Over the past few days, there has been a media storm surrounding the events on April 12 that led to two African American men being arrested by Philadelphia police officers at a Starbucks. The alleged consumer racial profiling incident was caught on video. After the video went viral, calls to boycott Starbucks emerged.
With the unfolding public relations storm, CEO of Starbucks, Kevin Johnson took to the company's social media platforms and issued an apology to the men. Johnson has met with the two men and their lawyer, and Starbucks is making moves to demonstrate that it hears the calls for justice loud and clear.
On April 17, Starbucks announced that they will close all 8,000 United States based stores on May 29, and 175,000 employees will undergo racial bias training.
As someone who has spent several years studying consumer racial profiling and customer service-related policies, my consumer decision on whether or not to invest in Starbucks as a paying customer will be informed by many factors.
One factor will be the long term results of the racial bias training. While, I see the public relations value in their swift action, I'm left wondering if this training will prevent future occurrences of consumer racial profiling. A one day session is insufficient, and may end up being ineffective.
If I were part of the Starbucks racial bias training planning team working on designing the content, and taking part in the delivery of this training session, I would make the following contributions:
- Conduct a train-the-trainer that examines consumer racial profiling through a critical race feminist lens. This session would ensure that facilitators understand race isn't the sole factor in consumer racial profiling incidents
- Ask whether or not racial bias training adequately addresses systemic issues that come out of consumer racial profiling
- Consult with employees and managers about what they believe they need to do their job better and safely. After all, it is not the CEO or senior management serving Starbucks products to customers in the stores.
Although, I have my concerns about how effective the training will be in the long run, I am cautiously optimistic. Racial bias training does not address consumer racial profiling practices, but it's a starting point. The collective power of diverse community members working with corporate leaders to take on systemic change is meaningful. Also, Starbucks' example may force other corporations to do the work and address consumer racial profiling.
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I note that my optimism is sprinkled with over 20 years of professional knowledge about how "well intended" training can miss the mark, especially when there is a rush to do something. There is value in taking a reasoned approach. I invite Starbucks and all its global affiliates to commit to building a sustainable learning and development program that integrates a deep understanding of consumer racial profiling.
In the end, regret and training cannot repair the harm already done. Truthfully, the real change will need to happen when a black customer interacts with a front line employee. Their interaction will offer more insights than corporate promises.
This article was written by Tomee Elizabeth Sojourner, M.A., LLM (C) Osgoode Hall Law School. Tomee is a mediator and principal consultant at Sojourner Mediation and Consulting Services. Tomee has a book chapter, "Damaged Goods: A Critical Perspective on Consumer Racial Profiling in Ontario's Retail Environments" being published in Racial Profiling and Human Rights in Canada: The New Legal Landscape - forthcoming book by Irwin Law Inc. Follow her on LinkedIn or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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