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Starbucks takes a day off for racial bias training

by Mark Cuminale - Copy Editor
Tue, Apr 24th 2018 05:00 pm

Racism has never, even for a brief moment, ceased to exist in America. While hatred-driven racism has been relegated to lurking in the shadows — rearing its ugly head in calculated moments like Charlottesville, Virginia and Newnan, Georgia — systemic racism is on full display.

The latest publicized display of this systemic racism came on Thursday, April 12, when two black men entered a Starbucks. The men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, had arrived 10 minutes early to the Philadelphia area store for a business meeting. Two minutes later, the store’s manager, a white woman, called the police and reported that the men were refusing to make a purchase or leave the store. Police arrived four minutes later, and the two men were placed under arrest.

According to The Washington Post, Nelson, 23, said the police asked them to leave without any explanation and moments later, he and Robinson, 23, were placed in handcuffs and arrested. The men did not have their rights read to them, and they were charged with trespassing and creating a disturbance. Both charges were dropped later that night.

In the aftermath of the arrests, protests have ensued at Starbucks stores across the country. In response, Starbucks executive chairman Howard Schultz and chief executive Kevin Johnson have met with the men and personally apologized. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross has also publicly apologized for the arrests after initially claiming that the arresting officers “did absolutely nothing wrong,” according to The Washington Post.

Now, Starbucks has publically announced that the company will close 8,000 stores on Tuesday, May 29, for racial-bias training seminars. Over 175,000 employees of the company will attend the training, according to The Guardian

Public reactions to Starbucks’ training announcement have been mixed. Some people have praised the company for their willingness to take on the social and financial burden in order to rectify the situation, while others feel that Starbucks is merely trying to publically save face.

“Just doing training is not enough,” said Holly Hutchins, an associate professor of human resource development at the University of Houston’s College of Technology.  “Organizations tend to rush to the training option as a way to quickly window-dress issues, especially around gender or racial bias.”

This might not be a totally fair assessment of the situation. Institutionalized racism is a difficult disease to cure, but there is hope out there. The roots of systemic racism are buried under years of ignorance, which puts companies like Starbucks in a deep hole that may be difficult to dig their way out of. However, there is a cure for ignorance, and it’s called education.

One aspect of the story that has been implicitly missing from the narrative is Starbucks’ handling of the manager who initially called the police. Her name has not been made public. This could be a sign that the company is taking responsibility for their inaction, and not passing the blame onto the employee. It also shows that, though ignorance can be harmful to a community, people should be given a chance to learn from their mistakes.

Restorative justice is a theory that is most often associated with repairing the harm of a criminal behavior, but its value can be applied to social situations as well. The harm in this situation is the unfair bias that is attributed to black men. By attempting to educate its employees on this racial bias, Starbucks is making a move toward repairing one of society’s inequalities. 

In restorative justice theory, the offenders are able to see the harm that they have caused the victims, and co-develop a solution to repair the harm done. This kind of response allows for deeper understanding of the consequences of injustice, and it promotes the development community interaction.

It’s important to give people a chance to learn from their mistakes. All too often, the public condemns the actions of individuals and groups without ever allowing them an opportunity to learn and grow. The catalyst for change historically comes from the injustices within society, but it is the reaction to those injustices that have a permeating effect on our culture.

 

mcumi@u.brockport.edu