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What’s Wrong With Starbucks’ Diversity Training?


Starbucks is in some seriously hot water after a recent racist fiasco went viral, with protestors around the nation marching into the company’s stores to demand greater action on behalf of its corporate leaders. In response to the outrage that was spawned after the company called the police to arrest two innocent black men who committed no crime other than trying to enjoy life in the public sphere while being black, the company has announced it plans to shutter stores around the nation for a day to run diversity training initiatives.

Here’s everything that’s wrong with Starbucks’ paltry diversity training, and how the company can actually make amends to the millions of Americans its wronged.

A PR storm brewed by racism

It’s indisputable at this point that the two young men who were arrested in a Starbucks recently were led away in handcuffs solely because of their skin color. The two patrons, who were merely sitting at a table after being denied the privilege of being able to use the café’s restroom, were suddenly accosted by police officers called by the café’s manager before being led away. It’s an incredibly depressing story, but one that black Americans and people of color throughout the nation are sorely familiar with.

But Starbucks made amends, right? After all, the company announced that it would be closing its stores across the nation for racial-bias education, in a move that its executives no doubt expected to please the masses. As a matter of fact, however, Starbucks’ paltry efforts to address the issue at the heart of this recent arrest won’t do anything to actually solve racial insensitivity across the nation, and is really nothing more than slap in the face to the millions of Americans who are rightfully outraged by the company’s actions.

First and foremost, mega corporations need to realize that petty PR efforts that only offer up fluffy headlines without addressing the underlying issues of structural racism that still plague society today can’t and won’t be accepted by the broader public as actual, meaningful progress in the fight against inequality and discrimination. There are also plenty of reasons to believe that diversity training initiatives rarely work when implemented, anyway; after all, if your employees have problems with people of color before they start working for your company, there’s little that corporate can do to change their hearts and minds.

Starbucks’ 175,000 employees aren’t likely to walk away from its diversity initiative any wiser, and indeed, the problems that are plaguing people of color around the country will only grow worse if we become complacent with such superficial efforts as these. Mega companies like Starbucks, who command massive fortunes and have the attention of lawmakers thanks to their financial contributions, should start publicly lobbying for actual, policy-based efforts that fight discrimination around the country if they want to make a real difference.

How Starbucks can get it right

Rather than paying lip service to the cries that it’s enabling racism, Starbucks needs to discipline those who are responsible for this gaffe, and issue a public strategy, a little like Frank offers on onlinedimes, that details how the company will make its cafes more welcoming for people of color who are now terrified to enter them. The worst part about this entire fiasco, however, is that there’s relatively little Starbucks can do at all; if we want to address this issue in a meaningful way, the nation has to address the structural racism that continues to beset it from all sides.

While Starbucks is squarely responsible for the recent arrest of these two innocent men, countless Americans and businesses have been complacent in the racist regime that’s enabled such arrest in the first place. Until we do more to collectively address the staggering levels of police brutality against black Americans, for instance, we can expect more innocent coffee drinkers to be taken away in handcuffs for the crime of being in public while black.

If Starbucks doesn’t take steps to ensure that its board of executives is more diverse, and includes more voices from people of disparate backgrounds, and if our broader society doesn’t address economic inequality with more gusto, we should expect to see arrest like this occur again and again. Corporate boards remain incredibly sexist and racist, often being dominated by those who have traditionally held all of the power in our society, and a lack of diversity at the top is trickling down to impact our broader society for the worse.

Diversity is not just about paying lip service to people of color; diversity is about welcoming all people of all backgrounds, and refusing to allow inequality to exist among us. Until Starbucks recognizes and appreciates that, the company’s current PR woes will only grow worse – hopefully, its latte-drinking executives wake up and smell the coffee.

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