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A MODERN HISTORY LESSON

Watch the short film Starbucks showed employees to teach them about racial bias

An employee puts up a sign at a closed Starbucks coffee shop where they are closing 8,000 company owned American stores at
Reuters/Brendan McDermid
Starbucks is now sharing its racial bias training materials.
  • Lila MacLellan
By Lila MacLellan

Quartz at Work reporter

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

In April, a video showing two black men being arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks, when they had done nothing but sit inside one of the coffee shops without buying anything, triggered outrage and boycotts across the country. The company, known for espousing progressive, inclusive principles, reacted swiftly, announcing plans to close its US shops for an afternoon and supply all of its US employees with racial-bias training.

The four-hour sessions, involving 175,000 workers at 8,000 locations, had employees and managers reportedly working in small groups to discuss their experience of race, and studying issues like implicit bias. The company also aired Story of Access, a short film by Emmy award-winning documentary maker Stanley Nelson, creator of The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution and Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities.

The seven-minute video puts the Philadelphia incident, and others like it, in context, with film clips depicting America’s long history of civil rights abuses in public spaces. The film features moving monologues from black Americans who describe the emotional toll of having to live their lives aware that others see them as a threat, and the effort it takes to put store managers or security guards at ease, whether through nonverbal signals or their physical appearance.

“Just leaving the house some days, it’s enough to just keep you at home. Just keep you away from everything,” says one man.

“I feel like I’m disturbing people by just being there,” says another.

Judging from the reaction on Twitter, Nelson’s film struck a chord:

Starbucks has since made the film available to the public, on YouTube. Watch it below:

Starbucks has called the day of training a mere step toward building a safer space for all of its customers. The company is planning additional training and other events, according to NPR, which also reports that even the creators of the May 29 training program have admitted that training alone has limitations.

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