How Starbucks is trying to lead by example by training its employees to combat racism

This unique initiative, which is expected to mobilize four hours during any 175.000 employees, was announced on 17 April by the leaders of Starbucks, after the outrage sparked by the arrest of two young black men in one of its cafés in Philadelphia. An arrest on the sole grounds that the two men were waiting for the arrival of an acquaintance, to eat, captured on a smartphone and was widely distributed on social networks. Events had followed, with the threat of a boycott for this chain, synonymous with good coffee in the United States. The incident has illustrated in a striking manner the discrimination that still face Black people, in a context of racial tensions exacerbated since the election of Donald Trump.

“It is everywhere”

“There are things like that all the time,” explained last week James Bell, supervisor in a high school of Brooklyn, and a regular customer of a Starbucks in the neighborhood. “In stores, as a black man, you are followed by the employees, who do not cease to ask you if you need help (…) They see a black man, and they immediately think of crime”.

“That means either implicit or explicit, is everywhere,” added the 47-year-old, recalling other recent examples of discrimination disseminated on social networks. As was the case in early may of a black student to the university of Yale, reported to the police just because she was sleeping in the library.

Hard to deny this observation, supported by witnesses, armed with smartphones, which document incidents less dramatic than the cases of police violence against Blacks, but much more frequent. In this context, James Bell was not convinced that the initiative of Starbucks will change much to the problem. But he welcomed the fact that the string “at the very least effort to” try it out. Like him, many responsible blacks have welcomed the initiative of Starbucks, even if they also point out that the result is far from guaranteed.

Show the example

“It is a historical fact, I know of no other society is as ubiquitous as Starbucks, which has demonstrated its willingness to take racism by the horns,” said in a press call Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the Legal Defense and Education Fund, an emanation of the powerful organisation for the defence of the cause of Black people NAACP. “In doing so, they open the way for businesses who sell to the general public to address honestly and squarely the racial inequalities,” said Ms. Ifill, solicited by management of Starbucks to help prepare for this training.

A conditional assistance nevertheless. “We have said clearly that we were not going to commit blindly to their program if we do not think that it can keep its promises,” said Heather McGhee, president of the association Demos that the fight against discrimination, also consulted by Starbucks. “We will make a report at the beginning of the summer with a more complete list of things to do to really lead by example on this issue.”

Starbucks seems to have understood their reservations. “The 29 may is not a solution, but it is a first step”, pointed out the direction on its internet site. “The first session will focus on the understanding of what is the bias of racial and the history of public places in the United States. The next training will focus on all forms of discrimination, and experiences”. How concretely will consist of training on Tuesday? Starbucks has denied that the media attending the year, but has posted a small presentation of the film.

There we learn that employees should watch the original film of the documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson about the history of Black americans, and will then discuss in small groups their experiences of racial discrimination. All encouraged by small speeches of charismatic leaders the company established in 1971, Howard Schultz, and Kevin Johnson. Also uncertain is the outcome, Sharon Rush, a specialist in race relations at the University of Florida, hope that Starbucks will push other companies to increase training on the issue of racial discrimination, as they have increased training on sexual harassment. “If other companies say +We also, we need to do this,+” she said, “this really will be a positive outcome”.

(with AFP)

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