Philadelphia, PA – Employees of color who attended the highly-publicized “unconscious bias training” for Starbucks employees on Tuesday have reported it was more of a lesson on police brutality than anything else.
Starbucks closed 8,000 stores for several hours on May 30 to facilitate seminars for its employees after the coffee shop was at the forefront of a racial controversy in April.
“It felt like we were off task the entire time because we didn’t reflect on the situation itself,” a black 18-year-old Starbucks employee called “Tina” told Philadelphia Magazine.
“The training materials focused a lot on police brutality, which had nothing to do with the incident that happened,” Tina said.
She was referring to the incident that occurred at a Philadelphia Starbucks on April 12 when two black men were arrested for trespassing after employees called the police because they hadn’t purchased anything and refused to leave.
On that occasion, despite the controversy that surrounded their ejection from the coffee shop, no force was used to remove the men, and there have been zero allegations of police brutality.
In fact, the Philadelphia police commissioner instituted a new policy after they incident that required Starbucks employees to address company policy and commit to pressing charges before officers will make an arrest in one of their stores.
But employees claimed the training seminar was mostly a waste of time.
“I was really disappointed when I walked out of there because I was expecting so much more,” Tina said.
Another employee that Philadelphia Magazine called “Jamie” said that the Starbucks representative running the session he attended did not even address the incident that had spawned the bias training. He said nobody talked about it unless somebody asked a specific question.
Instead of discussing the incident, participants were asked to complete a journal with questions about their feelings about their own race. They were also asked about their natural hair and how often friends of different races visited their homes.
“It’s weird they focused so heavily on how we feel about our racial identity, because how is that going to help me deal with a homeless person using drugs in my bathroom?” asked Jamie, who is Puerto Rican.
“You’re a multi-billion dollar company, and you don’t have anything. It felt inconsiderate to bring about this event with no real way to attack the problems,” he complained.
Jamie said the training “beat around the bush” and didn’t tackle the actual issue of racial tension head on.
Some employees said the “training” videos that were shown were very disturbing and didn’t seem to have anything to do with the problems at hand.
“At one point, a girl at my table actually had to get up and leave because video after video they showed black people being assaulted by police or black people being verbally assaulted and white people being racially biased toward people of color. It offended her. She left after that,” Jamie said.
“The videos of cops knocking people down and fighting people were really disturbing,” Tina told Philadelphia Magazine. “I told them I didn’t like the video and they told me they understood and that I was open to give my opinion.”
She said she couldn’t figure out what police brutality had to do with the implicit bias they were supposed to be learning about.
“They went too deep into it and missed the point all at the same time,” Tina complained.
“We got too deep into black history and got past what I thought was the point of the session,” Tina told Philadelphia Magazine that one of the videos they watched went back to lunch-counter sit-ins of the 1960s.
She said the only useful thing employees received at the training sessions was a written guide of how to implement Starbucks’ new procedures for “Addressing Disruptive Behaviors.”
The Quick Reference Guide provided to baristas with guidelines to help them assess the situation, “consider how your decision will impact the customer experience,” and take action if the situation warranted it.
Starbucks employees are supposed to decide whether the customer is safe to approach, ask themselves if they would take this same action with any other customer, and then check to make sure their planned actions fit with Starbucks’ “Missions and Values.”
Making coffee for a living has suddenly become much more complicated.