The Ubiquity

Starbucks Isn’t Racist

Picture by Sierra Gutierrez

Picture by Sierra Gutierrez

By Sierra Gutierrez, Staff Writer

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Is Starbucks doing enough to combat racism?

Yes. And frankly, the people who insist otherwise are a bit ridiculous.

Earlier this April, a Starbucks in Philadelphia landed in some hot water when a store manager called 911 on two black men who were waiting in the store for a friend for an excessive amount of time without making a purchase. The two men, Rashon Nelson and Dante Robinson, were arrested under allegations of ‘causing a disturbance’ and ‘trespassing,’ according to the manager, but later were released when no evidence of wrongdoing could be found.

This incident has led to a Starbucks meltdown as protesters gathered around the popular coffee shop, upset at what the mayor of Philadelphia called a painful reminder of “the deep-rooted issue of implicit bias.”

Before too many boycotts and demonstrations could be organized, however, Starbucks took a swift and decisive action by shutting down all company stores for one day in order to spend time giving their employees implicit bias training. The company also issued an apology on behalf of the manager’s actions, and the CEO announced plans to meet with the men who were arrested in the incident.

An embarrassing moment to be sure, but really one that is more revealing of the manager’s character than that of Starbucks as a whole; certainly, it is not evidence of company wide racism hidden away in store policy.

In fact, Starbucks as a company has been known to err on the opposite side of race relations: anyone remember the disastrous “Race Together” campaign? Hoping to spark ‘real conversation’ among its customers in the wake of a racially-charged police shooting, the 2015 debacle ended in a lot of awkward chats and was an ultimately failed PR scheme that made the international coffee giant the laughingstock of the internet.

My sympathies are with Starbucks on that one– “Trying too hard” is far from the worst thing to do in the face of today’s increasingly tense race relations.

Their more recent attempt to fight racism within its own ranks has been somewhat better received, however, with implicit racial bias training appearing to be the correct reaction to this month’s racial row. Hardly the reaction one would expect from a company that is facing a substantial problem with racism. This is because Starbucks is not, in fact, a racist company.

Shocker.

But to some involved in the Philadelphia Starbucks incident, this isn’t enough. “The actions of the Starbucks corporation are totally unacceptable,” Philadelphia Councilman Kenyatta Johnson told protesters. “We know they said they’re going to move forward and specifically focus on a training that deals with unconscious bias, but that’s a one-day training… We want to see how they’re going to change their culture as it relates to racial insensitivity and… to make sure that everyone who comes to a Starbucks store that lives in the city of Philadelphia should feel welcome.”

It was not the “actions of the Starbucks corporation” that lead to the arrests; It was the actions of a singular barista with poor judgement. Also, Starbucks is an international coffee business, not a racial sensitivity workshop; a simple one-day training is actually more than they are obligated to do in this situation. Their “culture as it relates to racial insensitivity” is as accepting and welcoming as an uber-liberal coffee shop can be.
In light of recent events, perhaps racial bias training is the right move. But, expecting a coffee chain to deal with the wider problem of racism in our society is a ridiculous order, even for Starbucks.

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Starbucks Isn’t Racist