Starbucks in hot water after being accused of racism

Raga Justin

A video of two black men being arrested after police said they were waiting for a friend in a crowded Philadelphia Starbucks circulated last Thursday, receiving backlash on social media. On Tuesday, Starbucks announced its decision to shut down 8,000 stores for an afternoon in May for racial bias training.

Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson released a video statement Sunday apologizing for the incident and announced intentions to train over 175,000 employees on May 29.

“What happened and the way that incident escalated was nothing but reprehensible, and I’m sorry,” Johnson said. “We are going to learn from this. These two gentlemen did not deserve what happened, and we are accountable. I will do everything I can to ensure this is fixed.”

On campus, not all locations will be affected by the temporary closure. The Starbucks locations inside the Union, Target and Student Activity Center will not be closed for the training because they are not company-owned. Media outlets reported affiliated stores will be receiving related training materials afterward.

Another store located on W. 24th street will shut down for several hours, an employee said. And the Starbucks located in Darrell K. Royal Stadium will close permanently in early May, unrelated to the incident in Philadelphia, according to an employee there.

The manager of the Philadelphia location called 911 to report the two men, who police said were waiting without ordering anything, for trespassing. Police who responded were met with backlash from other customers.

The content of training and who will be administering it are still unknown. Robin Schneider, a member of activist organization Undoing White Supremacy Austin, said positive results from training could cause a culture change within Starbucks if done well. However, its effectiveness cannot be known until the content of training is released and analyzed.

“These uncomfortable conversations are necessary processes, and a lifelong process,” Schneider said. “There are no quick fixes. One day of training is not going to be magic.”
Melanie Scruggs, a global policy studies graduate student, said Starbucks should talk to the activists and organizations protesting to see what they should do differently.

“‘Implicit bias’ is corporate jargon for white supremacism and racism,” Scruggs said in an email. “I’m concerned that they are trying to make their white employees comfortable, which defeats the purpose.”

Psychology junior Shamiran Prater said she regularly visits Starbucks and often sits there waiting to meet friends for 30 minutes to an hour without ordering anything.

“Nobody ever told me that I had to leave,” Prater sad. “No matter what excuse (the manager) puts out, there’s nothing that can actually justify it. Maybe this is actually their policy, but choosing to apply that regulation to only those black men is racist.”

In his video statement, Johnson said local practices vary regarding customers who don’t order anything, and that the Philadelphia store was following custom. On Monday, protesters at the Philadelphia Starbucks briefly shut the store down, while Johnson met with the two men — who have not been identified — to apologize.

Prater said she may continue to be a habitual customer depending on how Starbucks handles training.

“I’m really on the fence right now,” Prater said. “But I want to believe this is Starbucks actively trying to fix a problem they know is an issue, rather than a PR gimmick.”