Starbucks’ recent effort to address racial bias among its staff and the larger society was met with mixed reviews by the roughly 175,000 employees required to attend a four-hour sensitivity training session earlier this week.
The company’s decision to close 8,000 stores Tuesday afternoon for staff training came in response to an incident at a Philadelphia location the previous month.
Video of two black men being arrested after a white manager called the police on them attracted negative publicity to the brand and the recent anti-bias training was announced as an “important start” to a more comprehensive approach to addressing implicit racism.
While many in the company expressed appreciation for information they found helpful, some baristas in the city at the center of the controversy say it actually made things worse.
Philadelphia Magazine‘s Fabiola Cineas spoke to two baristas shortly after the training ended Tuesday. In separate interviews, she said they gave the corporate program similarly low marks.
One barista was identified as a 24-year-old Latino man. He complained that the instruction and materials “beat around the bush” instead of tackling the tough issue directly.
A black woman, 18, said she was also underwhelmed.
“I was really disappointed when I walked out of there because I was expecting so much more,” she said.
The barista, who has worked at Starbucks for about a year, said the materials presented had no real ties to the incident that sparked controversy in April.
“It felt like we were off task the entire time because we didn’t reflect on the situation itself,” she said. “The training materials focused a lot on police brutality, which had nothing to do with the incident that happened.”
She said some of the videos were violent and “disturbing,” prompting her to remark during the meeting that it made her uncomfortable.
The male barista had an analogous anecdote.
“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,” he said. “It offended her. She left after that.”
Starbucks, on the other hand, has touted its “first step” as a success and says it is planning future training to further address the subject.
The company has made materials presented during Tuesday’s training available to the public online.
On the evening stores nationwide were closed, Starbucks selected several district managers to speak to reporters about the perceived successes of the anti-bias training.
“It was a really great experience,” said Carrie Teeter. “It was a great interaction that I got to have with some of my peers.”
Asked whether she felt any moments were “uncomfortable,” she chose instead to describe them as eye-opening for her as a white woman.
Several testimonials from the documentary shown during the session were particularly enlightening, she said.
“There were times that I watched some things and it made me go, ‘Wow, I don’t experience life like that,'” Teeter said.
Many baristas clearly agreed, as evidenced by an array of tweets celebrating the company’s initiative.
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