On Thursday, April 19, a viral video showed two black men being arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks. The video showed the men making little to no disturbance before the police were called, and then put in handcuffs and escorted out of the restaurant. It led to public outrage, as many viewed the arrest as an act of racial profiling. Starbucks, a multinational chain with over 5,000 stores in the U.S., decided to combat the negative reviews by closing their stores for one afternoon in May and implementing racial bias training for all employees.
While some show support for Starbucks and the steps they are taking toward equal treatment of all customers, others view the decision as insufficient. With the intention of training against racial bias to stop future incidents, Starbucks closing their doors for one afternoon is a step in the right direction. It is important for the company to recognize that the incident could happen again. We acknowledge the positive actions taken by Starbucks, especially since the decision will cost the company millions in sales on the afternoon of May 29.
While the business will lose profits for attempting to solve racial biases in-house, they could do more to combat racist actions made by their employees. An issue some activists have with Starbucks' plan is that the company designed it to combat “implicit bias,” but the incident could be considered clear “explicit bias” against the two young men. Implicit bias is usually bias that one exhibits subconsciously. It interferes with hiring employees, favoring white applicants above minorities. Explicit bias is not so subtle, meaning it manifests as the active preference of one race over another. An employee calling the police on two men of color who create no disturbance, although it may be implicitly based, displays explicit bias. One training session cannot eradicate implicit or explicit bias, but Starbucks is not likely to spend another significant portion of company time, money and effort against racism displayed by their employees.
We question how genuine Starbucks' efforts are and if the response to this incident is simply a strategic move by their public relations team. This incident happened to go viral, giving Starbucks a bad reputation, and the actions carried out by the Starbucks CEO may not have happened if the targeted men hadn’t been filmed. Restaurant racism is not a new concept. Black individuals have been consistently targeted and criminalized while doing nothing wrong. Although Starbucks is taking time to address the issue, this period of time isn’t long enough to make a change. It is important to recognize that one afternoon of training is a band-aid solution to a larger problem. By constantly monitoring ourselves and others, we may hope to better limit and hopefully extinguish incidents like the one in Philadelphia.
More needs to be done to combat racism. And businesses, locally and nationally, need to do a better job of confronting the problem before it occurs.