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Does Starbucks Understand the Science of Racial Bias?

The Atlantic

As the idea of implicit bias has permeated our culture, an entire industry has sprung up, like mushrooms after rain, to conduct trainings meant to raise awareness of the problem and counteract it. But few of the implicit-bias trainings that are now de rigueur have been rigorously evaluated. Many don’t measure their own impact. In fact, many don’t establish concrete goals at all. The approach is akin to whipping up an elixir to treat a disease, and then dispensing it to patients without ever assessing its effects—or even deciding what its effects should be. [...]

There are signs Starbucks is, perhaps, rapidly gaining an appreciation for the complexity of this task. The company has, in three weeks, moved from its original announcement of a day of implicit-bias training, in collaboration with advisors including Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP, and Heather McGhee of Demos, to a description of comprehensive reform, and, according to McGhee, a commitment to identifying metrics and ongoing monitoring and evaluation. When I spoke with McGhee, she told me that the advisors have also connected Starbucks with social scientists who focus on this domain. “We all knew there is specialized knowledge; there are people who have dedicated their lives to this who need to be consulted,” she said. The company’s most recent public announcement states it will be working specifically with experts in antibias training. [...]

Starbucks has run into trouble with an ambitious race-related initiative before; its 2015 “Race Together” campaign was immediately and heavily criticized. But McGhee’s description of the May 29 event as a “launch” suggests that this time Starbucks is taking a more deliberate approach. [...]

If Starbucks does take this work seriously, the company has an unusual opportunity—an opportunity, as McGhee put it, to answer the question, “What does it truly mean to be an anti-racist institution?”