Starbucks schedules racial bias training at 8,000 stores

Ed wrote yesterday about the situation at a Philadelphia Starbucks where two black men were arrested after a manager called the police when they refused to either place an order or leave the store. Starbucks’ CEO offered an apology and met with the two men but that’s not going to be enough to satisfy those who believe this was a case of racial profiling. There have been protests at the store claiming “Starbucks coffee is anti-black” and demands that the manager who called the police and the officers who arrested the men should be fired. Today, Starbucks tried to head off some of the criticism by announcing it would close 8,000 company-owned stores next month to give employees racial bias training:

The racial bias training will be provided on May 29 to about 175,000 workers.

“I’ve spent the last few days in Philadelphia with my leadership team listening to the community, learning what we did wrong and the steps we need to take to fix it,” Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson said in a statement.

“While this is not limited to Starbucks, we’re committed to being a part of the solution,” he said. “Closing our stores for racial bias training is just one step in a journey that requires dedication from every level of our company and partnerships in our local communities.”

The story goes on to say that the company will “review the effectiveness” of the training. I guess that means Starbucks employees will be tested or monitored in some way to ensure they don’t show signs of racial bias. I’m honestly afraid to ask how that is going to work. Is this going to be an implicit bias test? The Washington Post has more on who will develop the training:

Starbucks said the curriculum will be developed with input from national and local experts on confronting racial bias. They include Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative; Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder; Heather McGhee, president of policy center Demos; and Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League.

Lots of stores have policies that only allow paying customers to use the restrooms. I recently saw someone at a local fast food outlet denied a bathroom key because he hadn’t ordered anything (he was white). It’s also pretty common for stores to ask people taking up space to place an order. Some places even require an order every hour you’re there taking up a booth or table. I was asked to order again about two weeks ago after ordering and then staying and talking too long. I just left instead.

What is odd about this situation is that Starbucks seems to generally be pretty lax on these sorts of rules, at least the stores near me. I routinely see people taking up space with their laptops, apparently working for long stretches of time. Usually, those people have ordered one drink but I’m not sure that’s always the case, especially when a group comes in for a study session. It’s part of Starbucks’ intent to become a ‘third place‘ besides work and home where people can hang out.

Based on what I’ve seen, what’s driving a lot of the bathroom and loitering rules are homeless people who come in not to order food but to use the facilities and hang out inside. Chain restaurants don’t want to become a home to the homeless or have their bathroom turned into an impromptu changing room/shower.

I’m not suggesting the manager thought these two men were homeless (they weren’t and didn’t look like they were) but given that this is the middle of a big city, I wonder if she wasn’t accustomed to dealing with a lot of homeless walk-ins who have to be politely asked to leave. The 911 call makes it sound as if she’s done this before. Maybe we’ll learn more eventually. But let’s face it, if this had happened to two homeless men, it wouldn’t be national news right now.

Of course, that doesn’t explain why the manager decided to call the cops on these two guys, one of whom graduated from college last year as a finance major (the other man hasn’t been identified yet). Maybe there was some bias going on here but I don’t think every Starbucks employee is guilty of it or at risk of doing the same. But given the risk of a boycott, I guess the company has to do something dramatic.