For a half a day, Starbucks closed over 8,000 of its stores across the United States to address discrimination by training 175,000 of its workers on unconscious bias. This all started as a result of the recent, inappropriate arrest of two African-American men sitting in a Philadelphia store without buying anything. Although this is a common occurrence in Starbucks stores, the manager judged them based on their appearance and called the police.
Some have questioned whether an afternoon training would really make a difference. We all have biases that we’re unaware of most of the time and eliminating them would be an extremely difficult task. On top of this, Starbucks stands to lose up to $12 million as a result of the short closure. But the Chairman of Starbucks sees it from a different perspective. He remarked, “This is not an expense. This is an investment in our people, in our way of life, in our culture and our values.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired us to see that if we are to live without judging our differences, whether they are variations in race, religion, age or sexual orientation, we must see ourselves as our true identity: as children of God. This sounds simple but it’s not necessarily easy. Our judgments and implicit biases stem from an automatic embedding of subconscious stereotypes. If we are to cease judging by appearances and see each other’s true selves, we must first bring this false teaching to light. Only when we become aware of it can we make a different choice.
When I was in law school there was a member of my class who had a thick southern accent and a view of the world very distinct from my own. Our background and experiences could not have been more different, and I automatically assumed he held racial animus toward me and other people not like him. But as we worked in the same groups throughout our course of study, I got to know him very well and realized he was open minded and supportive of all people that crossed his path. He ended up being an outstanding human rights attorney. My judgement of him was based on what I had subconsciously accepted about people who looked like him, talked like him and grew up where he did. This experience taught me to stop and ask, “Is what I believe really true?” To bring an unconscious judgment or bias to the surface, it is critical to confront our perceptions with this question.
While the leadership at Starbucks recognizes that an afternoon training is not a panacea that will eliminate the biases its employees or any of us hold, they know it is a start. Starbucks made the decision to take an important step toward the aspirational goal of achieving awareness and values reflective of an inclusive company and society. As spiritual beings, it is our prerogative to follow suit.
Peace and Blessings,