OPINIONS Commentary: Starbucks racial bias training falls flat


Commentary: Starbucks racial bias training falls flat

By Raymond Mendoza | People's Daily app

06:59, June 12, 2018


Back in April, Starbucks was the subject of some controversy when a store manager in Philadelphia called the cops on two African American men who were waiting in the shop without buying anything. After the two men were arrested, the well-known coffee chain was met with protests about racial discrimination before it announced it would be providing racial bias training to its employees.

Just over a week ago, some 8,000 Starbucks stores across the US closed to take part in the training. However, from the mouths of the employees themselves, the act seems more like a PR stunt and shallow attempt rather than something meaningful that could inspire lasting change.

According to various reports, the training was a step in the right direction for Starbucks in terms of racial profiling. However, it largely focused on just the African American community instead of its multiple problems.

According to employees who detailed their training on the social news website Reddit.com, the training techniques could have been expanded to other races and discriminated people, but instead chose to solely build relations with the African American community. Now, there’s nothing wrong with improving race relations with the African American community – however there is something wrong about ignoring the discrimination that others have endured by the company. Starbucks clearly put this training together to make up for its most recent offense against the two African American men in Philadelphia, but they failed to mention its problems with other communities.

Starbucks had another brush with racial discrimination just a few weeks after the April incident, when a California man named Peter/Pedro ordered two cups of coffee and found that he was mocked for being Hispanic, according to NBC. Instead of having his name written on his order, his cups were marked with the name “beaner” – which is a racial slur against Mexicans.

Mexicans aren’t the only race that Starbucks has discriminated against, according to NextShark. According to the website, a Seattle Starbucks employee last month wrote the name “Philippine” on an Asian American customer’s order even though her name was clearly stated as Melissa. The woman was told by the offending barista that the name change was a joke even though it was clearly not a funny situation.

This wasn’t the first time the chain has had problems with Asian customers either.

According to a 2017 Business Insider story, another Asian American named Jake Kim had his name changed to “Ching” on his coffee order. Furthermore, the store manager offered no help and brushed off the complaint as something that happens from time to time. Kim said he was upset because calling an Asian person “Ching” in place of a real name was an offensive slur.

The real problem with these instances? They received next to no recognition from Starbucks and no part of the racial bias training included sections on Hispanics, Asians, or other races. While misspelled names are a common occurrence, these few instances are clear signs that racial discrimination towards other races exists at Starbucks and that the company is disregarding it.

Racial discrimination isn’t the only problem that Starbucks has had in recent years, since its stores in Saudi Arabia segregate genders, families, and single people. One Starbucks in particular banned women for a short period of time and asked their female customers to send in their male drivers to get their orders. When outrage on the internet started popping up, Starbucks said the following:

"At Starbucks, we adhere to the local customs of Saudi Arabia by providing separate entrances for families as well as single people. In addition, all our stores provide equal amenities, service, menu, and seating to men, women and families."

So why were these clear cases of racism and sexism ignored while acts against African Americans given so much more attention during the training? It seems short sighted since the company has had so many problems with other races and genders, yet its employees are given no help on how to react to different situations with different races.

If anything, the training should have given equal time to each race and gender (including transgendered people) and taught its employees how to be tolerant of all people – not just some. This means that Starbucks failed in its mission to eliminate bias in its employees, because it ignored many of the problems that have plagued the company.

Though the training did provide some improvements to its employees, the entire setup feels like it’s just a major public relations stunt to get back in the good graces of the public. One Florida-based Starbucks employee called the training “a waste of four hours” to a website called The Cut.

The employee said the training helped with issues surrounding African American customers, but he was also hoping that the company would show this same level of support to its employees. He said that some customers have been known to belittle an employee’s race, religion, and sexual orientation and that Starbuck’s managers offer no help in their defense. In other words, Starbucks cares about its image more than its employee’s welfare.

Furthermore, according to several employees on Reddit, the training was packed with nonsensical, trendy language including #colorbrave. Employees were even asked if Starbucks was “woke or waking up?” meaning is it more socially aware or in the prosses of becoming socially aware? This is posturing, and the company is clearly trying to use new slang to make its training appealing to millennials. By making its own hashtag, Starbucks is tracking how many people are talking about its training with a silly catch phrase.

Starbucks is on the right path with helping teach tolerance to its employees to stamp out biases. Yet, at the end of the day it still has a long way to go to creating a true culture of tolerance. If the company were really serious about improving relations with all people, then this training should be an annual occurrence and it should address other races, genders, and orientations without the need for patting itself on the back.

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