Starbucks Closing Stores To Educate Employees On Race Is Not Enough

In an unprecedented move, Starbucks has decided to close over 8,000 company-owned stores across the nation in order to educate its employees on racial bias and discrimination in May. This move stems from the controversial arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia location who were accosted by law enforcement after a manager called the police on them for loitering.  As anyone who’s frequented the franchise knows, Starbucks patrons often sit for hours sipping on coffee, using the free WIFI or even conducting business meetings.

Melissa DePino on Twitter

@Starbucks The police were called because these men hadn’t ordered anything. They were waiting for a friend to show up, who did as they were taken out in handcuffs for doing nothing. All the other white ppl are wondering why it’s never happened to us when we do the same thing.

Not once have I ever witnessed anyone asked to leave the establishment, for any reason. Indeed, this is why this situation bears the stench of discriminatory and racist behavior. Everyone knows part of the allure of Starbucks is, in addition to the actual coffee itself, its soothing atmosphere and inviting confines. So, when two brothers were told, in no uncertain terms, that they were not welcome, it was bound to cause a stir.   

Starbucks Coffee on Twitter

On 5/29, we’ll close US company-owned stores to conduct racial-bias training to address implicit bias & prevent discrimination. We’re taking a hard look at who we are as a company. We’re ashamed & recognize that racial bias is a problem we must address.

After threatened boycotts and local protests, and even a meeting by Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson with the two wronged brothers, the decision was made. As it stands, Starbucks has found itself on the wrong side of controversy several times over the years. There was the controversy over their refusal to stop using milk sourced from cows injected with bovine growth hormone, its use of non-organic milk products, its fight for fair trade,  and its unethical labor practices are but a few of the issues that have bedeviled the corporation.  

I think you have to say in looking at the tape that she demonstrated her own level of unconscious bias, Starbucks executive chairman Howard Schultz told Gayle King on CBS This Morning. And in looking at the tape, you ask yourself whether or not that was racial profiling. 

CBS This Morning on Twitter

NEW: @Starbucks Exec. Chairman Howard Schultz confirms to @GayleKing the manager involved in the racial incident is no longer with the company. “I don’t think she intended when she made the call for police to arrive, and arrest the two young men.”

Clearly, they’re no strangers to dealing with controversial issues.  Starbucks may have saved themselves much angst in the future by making the unprecedented move.  But it does cause me to wonder whether the move will ultimately be effective in helping root our discriminatory and racial biased actions by those in the company’s employee. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr once said Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless. 

I believe the same can be said in the workspace as well.  No matter what, the individual who is dead set on being biased toward their own customers will be biased and discriminatory. One must be willing to put in the effort to change, and some just don’t have that type of mental stamina or flexibility. 

Because that’s exactly what it takes to perform any task the mind has already deed as arduous or unnecessary.  People get it a little twisted when assuming that racism is as simple as a change of attitude or policy. It’s much more than that.  The first step, though, is to concede that something is wrong, and the company has already taken that step. Now, it’s up to the individual to be consistent in his attitude, and conscious of his or her own biases. That last part? That’s the hardest.   

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