As an African-American and shareholder in Starbucks, I don’t condone what occurred at the Philadelphia Starbucks. At the same time, this incident doesn’t surprise me. There are still elements of implicit bias that permeate our society and will not disappear anytime soon.
I know that the ignorance of one individual employee at Starbucks is not shared by the entire organization. This particular white employee, and any other white Starbucks employees who harbor racial animosity, are byproducts of their upbringings within an imperfect American society.
I don’t expect much to come from one afternoon of racial bias training, but at least Starbucks is doing more than the average American corporation. I applaud this as a member of a protected class in America and as a Starbucks stockholder. Our biases as humans are cured through lived experiences, teachable moments and time. However, I don’t think the proposed architects of this forthcoming racial bias training curriculum should be absolute. Nor do I believe picketing Starbucks without a comprehensive agenda is going to create any real outcomes favorable to the issue at hand.
Here are two approaches that I think are better prescriptions for this problem. One is for Starbucks on a local level, and the other is for African-Americans as a group.
First, Starbucks should have given district stores an option on how they can address racial bias training. Across the country, there are local organizations that are dedicated to social justice on a daily basis. For example, the Penumbra Theatre Company, under the auspices of Sarah Bellamy, offers Race Workshops to local companies, schools and organizations that are looking to address implicit biasness in their workplace and in their lives.
Using the philosophies of the great Brazilian theater practitioner Augusto Boal, the workshops allow participants to be “spect-actors” rather than spectators to social injustices. A finished product, the Penumbra Race Workshops have been used and endorsed by Minnesota companies and organizations.
Second, I don’t think protesting and boycotting Starbucks is productive. I bet many of those protesting don’t realize the remarkable achievements of Starbucks, when compared with other major corporations, in regard to race and gender. These accomplishments will continue to add to the growth and profitability of the company in years to come. They are building the ecosystem that corporate America should model. The Starbucks executive leadership team and store employees reflect their clientele while creating great returns for shareholders.
For example, the chief operating officer of Starbucks, Rosalind Brewer, a historically black colleges and universities graduate, is an African-American woman who may be in the line of succession to run Starbucks in the future. She is followed by five other senior executives at Starbucks who are African-American. Mellody Hobson, a renowned Wall Street executive who leads Ariel Investments, is a director on the Starbucks board. NBA legend and serial entrepreneur Magic Johnson collaborated with Starbucks to ensure there was a company presence in underdeveloped neighborhoods by buying and building more than 100 Starbucks franchises across the country.
Former CEO and current Chairman Howard Schultz attempted to tackle racial injustice a few years ago but didn’t receive the support he needed to sustain the campaign.
Lastly, 40 percent of Starbucks employees are minorities. To me, this is an impressive track record for a corporation that is the fifth-most-admired company in the world.
With that said, I think a better solution is for African-Americans to buy stock in Starbucks. Be an owner! This is a contrarian idea but I believe is a more potent approach. As a shareholder, you have a say in the affairs of the company. You can attend the annual shareholder meetings and voice your opinion. A shareholder can correspond with management, petition for corporate records and file lawsuits against the corporation.
To boycott the company, especially without considering all of the Starbucks record on racial equity, would be turning our backs to the 40 percent racial minorities workforce and the senior black executives employed with the company. Starbucks is on the verge of espousing the values we have been asking corporate America to embrace.
Shareholder activism, in this case, goes further in the 21st century than picket signs and social media hashtags.
Duane Johnson lives in St. Paul.