US giant Starbucks taking right approach to racism

Thursday, April 19, 2018

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A video which went viral on social medial last week showed two black men being handcuffed and arrested by a half dozen cops inside a Starbucks café in Philadelphia, United States.

The men were calm and did not resist arrest, telling cops they were awaiting a third person — who eventually showed up — for a business meeting.

The cops said they received a 911 call from a Starbucks worker who said the men were trespassing, after sitting down and refusing to buy anything.

Two things happened that give us reason to hope that apparently racist actions as that taken by the store employee will be called out and stir people to action against insidious racism, which raises its ugly head all too often in the US.

First, other patrons in the store, most of them white, intervened to ask the cops why the two men were being arrested and they wanted to know what had they done, given that no wrongdoing had been witnessed.

One of the patrons videotaped the arrest which was then posted on Twitter, resulting in millions of people seeing it and expressing their outrage and indignation over the action taken by the police.

The two men were released after Starbucks declined to prosecute them.

Second, on Tuesday this week, Starbucks announced that it would close all company-owned stores and corporate offices in the US on May 29 to conduct what they call “racial-bias education”.

Starbucks CEO Kevin Jackson said in a press statement that the curriculum would be designed “to address implicit bias, promote conscious inclusion, prevent discrimination, and ensure everyone inside a Starbucks store feels safe and welcome”.

More than 8,000 stores will be closed and training provided to nearly 175,000 employees and incorporated into company training going forward, Mr Jackson noted.

“While this is not limited to Starbucks, we're committed to being a part of the solution,” he added, having earlier apologised for the incident.

“Closing our stores for racial-bias training is just one step in a journey that requires dedication from every level of our company and partnerships in our local communities,” the CEO added.

We take comfort from the approach by Starbucks in that the company did not stop at an apology, as so often is the case. Racist actions are often thoughtless knee-jerk reactions that a mere 'sorry' cannot cure and for which long0term effort is needed to counter.

Their approach could serve the US police force, too, whose many killings of black people without cause show the need for its members to un-learn and re-learn how they operate when dealing with African-Americans and non-whites on a whole.

It is not enough to merely say that police were in fear for their lives and so opened fire on an unarmed person. Starbucks CEO Mr Johnson clearly gets it.

“I've spent the last few days in Philadelphia with my leadership team listening to the community, learning what we did wrong and the steps we need to take to fix it,” he said.

That is the template that America needs to adopt.

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