Starbucks has chosen a different course. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the reason that [police] were called was because they were African American,” Howard Schultz, Starbucks’s executive chairman, said to CBS host Gayle King. It was an unusually frank admission in a country that often seems that it would rather do anything than acknowledge the fact that racism still exists. “Our practices and training led to the bad outcome,” wrote Kevin Johnson, the company’s chief executive. That’s more than most police departments would admit.
This doesn’t mean Starbucks is worthy of universal praise. There are valid questions to be asked about how far its advocacy will go. Research shows that the effects of bias training are uneven at best — in fact, alerting people to the presence of implicit racial biases may even activate latent stereotypes or make it easier for them to rationalize racist behaviors by framing them as unconscious and thus unchangeable. Will Starbucks’s training have follow-through or is it a one-time event? How will the company measure on-the-job behavioral shifts and set expectations for the future? In the past, the company has pursued half-baked efforts toward racial reconciliation. Remember that infamous “Race Together” initiative, in which baristas were instructed to start conversations about race with customers after writing a hashtag on their cups?