Advice for Starbucks workers—and us all

by Kiki

In the wake of an incident that drew unwelcome national attention, Starbucks will close its 8,000 U.S. stores for part of the day on May 29 to offer “implicit bias training” to its 175,000 workers.

On April 12, the manager of a Starbucks in downtown Philadelphia called police to report that two men were “refusing to make a purchase or leave.” The men, who were waiting for a friend, were arrested, handcuffed, booked and held for nearly nine hours before being released without charge.

Oh, and did I mention, the two men were black? Do I even have to?

Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson apologized to the men and vowed in a statement to “address implicit bias, promote conscious inclusion, prevent discrimination and insure everyone inside a Starbucks store feels safe and welcome.”

Johnson has enlisted former Attorney General Eric Holder, Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, and Heather McGhee, president of the public policy group Demos, to help form the curriculum for the training.

That’s a good group. But, as a senior citizen and black lesbian mother of two teens, I’d like to offer some of my own suggestions. Here goes:

The curriculum should be expansive and not just focus on implicit bias based on race. It should include LGBTQ folks, women, the differently abled, poor people and those of other faiths and national origins.

Everyone should take a short implicit bias test during the training and identify their implicit biases.

Participants should role-play scenarios dealing with situations they may encounter as Starbucks workers.

It should be stressed that this training is merely the first step in identifying implicit bias and in not allowing those biases to impact how we treat each other.

Participants should write, in two sentences, what implicit biases they hold and what they learned from the training.

What if they don’t hold any such biases? The sad truth is that everyone does. Our implicit biases may be invisible to us, but they influence our behavior toward others. People don’t have to be overtly racist, ableist, classist or homophobic for them to treat people different based on race, ability, class or sexual orientation.

This is an area in which we all can learn a thing or two. And not just people who work at Starbucks.

Let’s start with the Philadelphia Police Department, whose (black) commissioner initially insisted that his officers “did absolutely nothing wrong.” He later recanted and apologized, saying he “failed miserably” in how he handled the situation.

That’s OK. Nobody’s perfect. But really, perhaps the officers could have sized up the situation differently instead of doing what the white store manager (who is no longer employed by Starbucks) wanted them to do.

And, after the baristas and the police, let’s think about offering implicit bias training to everyone.

Peace, love, faith, gratitude, joy, compassion, and blessings.

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