Is Starbucks the Tipping Point to End Racial Profiling?

The Tipping Point

You would have to be hiding under a rock to not feel the seismic repercussions from the Starbucks Philadelphia racial profiling video. 2 Men Arrested at Starbucks This incident saddens me on many levels. As an African American woman, it pains me to see innocent black men have their human rights violated. This video captures what happens to many people of color in restaurants and other service industries.  In this case, a Starbucks service worker accuses these young men of loitering because they had not purchased food yet and has them arrested. Meanwhile, white patrons doing the same thing are not singled out. This is inexcusable.  Whether these men order a flat white or sit, they should be treated equally by Starbucks baristas.

Mission and Values

As a former Starbucks executive, I can still recite the company’s mission statement. “To inspire and nurture the human spirit-one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” I know my former partners work hard to live these values and don’t believe this incident reflects their beliefs. However, I am disappointed that Starbucks failed to respond faster and take more decisive action. So how did Starbucks go from hero to goat in less than 24 hours? The answer lies in the changing attitudes towards racial profiling. To improve, Starbucks must return to the community and come out of its corner of the world and engage in more active listening.  Starbucks executives need to understand the fear, hostility and micro aggression in our communities. There is a perfect storm brewing in this country. It is the revolution, but unlike the Gil Scott-Heron’s song, it will be televised.

On your hand-held device, on your lap-top, on your watch, anywhere you are and everywhere you go, judgment will be swift and mighty. When technology is paired with systemic racial and sexual discrimination that is proliferated from the highest echelons in this country, it can create a tipping point. We will no longer stand by and watch our sons jailed or worse for simply breathing, talking and walking. These young men were publicly humiliated, arrested and jailed for nine hours and we know from experience, that anything could have happened to them in police custody. Their lives have been forever changed. Why? Because one Starbucks partner interpreted store policy through their filter of bias.

Stay Woke

Starbucks is not alone in facing these challenges. Consumer racial profiling and its impact on “dining while Black” in this country is well documented.  Scholars have noted that racial discrimination arises from firmly embedded cognitive biases that result in subtle but damaging behaviors (Brewster, Lynn, Cocroft 2014). I can certainly attest to being ignored and having less attentive and engaging waiters versus white diners in the same serving area. I also know that feeling of  being “tracked” from the time I enter a store as though I am about to steal something.

So many times I feel like Peter Finch in the movie Network and I just want to scream his words “All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. (shouting) You’ve got to say: ‘I’m a human being, god-dammit! My life has value!’ That is what #blacklivesmatter means to me and from the tweets on social media, I am not alone. So what can we do to help corporations get it right?


Take Action

Here is a quick check list of actions companies can do to demonstrate their commitment to cultural competency and eliminating racial profiling.

  1. Show compassion and care for the victims. Yes, victims. The young men in Philadelphia and others like them are victims of racial profiling and they should be acknowledged, heard and respected. CEOs should meet with them and hear their stories. Walk in their shoes. Apologize, and follow with swift action.
  2. Send a stronger signal that this behavior will not be tolerated and suspend or fire the employee. Close the store immediately until new sensitivity and micro aggression training have been implemented. Once that is completed, review and update training materials and policies to reflect the learning and shift in local attitudes. Failure to do this can leave companies and their brands vulnerable.
  3. Conduct a gap analysis on your mission and values. Do your people, processes and policies truly reflect company values? Are you asking the right questions to evaluate this metric? Do you include the data in the scorecard used to run your business? Do you pay attention to your recruiting and hiring practices for unconscious bias? If not, you have room to improve.
  4. Foster community partnerships. Designate regional community affairs leaders to build relationships, keep pulse of issues and maintain relevancy at the local level. Ideally these partnerships should be proactive, fostered as part of your community strategy.
  5. Find best practices. Reach out to other companies and locations and learn what’s working. Communication and solidarity is key to fighting racial profiling.

Final Thoughts

Starbucks will rise above this and when I look in my community I know it can work. I live in New Rochelle, NY. One of the most diverse towns in Westchester County where the local Starbucks is truly a community gathering place. I have never seen anyone accused of loitering or forced to buy food just to use the facilities.  Adults and teens bring their laptops, and baby carriages and socialize without fear of being asked to leave.  Although 60% of the community is white, my baristas are black, people of color who know how to run that store and make everyone feel welcomed. I hope Starbucks will take a stronger stand on racial profiling and engage the restaurant industry leaders in solving this problem.  I also hope they reach out to other companies and share knowledge, examine hiring practices and hire more diverse and better partners.


This blog is not affiliated with any company or organization and solely represents my opinions.




8 Responses to “Is Starbucks the Tipping Point to End Racial Profiling?

  • T Renee Crutcher
    3 years ago

    I was so waiting on your reply and even posted something about you without using your name. Your opinion matters and I pray your work there and this gets their notice to do the right thing!

    • CeciliakCarter
      3 years ago

      Thank you as always for your support! We must always use our voices to help make change happen. You can count on me!

  • Ona Lewis
    3 years ago

    I think Starbucks still needs your talents and abilities, perhaps as a consultant, Ceci. Turns out there is another YouTube video in which they called the police on a person of color for doing nothing. In another video they charged a pregnant African American woman $2 to use the ladies room.

  • Cynthia
    3 years ago

    Well written. Thank you for your swift response and recommendations forward. I am still at a loss; not sure if I want to ever support SBUX again.

  • Mary Morgan
    3 years ago

    Thank you, again, CC, for your writing. I am heart-broken about this incident and so many others. I expect more from Starbucks as well. Are you also posting your recommendations on Facebook, or somewhere else that they can be shared? You are an enlightened voice for the corporate, as well as the larger world.

    • CeciliakCarter
      3 years ago

      Hi Mary, yes I have posted on Facebook and LinkedIn to share widely. I am glad to see the training happening. At least it is a start. I most care about the victims of this racial profiling. We must call this what it is and why it happened and focus on their pain too.

  • K Green
    3 years ago

    This is so on point and a very sound strategic approach for consideration and analysis. Outstanding piece !!

    • CeciliakCarter
      3 years ago

      Thanks! Means much coming from you!!! I am glad they are training and making it available to others. Like I said, this is the tipping point!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *