Two Starbucks employees say the anti-bias training was needed, but it’s not nearly enough ‘Maybe it can stand as a pillar of equality’

In April, Starbucks was in the news because a Philadelphia store manager called the police on two black men who were waiting for a friend. To address the bias that could lead to such an unfair response, Starbucks closed its doors early on Tuesday to send its employees through an anti-bias training session.

I talked to two employees from different stores who participated in different sessions. After the conversations I was shocked, confused, and slightly encouraged. Here are excerpts from our conversations. Frank is a white male in his late 30s. Mark is a person of color in his mid-20s.

Do you think the session was needed?

Frank: Absolutely.

Mark: Truthfully, as a person of color, I feel as though these are things I intrinsically already understand. But I believe it was necessary for my store specifically.

Mark: After the incident in Philadelphia, a co-worker asked me, ‘You know the whole Kanye West thing’ and I was like ‘umm, yeah, I do.’ And she went off saying that people online are calling him an Uncle Tom and a fake n—–. I went, ‘Excuse me?’ And she REPEATED HERSELF. And then she said, ‘it’s not like I was calling you a house n—– or something, I was just talking about the situation.’

Mark: On a different occasion a co-worker said to me, ‘I’m brown just like you, just on the inside’ while I was washing dishes one day. And another time, a friend told me that she heard transphobic comments as we just hired an individual who is transitioning. I didn’t report any of this, because it will just make a hostile work environment. I am trying to transfer.

What was the goal of the session?

Frank: The goal of the training was to bring into the light real-life racial, sexual, insensitive bias and to talk about how we can minimize those situations to the point that hopefully will have them no longer happen. Starbucks admitted that one four-hour training session isn’t going to fix any problems, so they made sure to stress that we all have to make efforts continue the progress that they made. (Neither man could remember the training facilitators giving recommendations for specific continued efforts.)

Mark: Being Color Brave was one of the main themes. The term colorblind was referenced as a platform long ago used to describe people who don’t see color, which is now known to be just as bad. Color Brave is being brave to be who you are and embracing your racial and ethnic backgrounds.

What happened in the sessions?

Mark: One of the first activities we did was introduce ourselves in small three- to six-person groups. We then were told to break off into pairs within those groups and make a list of eight reasons why we are different.

Frank: For me the most effective exercises were watching videos of people of color still telling stories about how they get followed in stores to ‘prevent theft’ and then hearing one woman say that she wishes she could walk out her door and feel carefree like the white guy she sees on the street. That last part is a direct quote and it bothered me to my core that still this bulls— continues.

Frank: They gave us 39-page workbooks. We were supposed to write our thoughts in them and take them with us.

Mark: They explained the difference between explicit and implicit bias. Then they ran us through the Stroop Color [and] Word test so we would understand that stereotypes are cognitive shortcuts we form.

Was the session beneficial?

Mark: For the company, perhaps. Maybe it can stand as a pillar of equality, great.

Frank: Yes. I think more companies need to do this, but the real change that needs to happen are everyday people coming to the same realization that racial bias needs to stop. That’s when true change will happen. I just wish it was easier. People give up because learning anything new is tough and Americans are lazy.

How would you describe the training with one word?

Mark: Needed.

Frank: Costly.

Closing 8,000 stores for a half-day most certainly cost Starbucks some profits. But the costs of biases are ordinarily paid by the same segment of our society. And they don’t get to pick the day or the price.

On April 12, when Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were cuffed and arrested, they were forced to pay with a bit of their dignity. Though everyone knows one session won’t eradicate biases held by Starbucks employees, if the result of the session is a lower likelihood of an incident like that recurring, then Tuesday’s cost is a worthwhile investment.

New Montgomery, Alabama, memorial recognizes black victims of lynchings It also highlights the trauma and toll that white supremacy has taken on America

Decades after black people were subjected to enslavement, lynchings and beatings by white mobs, a memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, is recognizing the victims and forcing America to acknowledge its ugly past.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, opening today, is the nation’s first memorial dedicated to enslaved black people, victims of lynchings, and those who endured police brutality and injustice. The memorial is, in part, a display of the trauma that white supremacy has caused in America.

The memorial sits on 6 acres near the Alabama State Capitol. Within the bright greenery of trees and shrubs surrounding the site lie sculptures, art and various designs to drive the messages home. A memorial square in the inner yard contains 800 6-foot monuments; inscribed on the long corten steel columns are the names of those who suffered a grim fate, followed by a death date. Although many names line the columns, just as many are simply listed as “unknown.” The design was inspired by the Memorial to Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin and the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg.

Between 1877 and 1950, more than 4,400 black men, women and children were lynched, shot and beaten to death, according to the website. While many families were left to grieve over unrecognizable bodies, some loved ones remained missing and unable to receive a proper burial. The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) took an interest in these findings eight years ago and began extensive research on the history of lynchings in America. In their findings, the crew gained a better understanding of the true nature of the crimes that had taken place. Because of the terrorization and trauma being endured in the South, 6 million black people fled the area in search of refuge elsewhere.

Having gathered enough information, the crew created a report, Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror, that documented lynchings in 12 states.

“I’m not interested in talking about America’s history because I want to punish America,” EJI founder Bryan Stevenson told The New York Times. “I want to liberate America. And I think it’s important for us to do this as an organization that has created an identity that is as disassociated from punishment as possible.”

The memorial’s grand opening week will host several events. After the opening ceremony, which will feature civil rights activist John Lewis, other national leaders and a performance by BeBe Winans, there will be “justice summits” and guest speakers including journalist Jelani Cobb, writer and activist Gloria Steinem, and film director and producer Ava DuVernay. Topic discussions include race and implicit bias in education, climate change and environmental justice, reforming criminal justice and activism.

A full schedule of opening week events can be found here.

Starbucks’ diversity training won’t help unless it makes white people uncomfortable To be sustainable, it must measure outcomes and give people the tools to enact change

“Diversity trainings don’t work” is an oft-repeated refrain. And yet, Starbucks will devote an entire day to “conduct racial-bias training to address implicit bias and prevent discrimination” for all employees. This decision follows last week’s incident in which a Starbucks store manager called the police on two black men in a Philadelphia Starbucks.

Within moments of the story going viral, many identified implicit bias, on the part of the store manager and/or the police, as the potential culprit. However, this suggests that, as a society, we have overlearned the lesson of implicit bias at the expense of acknowledging other societal and structural factors that might also be at play. Implicit bias alone, as pervasive as it is, cannot explain why black people in America are at risk when we get locked out of our own apartment, have car trouble, laugh with friends and, yes, sit quietly at Starbucks.

Starbucks should absolutely train its employees. But if this training has any chance at making a lasting impact, it should not begin and end with implicit bias. Social science has a lot to say about other elements that should also be included to construct a training that will lead to lasting change.

Create mild discomfort

As humans, our instinct when we feel uncomfortable is to avoid whatever is creating those feelings. However, discomfort is a faulty litmus test for success when it comes to conversations about race. For one, plenty of research shows that white people tend to find conversations about race to be more uncomfortable and anxiety-provoking than black people do. Moreover, experts who study attitudes and behavior emphasize that, without mild discomfort, we may not be sufficiently inspired to change how we think or act. Finally, when we focus on comfort, we may compromise other goals. For example, emerging research demonstrates that framing discrimination as the result of unintentional, implicit bias (rather than intentional, explicit bias) can cause white people to judge the discrimination as less intentional; they also see the perpetrator as less blameworthy and the victim as less harmed. Clearly, we undermine the efficacy of any training when we overprioritize the comfort of the majority in the room.

Bridge the bias detection gap

Conversations about race between white and black people often make it seem that we are living in different countries. And, at least psychologically, that may be partially true. For example, research shows that white people are less likely than black people to consider subtler behaviors (such as feeling uncomfortable around black people) as indicative of racism. These differences in bias detection have measurable consequences, as evidenced by the interpersonal, psychological and physical consequences of contending with bias. Thankfully, some research indicates that educating white people about the subtle discrimination black people face can improve their bias detection. Despite all this, little attention is granted toward increasing the bias detection of white people during diversity training, even though the available research suggests this is exactly what needs to happen. A good training must increase awareness of the differences in bias detection and provide foundational knowledge for attendees about the way the world is — for all in the room.

Provide tools and support to enact change

Finally, this training must acknowledge that many of us have good intentions that fail to materialize into actual behavior. This is especially the case when it comes to speaking out against bias, as concerns about what to say, how to say it and whether it will be effective can cause us to freeze in the moment. If any change is to occur, the training must equip attendees with actionable steps they can take to confront bias in future situations. Then, importantly, there should be time for attendees to practice implementing those steps in a variety of scenarios. This increases the likelihood that they will spring to action in the future, instead of standing on the sidelines hoping or expecting someone else to intervene.

Moreover, Starbucks must reinforce that its culture is one that expects everyone to uphold the shared values of anti-discrimination and inclusion.

Starbucks should pay as much attention to how it will measure its desired outcomes as it does to developing the content for this training. Did people become more aware of the ways that bias manifests? Do they feel empowered to enact change? Do they believe these efforts will be supported by their immediate supervisor and co-workers? In truth, it would be foolish to expect magnanimous behavioral change as the result of one training.

On its own, one training can do little more than increase awareness, state ideal cultural norms and lay the foundation for continued conversation. However, by developing a curriculum that is evidence-based, Starbucks could be an early model for how to develop a diversity training that does, in fact, work. Let’s hope it uplifts implicit bias as a point of entry into a much larger conversation.