After Starbucks was embroiled in a race row following the arrest of two black men who were sitting in one of its Philadelphia stores, it launched mandatory anti-bias training for all of its staff.
In April, two black male Starbucks customers were forcibly removed from a Philadelphia branch of the coffee shop, simply for sitting in the cafe without having bought anything.
On Tuesday, the company closed 8,000 of its stores for an afternoon to give 175,000 staff training against bias. Objectives included understanding bias and "making every customer feel like they belong".
Speaking to the Philly Mag, two employees said the training "missed the mark completely". They also said it targeted people of colour, and actually exacerbated racial tensions.
Between 1pm and 7pm, they claimed to have sat with fellow staff members watching presentations, videos (including a video by filmmaker Stanley Nelson about the history of access to public spaces for African Americans), taking notes and doing group work.
Twenty-four-year-old Latino man Jamie said that the training mostly "beat around the bush", and eighteen-year-old African American employee Tina said, she "was expecting so much more".
Tina found the material overly focussed on police brutality:
The videos of cops knocking people down and fighting people were really disturbing. I told them I didn’t like the video and they told me they understood and that I was open to give my opinion. They went too deep into it and missed the point all at the same time.
Jamie had similar concerns.
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.
The two baristas also pointed out that the training was led by three white women and a white man, and the training seemed unnecessarily focused on the rapper Common, who Starbucks had previously announced would be featured in training videos.
They were also unsure about what comes next. Tina, however, did have some useful takeaways from the training afternoon:
We talked about how to make our stores better, and I feel like the rules are much clearer now. I’m so used to running to get a shift manager when I don’t want to have any trouble with customers. But now I feel like there will be less confusion.
Jamie, on the other hand, was less than impressed.
Racism has been here before Starbucks, and racism will continue to be here after Starbucks. 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?
The racist incident in Starbucks is far from isolated. A number of food outlets in America have been under scrutiny for apparent racial bias when dealing with African American customers, including Waffle House, and Houston's restaurant.