Starbucks’ employees find racial bias training useful
By Shardae Ray
Some of Starbucks’ employee went into a recent local racial bias meeting expecting to get a rundown on how to interact with customers, specifically minorities.
What they didn’t expect was a revelation of how much they don’t know about people that might be different racially.
“It was interesting watching my White co-workers hear our experiences,” said Kurel Kumar. “A lot of them were not aware that their own co-workers go through things like that, too.”
Kumar, a 20-year-old of Indian descent, and 32 of her co-workers at one of two Starbucks locations on West Tennessee Street, joined thousands of Starbucks employees around the country for similar training. Starbucks took its staff through what essentially was a diversity training following a highly-publicized incident that led to the arrest of two Black men at one of its Philadelphia locations.
The men were waiting for another individual to join them for a meeting. Meanwhile, neither of them made a purchase. A store employee called police, having the men arrested for trespassing.
Starbucks issued an apology and set the racial bias meetings as part of its policy for change.
During the training sessions in Tallahassee, employees watched a short film starring Common, a well-known actor/rapper, as he explained what racial bias looks like. Employees were also encouraged to discuss their differences.
Many of those who attended the Tennessee Street meeting said they never experienced racial bias, Kumar said.
Haley Kean wasn’t sure how the training will affect change, but she said it was enough to “get people talking.”
“It was uncomfortable at first,” she said, “but we have to move through the uncomfortable part to get to the comfort.”
The overriding theme during the meeting was to help employees understand that every customer is welcomed at Starbucks, Kean said. That goes for the homeless, she said.
“You can come in and just order a cup of water and you’ll be treated as a paying customer,” she said.
Another reason for the meetings was to make sure employees understand that customers could use the store as their “third place.” That means a place they could go in addition to home and work.
Customers have long been making Starbucks just that.
“Starbucks is where you come before work and class or just to hang out,” said Dilan Gordon, a patron of the West Tennessee store.
Not every Starbucks location participated in the training. Some stores that are privately owned such as one on Florida State’s campus remained open.
Some customers are confident that the training will bring a change that could prevent another incident like the one in Philadelphia.
lyssa “Liz” Johnson, “but I need them to feel safe and accepted when they come in here.”