Starbucks, trying to put to rest an outcry over the arrest of two black men at one of its stores, is closing more than 8,000 stores Tuesday afternoon for anti-bias training, a strategy some believe can keep racism at bay.
After the arrests in Philadelphia last month, the coffee chain's leaders apologized and met with the two men, but also reached out to activists and experts in bias training to put together a curriculum for its 175,000 workers.
On 5/29, we'll close US company-owned stores to conduct racial-bias training to address implicit bias & prevent discrimination. We're taking a hard look at who we are as a company. We’re ashamed & recognize that racial bias is a problem we must address. https://t.co/xIYc75BJPj— Starbucks Coffee (@Starbucks) April 17, 2018
That has put a spotlight on the little-known world of "unconscious bias training," which is used by many corporations, police departments and other organizations to help address racism in the workplace. The training is typically designed to get people to open up about implicit biases and stereotypes in encountering people of color, gender or other identities.
The Perception Institute, a consortium of researchers consulting with Starbucks, defines implicit bias as attitudes — positive or negative — or stereotypes someone has toward a person or group without being conscious of it. A common example, according to some of its studies, is a tendency for white people to unknowingly associate black people with criminal behavior.
Many retailers including Walmart and Target said they already offer some racial bias training. Target says it plans to expand that training. Nordstrom has said it plans to enhance its training after issuing an apology to three black teenagers in Missouri who employees falsely accused of shoplifting.
Anti-bias sessions can incorporate personal reflections, explorations of feelings and mental exercises. But one expert says training of this kind can have the opposite effect if people feel judged.
According to a video previewing the Starbucks training, there will be recorded remarks from Starbucks executives and rapper/activist Common. From there, employees will "move into a real and honest exploration of bias" where, in small groups, they can share how the issue comes up in their daily work life.
Starbucks has described it as a "collaborative and engaging experience for store partners to learn together." "
Developed with feedback from the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Perception Institute and other social advocacy groups, the four-hour session will give workers a primer on the history of civil rights from the 1960s to present day. Workers will also view a short documentary film.
Alexis McGill Johnson, Perception's co-founder and executive director, says anti-bias training is about awareness.
"The work that we want to do is not say you're a bad person because you have a stereotype about a group, but say this is why your brain may have these stereotypes," she said.
Johnson declined to elaborate on the details of the Starbucks training. But she said Perception's workshops typically include mental exercises to show participants how bias creeps into situations. A session can include personal reflections, she said, such as, "'I was socialized to think about a group this way.'"
Johnson said the real work is for employees to apply what they learn in their everyday lives. She likened it to exercising a muscle. Some ways to practice counter-stereotyping, she said, are to look for something unique about a person that is beyond their social identity.
"It could be having a question that elicits something more interesting than, say, the weather or the traffic," Johnson said, stressing the need to "go well beyond the superficial."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.