Starbucks closed its stores last Tuesday for racial-bias training. They’ve since released their training documents. Some conservatives have been mocking them. As these things go, however, the training wasn’t bad. Sometimes, it was funny:
I was in the café of my store and there was a line of about six people, and I saw a man come in who was kind of scruffy, kind of looked messily dressed and he walked up to a woman who was about halfway in line, and I wasn’t close enough to hear what they were saying but I saw him hold his hand to her and she reached into her purse. And I walked right up to them and I said, “Sir, you cannot panhandle and ask my customers for money in my store,” and the woman looked at me and said, “He is my husband.” (Scenario #2)
But if racial-bias training is a great idea, why limit it to racial bias? After all, as Starbucks notes, bias isn’t always racial; it’s “our brains’ automatic association and processing of negative stereotypes about certain groups of people.”
“Certain groups of people” — like, conservatives? Republicans?
Maybe all major corporations, especially high-tech firms, media companies, and universities should give their employees political-bias training modeled on Starbucks’.
Employers might ask questions like these, modeled on those Starbucks asked:
What was the first time you...
noticed your political identity?
noticed how your politics affected your judgments about attractiveness?
felt your political opinions impacted people's perception of your intelligence or competence?
altered what you said to avoid playing into stereotypes?
had a friend of a different political orientation who regularly visited your home?
felt distracted at work because of external events related to politics?
had a senior role model in your organization with a similar political identity as your own?
wore a political button without comments or questions from others?
felt your political views affected your ability to build a rapport with your manager?
The answers might be interesting.
Here’s another group, modeled on Starbucks’ second set of questions. True or false? When topics with political overtones come up in a conversation at work, I can...
state my opinion and not make the other person feel threatened.
comfortably maintain eye contact and not fear I'm being aggressive.
use my normal gestures and body language without feeling uncomfortable.
expect to be respected even while disagreeing.
give my opinion without feeling judged about my intelligence.
respond to a difficult question directly and not fear my answer will be questioned.
share my accomplishments without someone assuming that I did not earn them myself or otherwise accusing me of “privilege.”
talk about my childhood and not expect others to assume anything about my background.
voice my dissatisfaction with a situation and not be told I'm “too angry.”
They might ask other questions modeled on those posed by Starbucks in a different part of the training:
Who are our employees?
Who are our customers?
What do they need to feel they belong?
Who isn’t here because they don’t feel welcome?
What would they need to feel welcome?
Starbucks’ goal is “to make everyone feel welcome — and deliver a great experience.” That’s admirable.
What if others had that goal, and meant it? What would Google have to do to make conservatives feel comfortable working there? To feel that they belong? What would The New York Times or CNN have to do to attract Republicans to read or watch them? What would universities have to do to make conservatives feel welcome, as students or as faculty members?
Answering those questions wouldn’t be easy. But as far as I can see hardly anyone is even asking them. That tells us a lot about what kinds of bias are and are not considered acceptable in the United States today.
Daniel Bonevac is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. Author of five books, most recently, "Ideas of the Twentieth Century," and editor or co-editor of four others, he has published over 60 articles in professional journals. He has also written for The Washington Post, The Critique, and The American Spectator. His massively open online course, "Ideas of the Twentieth Century," has enrolled over 50,000 students. He is co-founder of BriefLogic, a marketing communication firm. He is also a contemporary Christian musician and songwriter; you can hear his music on his daughter’s debut album, "Transfiguration." To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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