Why Starbucks' Diversity Training Leaves More Room For Skepticism, Than Progress
This isn't a "Starbucks is racist" issue
Many of us have heard of the recent controversy with a Starbucks in Philadelphia, in which a manager called the police on two black men who were waiting for a friend in the cafe’s seating area.
None of this surprises me, especially considering where they were, which was in the Center City/Rittenhouse Square (downtown) neighborhood of Philadelphia. Now, anyone who lives in Philly knows that this area of Center City is very white and slightly wealthy. So, it’s likely that the typical patrons of that Starbucks fit that description. So that may explain the staff’s hyper-vigilance of two black men simply existing.
When I heard that Starbucks was closing 8,000 stores on May 29th to implement a “racial bias training” I appreciated how proactive they were to fix this. But soon, my appreciation turned into skepticism. I asked myself, “What will Starbucks employees actually be learning in this training?”
I often think about the ways in which diversity trainings are created and the fact that they can either be really thought-provoking or a waste of time. I work in higher education, and diversity trainings have been a large part of my life for the past 8 years.
I’ve been to, and facilitated, countless diversity trainings over the years and I’ve learned that along with the good, sometimes these trainings can be just a formality to people, rather than being an opportunity to learn and gain new perspectives, for 3 main reasons:
- Not enough focus on who’s leading these trainings– When a diversity training is being planned, I think it’s important for the organizers of the training to ask a few questions about the facilitators/trainers, such as: What’s this person’s background, academically, professionally? What gives them the right to facilitate this training? What role does this person’s privilege play in the way that they facilitate this training and who their audience is? Is this person being properly compensated for their work? These are the important questions.
- Diversity training, sometimes ignores the systemic issues which create the need for training– I’ve found that in diversity trainings, sometimes, the focus is put on incidents and surface level interactions rather than the systems which oppress marginalized people in the first place. Sometimes, this is an oversight, and other times I think this is by design.
- Too much focus on the feelings of white people– One trend I’ve noticed in diversity trainings is the tendency to center the conversation around the comfort (or discomfort) of white people. Discussions of race, power, and privilege are referred to as “uncomfortable”, “difficult”, or “challenging” conversations. I always ask myself, “Uncomfortable for whom?” Talking about race might be uncomfortable to some, but you know what else is uncomfortable? Being black and having to deal with police. If anything, groups with power, whether they are white, male, or, straight, or all 3, need to be uncomfortable, because discomfort urges people to change things, comfort typically does not.
Honestly, I don’t think this whole thing is a “Starbucks is racist” issue, I see it as a “society is generally anti-black” issue. An incident like this is no surprise to countless black men, like myself, who have been followed and clumsily surveilled in stores, or have had the police called on them simply for “looking suspicious”.
Will it hurt Starbucks to have a racial bias training? Probably not. But you know who else needs a racial bias training? You, and everyone you know. And it shouldn’t happen when you’re 30 and call the cops because some black dudes look “scary”. We should be learning this stuff by age 6.
But, that’s just an idea based on the assumption that America actually cares enough to invest in working to actually eliminate racism and our biases. But hey, I can dream can’t I?