since it is impossible to eradicate racism among such a massive workforce, Starbucks should look to more practical ways to create a better environment. If clearer standards are enforced, Starbucks employees would need an actual reason — and not just their racial bias — to call the police on customers they perceive to be a threat.


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