Earlier this week Starbucks closed thousands of its coffee shops across the US so that its staff could receive so-called “unconscious bias” training, so they’d be able to recognise and overcome the ingrained prejudices most of us don’t even know we have. Why was this necessary and could it work to help reduce racism?
What prompted the training?
In Philadelphia, USA about a month ago two African-American men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, went to a Starbucks for a meeting but got there a bit early. So they sat down, one asked where the toilets were, before buying any coffee or snacks. The result was that less than a few minutes later the white Starbucks employee rang 911 (equivalent to 999 in the USA). The police arresting them was filmed on someone’s mobile phone and got a huge amount of hits on social media. The two men spoke to ABC News about their experience.
Will the training really work?
A recent report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission in the UK found “mixed results” for sessions aimed at reducing bias and “limited” evidence that they change behaviour.
Other people have criticised the unconscious bias training as implying that the racism is a psychological issue when it really should have been getting staff to participate in anti-racist education that looks at the historical roots of the problem.
When it comes to stopping racism like what happened in Philadelphia occurring again perhaps the rules should change, so that people aren’t told to leave if they sit down before buying their cup of coffee and are allowed to use the toilet without making purchases.