Starbucks anti-bias training is 'Racism 101' and will accomplish little, writer says

Anti-bias training that is being provided by Starbucks to its employees in Canada on Monday afternoon is really "Racism 101" and the global coffee giant should have looked at work done by community activists when it drew up its curriculum, says a Toronto writer.

Andray Domise says training doesn't go far enough, employees need to confront biases

Andray Domise, pictured here, says anti-bias training being provided by Starbucks to its employees in Canada on Monday is really "Racism 101" and the global coffee giant should have looked at work done by community activists when it drew up its curriculum. (CBC)

Anti-bias training being provided by Starbucks to its employees in Canada on Monday is really "Racism 101" and the global coffee giant should have looked at work done by community activists when it drew up its curriculum, says a Toronto writer.

Andray Domise, a contributing editor at Maclean's Magazine, says the curriculum that Starbucks has published online is oriented toward feelings, not action, and will likely serve to create confusion instead of clarity.

Starbucks is closing about 1,100 Canadian locations on Monday afternoon for training on race, bias and inclusion.

Domise said he would like to say "it's a start," but noted that racism has had centuries to oppress people and the Starbucks anti-bias training will do little.

"My first reaction was: I hope this is not a joke. And when I had a look at their training materials and I found out it was going to be a one-day training, I thought: this absolutely is a joke," Domise said.

"My opinion on that hasn't changed at all."

Anti-black racism advocates could have given precise direction to Starbucks, he added.

Confronting racist biases, beliefs and attitudes within oneself is far more useful than taking an inventory of feelings, he said. The training material includes an agenda, guidebook, personal notebook and 21 videos. He said it doesn't go far enough. 
A woman is reflected in the window at the Pike Place Market Starbucks shortly after it closed for the day on May 29 in Seattle. Starbucks is closing Canadian locations Monday to conduct anti-bias training, one of the steps the company is taking to try to restore its tarnished image as a hangout where all are welcome. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

'I don't think we need proof that racism exists,' Domise says

"What I saw was very a basic racism 101 conversation," he said.

"It wasn't an anti-racism training. It seemed to me like a training that teaches people: 'Hey, racism exists.' I don't think we need any more proof that racism exists. I don't think we need to sit down and have conversations explaining to people that this is a thing that happens. We know it happens.

"If you're a black person and you walk around in black skin in North America, you know racism is a thing that exists."

In a letter to customers, Starbucks Canada president Michael Conway said the training will involve sharing experiences, listening to experts, reflecting on the realities of bias in society and talking about how employees can create public spaces where everyone feels like they belong.

The training comes after the Seattle-based company publicly apologized for the April arrest of two black men who had been refused permission to use the washroom of a Starbucks coffee shop in Philadelphia. 
Rashon Nelson, left, and Donte Robinson, right, both 23, settled with Philadelphia, weeks after being arrested at a local Starbucks. (Jacqueline Larma/Associated Press)

In his letter, Conway called the incident "reprehensible" and said the training isn't just about what happened in Philadelphia, but about humanity and making sure all customers feel safe and welcome.

The training sessions at the Canadian Starbucks stores were slated to begin at 3 p.m.

In late May, 8,000 U.S. locations were shut for an afternoon for similar training.

Domise said Starbucks could have taken a page from Toronto educator Roopa Cheema, who has a master of education in social justice education from the University of Toronto focusing on anti-colonialism and anti-racism.

She holds lectures and discussions on race, power and privilege.

On her website, Cheema asks of organizations interested in her services: "Are you interested in social justice? Do you (or your school, business, or organization) want to gain a deeper understanding of how race, power, and privilege operate in our society? Do you desire to make spaces more equitable? Are you trying to make sense of what is happening in our world?" 
Starbucks is closing about 1,100 Canadian locations on Monday afternoon for training on race, bias and inclusion. (Michael Conroy/Associated Press)

She offers a four-hour presentation as a "primer to understanding how white supremacy, anti-Blackness, and anti-Indigeneity operate and function in our society."

Domise said Starbucks needs to engage in more than just public relations to ensure its stores are welcoming of all peoples and cultures.

With files from Muriel Draaisma, Adrian Cheung, The Canadian Press