Starbucks has announced that it will close its 8000 company owned US stores on May 29th to educate their employees about racial bias. Starbucks has over 175,000 workers in the United States. This comes after a video surfaced of two black men being arrested inside of one of the franchises’ Philadelphia stores. In the incident, the two men arrested along with many customers who were at the store grabbing their morning cup of Joe, said the manager called the police on the men for no reason at all. The men, who were later identified as real estate agents, said they were waiting for a friend to arrive for a business meeting before they ordered their coffee. The friend arrived just as the two men were being arrested and attempted to explain the situation to police, who obviously weren’t trying to hear it. The men were taken into custody and later released with no charges being filed against them, after being detained for hours and hours, but the damage to the Starbucks brand in the black community had already been done.
The very next day, many protesters took to the Philadelphia location in protest of Starbucks’ bias toward black customers. To his credit, Starbucks CEO, Kevin Johnson jumped on top of the situation almost immediately. He issued a written apology to the two men, then followed up on that later with a video apology. Johnson then asked if he could meet the two men face to face to offer an apology. That happened. I’m not sure how the meeting turned out, or if the men accepted Johnson’s apology, but the meeting did happen. This move to close 8000 stores for a day of racial bias training is Johnson’s latest attempt to make things right with the black community. I’m not sure if this effort will be enough to make anyone change their views about Starbucks, and I’m almost certain that it will not help to change the attitude of an employee who already has a racial bias against a certain race of people. We all know an hour or two of training will likely not stop a racist person from being racist. They’ll most likely figure out a way to be more discreet with their racism out of fear of losing their job. Starbucks will have a lot of work to do before it gains the trust of the black community again. But, at least it’s a start right? Or at the very very least, it shows that Starbucks understands and appreciates the power of the black dollar. I guess you have to take small victories wherever you can get them to reach the bigger goal of changing things, or even…..dare I say, being treated as equals.