Starbucks could have easily prevented the racial profiling incident at its store in Philadelphia

In Opinion
An illustration of a Starbucks cup on its side, spilling coffee. The Starbucks mermaid has a caption that says, "But I thought everyone was welcome?"
(Anita Huor / Daily Titan)

On April 12, a viral video showing two black men being arrested inside a Starbucks in Philadelphia sparked public outrage and criticism with accusations of racial profiling and discrimination.

If Starbucks had been truly serious about “creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome,” as its mission statement reads, it would’ve already provided unconscious bias training for its employees so that incidents of racial discrimination wouldn’t be a problem in its stores.

Being that Starbucks has presented itself as a liberal and progressive company based on its support for gay marriage, global commitment to hiring 10,000 refugees and discussions about racial issues in America, an incident like this should’ve never happened.

Those protesting against Starbucks are rightful to do so as the company was negligent in making sure its employees treated customers equally and not as trespassers or criminals who need to be arrested.

The two men who were arrested were waiting to meet a man for a business meeting, the man eventually showed up after the police arrived. After refusing to purchase anything in order to use the restroom, the men were deemed as trespassers by the store manager who then called 911, according to the Washington Post.

Kevin Johnson, the president and CEO of Starbucks, issued a face-to-face apology to the two men for the events that transpired and has promised to review the company’s policies and start racial-unconscious bias training for its employees.

In a public statement, Johnson insisted the incidents that happened to the two men were “reprehensible” and the company’s “practices and training led to a bad outcome.”

The store manager definitely escalated the situation by calling the police, but the company is also at fault. It’s Starbucks’ responsibility to make sure its employees are prepared and trained in all avenues of customer service, and firm policies citing what is and isn’t allowed inside Starbucks need to be emphasized.

In a statement on the company’s website, the company says it will only now be reviewing its policies as Johnson owns up to this fault.

“These two gentlemen did not deserve what happened and we are accountable. I am accountable,”Johnson said in a video on the Starbucks website. “I’m going to do everything I can to ensure it is fixed and never happens again.”

Ironically, Starbucks attempted to start a campaign called “Race Together” in 2015, which was intended to start a conversation between baristas and customers on racial issues. But this initiative was shut down following criticism on social media.

The campaign garnered mixed reactions, but many voiced their complaints, stating that it wasn’t a solution to racism. Others were skeptical about baristas discussing such a sensitive topic with the public and whether writing “Race Together” on cups would accomplish anything — it didn’t.

Race relations are such a complex issue and stem from decades of discrimination in the United States. One conversation between a barista and customer would just make some people uncomfortable and others annoyed.

However, Starbucks is once again faced with mounting scrutiny and is scrambling to say and do whatever it can to save face and appease the public. This just goes to show that companies like Starbucks aren’t thinking about consumers until it affects their profits.

It’s unfortunate that two men had to be wrongfully arrested in order for Starbucks to take racial issues seriously. America’s problem with discrimination isn’t a new issue, but a frequently occurring pattern.

Racial bias isn’t always explicit anymore, but has taken new, more subtle forms. These slights can be seen in business hiring practices with an average of 36 percent more callbacks to white applicants over equally qualified black applicants, according to a 2017 study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

These hiring practices contribute to a majority of white management teams and the absence of effective racial training and policies.

After the incident in Philadelphia, a Starbucks in the Los Angeles area has come under fire with accusations of racial bias as well. Brandon Ward, a black man, claims he was denied use of the restroom because he didn’t purchase anything, while a white man who hadn’t made a purchase either was given the entry code, according to a video Ward uploaded to Facebook.

The presence of racial bias isn’t just a Starbucks problem, but appears in other businesses as well.

An LA Fitness gym in New Jersey was in the news recently after employees wrongfully accused two black men and called the police for not paying for their services, although one was a gym member and the other his guest.

In light of all the backlash, Starbucks said it will be closing more than 8,000 stores in the United States on May 29 to prepare its staff for racial bias training, but even this is only a tiny step of progress. Hopefully with this move, Starbucks will learn from this incident and instead of just talking about the issue of racial bias, it can be more proactive in identifying and preventing discrimination in its stores.

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