Kudos to Starbucks, but it's going to take more than a workshop to end racial bias | Jenice Armstrong

Starbucks closed 8,000 stores nationwide to give employees racial bias training.

I know about racial bias.

I’m reminded of just how insidious it is each time I fire up my computer and read all the racist emails that fill my inbox.

I’m reminded of it whenever I listen to the vile voicemail messages readers leave.

I’m reminded of it each time I ignore the oft-repeated journalistic warning to “never read the comments” and peek at all the racial insults and prejudice spewed in the comments section on Philly.com.

Racial animus is as American as apple pie and football, and there’s nothing anyone or any corporation or any government can do about it. It’s what this country was founded upon when it was organized by hypocrites who had the nerve to pay lip service to notions of liberty and independence from Great Britain while enslaving Africans.

Camera icon JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
A Starbucks staff member tapes a message to the door of the Starbucks in Bala Cynwyd, letting customers know that the store would be closed the rest of the day, on Tuesday, May 29, 2018, as part of Starbucks’ new implicit bias training.

So although I applaud the bold step that Starbucks took Tuesday by closing 8,000 stores to conduct mandatory implicit bias training, a workshop will only move the proverbial needle so far.

In four hours of training, you can’t change deeply embedded notions of racial superiority that most people aren’t even aware they have.

In four hours, you can’t dismantle the white privilege that exists in this country arising from institutions, laws, and practices that were set in motion before the nation was even founded.

In four hours, you can’t change the deeply held belief of the masses that there are certain people who are somehow second class and criminally suspect.

In four hours, you can’t stop the unconscious reflex to summon the police on African Americans for being black in “white” spaces, as those two men were in that Center City Starbucks on April 12.

Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, both 23, were arrested after sitting at a Starbucks at 18th and Spruce Streets without buying anything. A manager called police after they refused to leave. Both were arrested but later released. No charges were filed. Thank goodness a bystander videotaped what went down. Otherwise it would have been their word against Starbucks and the police, and whom do you think the world would have believed? No shade to Starbucks intended. The coffee chain has since apologized and settled with the two men for an undisclosed sum.

Camera icon DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer
Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson visits Philadelphia Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson, who stopped by the newsroom  Tuesday, is doing a yeoman’s job by having difficult conversations — internally and externally —  about racial bias in America.

Starbucks may well become a national model for how to get employees talking about their racial prejudices. This is a snippet from a handout provided to Starbucks employees Tuesday as part of their implicit bias training:

“To help us function, our brains take shortcuts. When shortcuts are applied to the characteristics, traits and behaviors of a certain group of people, they are called stereotypes.”

It’s a step, right? But the ugly truth about racism is that it’s almost impossible to change people’s minds or to get them to drop their racial prejudices. I’m a believer that nothing will really change until old bigots and the people they influence die out.

I can only hope and pray that future generations won’t be as tainted as those that preceded them and that the world around them will support this new world view. Then and only then will America have lived up to the grand words our founders signed off on in the Declaration of Independence, which said, in part, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal …”

I don’t think I’ll live to see it. But I’m hopeful for the children of my nieces and nephews, or maybe their offspring.

So, thank you, Starbucks, for taking, as Johnson said Tuesday, “one step in the journey” and helping this country begin some much-needed dialogue around the topic of race.