Starbucks’ racial bias training last week has gotten mixed reviews, but Harvard historian Nancy Koehn says the training was a step in the right direction.
She told Boston Public Radio the company was mainly aiming to educate its white baristas about their privilege.
“The African-American and the Latino baristas found it much less effective than the white baristas,” Koehn said during Boston Public Radio today. “A lot of this work is work for white Americans.”
Starbucks held self-guided sessions about racial bias in 8,000 stores. The sessions included a video about how black Americans have struggled for access to public spaces throughout history.
“Imagine how many African-American mothers every day counsel their teenage kids before they go off to work or school about how they will ... navigate public spaces,” Koehn said. “What most white Americans, women or men, do not have is that set of questions on their mental desktop every day.”
The training was announced after two black men were arrested in a Starbucks in Philadelphia.
Koehn said racial bias training is supposed to “liberate” people from their racial biases, which influence the way they act. But, she stressed that progress “doesn’t have to rest on just Starbucks.”
“[People] are getting up [in the morning], not thinking about the many assumptions ... many of us can make instantaneously,” said Koehn.
Nancy Koehn is the James E. Robison chair of business administration at Harvard. Her latest book is “Forged In Crisis: The Power Of Courageous Leadership In Turbulent Times.”