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Starbucks Split: Some Patrons See Bias Training as 'Save Face' Move, Others Give Company 'Credit for Trying'

A sign advising that a Starbucks is closed is posted in the window of a store on New York's West Side on May 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

ARLINGTON, Va. – Starbucks customers told PJM that the company’s decision to close every store on Tuesday for “unconscious bias” training was not necessary.

An employee heading into the 4-hour training session at a location in Pentagon City said he did not think he would learn much there.

“I do think it’s good the whole company is being required to do it because that’s not something that should just be left alone – that’s a big issue. Everyone comes in here all the time. I never say anything to them. They don’t order. They just sit down. It’s fine, regardless of their race or color or anything,” said the employee, who chose to remain anonymous. “I think it’s a good thing – but I don’t know exactly what we’re going to be learning because I already pretty much treat everybody the same, so I don’t really know what I’m going to be learning too much of.”

The employee was asked if he has personally experienced any situations involving unconscious bias while on the job.

“There was this one lady, she was Caucasian, she was banging on the bathroom door for like 15 minutes and then a black lady came out and was like, ‘you need to stop being f’n racist’ but in my head, I’m like, you were in the bathroom behind a locked door, how? How does she know what you were? She just wanted to use the bathroom. I don’t understand that whole situation,” he said.

“[The Caucasian lady] came to me and when I went to go unlock the door, assuming no one was in there, the black lady came out and she was like, ‘all you guys are f’n racists’ but nobody knew who you were. She just needed to use the bathroom. I was just listening to them argue and as the black lady walked out she said, ‘you guys don’t need customers like that’ but, you know, clearly we don’t need customers like you because you did that for no reason,” he added.

A customer who requested anonymity said Starbucks should not have closed every U.S.-based company store to the public on Tuesday afternoon due to the Philadelphia incident. The stores remained closed throughout the rest of the day.

“No, that’s not good at all. Lots of people deal with stuff at work. It’s not only about coffee. It’s about culture, the Wi-Fi, the music, the people, the talk, the relaxation before work or after work and I see in Starbucks everyone working – foreigners, black, white, Asian, Indian and the customer is the same thing. These small issues coming in – it doesn’t need to stop all these good things,” he said.

Marlin from D.C. said the company could have closed the Philadelphia location where the incident occurred as well as other locations that might have had similar instances in the past. He called the decision to close every store “disappointing” for the Starbucks patrons who arrived after 2:30 p.m. to make a purchase but found the doors locked.

“I don’t think all the stores, maybe some of them,” he said.

Amber from Maryland said she has never experienced racism in Starbucks and closing all stores for bias training is just to “save face” after the Philadelphia incident. She said the Philadelphia episode at Starbucks is not reflective of the entire company’s employees.

“No, I really don’t think that this training is going to do anything. I think individual people are going to still feel how they feel. I mean, I think it’s to save face, that’s how I look at it,” she said. “It all goes back to individual people. I mean, Starbucks, it wasn’t in their policy that they need to call the police on people for sitting there, so I think it’s just individual people that feel how they feel so there’s really nothing you can do about that, honestly.”

Raul from D.C. applauded Starbucks for closing on Tuesday despite lost revenue.

“It’s good that they’re addressing the issue. I just hope the training means something and it’s not just for publicity. I think it’s a good idea. You have to at least give them credit for trying, so we’ll see how it works out,” he said.

“I think it’s a good idea they did it everywhere because it’s important everywhere,” he added. “It’s hard to identify where the actual problems are, so I think if everyone is aware, it can’t hurt. I know this is costing them a lot of money, so you’ve got to give it to them that they’re attempting to address the problem.”

Josh from D.C. also agreed with the closure of all stores for the training.

“I think it’s good idea. The reason being is I work in customer service as well and it’s very important to be aware of preconceived notions and to be aware of, specifically, bias when it comes to customer service,” he said. “We live in a world where there’s such a wide variety of people from different backgrounds and sometimes we can even unconsciously go into the workplace with a certain preconceived notion of somebody. So I think it’s important for them to be aware of that and to also be aware of how you might not mean to be bias toward somebody but how you can still be that way. And ethical training is really important, basically, and it’s a form of ethical training.”

Josh said he personally has experienced unconscious bias inside retail stores.

“I’ve seen instances where I’ve personally, you know, as an African-American, I’ve come into an establishment and I’ve felt like I’ve been treated differently. I’ve literally seen instances where I’ve been followed through a store and I’ve witnessed somebody else actually stealing from the store and I’m the one that’s being followed,” he said. “It definitely does happen.”