Next month Starbucks will close 8,000 of its locations for implicit bias training. This is in the wake of the incident you’ve probably heard of: the Philadelphia Starbucks store manager who called the cops that led to the arrests of two black men.
What we know about the incident: the two black men said they were waiting for a friend to show up for a meeting. The manager denied the men use of restroom because they didn’t order food or drinks. The store manager asked the men to leave, and then called police when they refused to leave. As video rolled, the friend arrived as police led the pair away in handcuffs. They were later released when Starbucks didn’t press charges. In the video, they are neatly groomed, and not causing any disturbance.
Starbucks is doing damage control in the wake of extensive criticism. The company’s executive chairman Howard Schultz appeared on CBS This Morning for a sit down interview with co-host Gayle King. Schultz told King in the interview that the store manager at the center of the controversy has “left the company.”
“I think you have to say in looking at the tape that she demonstrated her own level of unconscious bias,” Schultz went on to say. “And in looking at the tape, you ask yourself whether or not that was racial profiling.”
What we don’t yet know: whether that manager had treated people of different races in the same way in the past. Does everyone who asks to use the restroom before ordering get denied? Has the management asked people who don’t buy anything to leave? Have they called the cops in the past? If these practices are applied only to African American men, well, that’s a pretty good indicator of bias. If not, well, maybe it has a policy of no loitering.
Then again, isn’t Starbucks known as a gathering spot? Has anyone ever seen an employee asking anyone who’s not making a ruckus to leave? How many writers have bought one coffee and stayed working on a laptop for three hours? Or has this changed? I have heard about a Starbucks in Los Angeles that removed many of its electric outlets to prevent people from staying all day.
The Starbucks incident is the latest in a long string of bias allegations made by black patrons against businesses. Recently there were accusations by Oscar-nominated actress Gabourey Sidibe that she was racially profiled at a Chanel store.
Starbucks is reviewing its policies. It’s pretty clear that whatever those policies are, they should be applied fairly for all races – whether they’re dressed in suits, baggy pants, with dreadlocks, etc.