Experts: Starbucks training first step in confronting bias

Starbucks, trying to put to rest an outcry over the arrest of two black men at one of its stores, is closing more than 8,000 stores this afternoon of anti-bias training, a strategy some believe can keep racism at bay.

After the arrests in Philadelphia last month, the coffee chain’s leaders apologized and met with the two men, but also reached out to activists and experts in bias training to put together a curriculum for its 175,000 workers.

That has put a spotlight on the little-known world of “unconscious bias training,” which is used by many corporations, police departments and other organizations to help address racism in the workplace. The training is typically designed to get people to open up about implicit biases and stereotypes in encountering people of color, gender or other identities.

The Perception Institute, a consortium of researchers consulting with Starbucks, defines implicit bias as attitudes — positive or negative — or stereotypes someone has toward a person or group without being conscious of it. A common example, according to some of its studies, is a tendency for white people to unknowingly associate black people with criminal behavior.

Many retailers, including Walmart and Target, said they offer some racial bias training. Target says it plans to expand that training. Nordstrom has said it plans to enhance its training after issuing an apology to three black teenagers in Missouri who employees falsely accused of shoplifting.

Anti-bias sessions can incorporate personal reflections, explorations of feelings and mental exercises. But one expert says training of this kind can have the opposite effect if people feel judged.

In the Philadelphia incident, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were asked to leave after one was denied access to the bathroom. They were arrested by police minutes after they sat down to await a business meeting.

Nelson and Robinson settled with Starbucks this month for an undisclosed sum and an offer of a free education. They also reached a deal with the city of Philadelphia for a symbolic $1 each and a promise from officials to establish a $200,000 program for young entrepreneurs.