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Getting To The Heart Of Racial Bias Takes Talking, Workplace Trainer Says


So how exactly can your neighborhood coffee store shut down for a few hours and then reopen with a little less bias? That's what Starbucks proposes to do after a much publicized arrest of two black men at a Starbucks in Philadelphia. Here's Simone Alicea of KNKX in Seattle.

SIMONE ALICEA, BYLINE: Just the idea of corporate racial sensitivity training may bring to mind horror stories like that episode of "The Office" where manager Michael Scott hijacks Dunder Mifflin's Diversity Day.


STEVE CARELL: (As Michael Scott) You know what? Here's what we're going to do. Why don't we go around, and everybody - everybody - say a race that you are attracted to sexually.

ALICEA: The cringe factor is why Eric Davis uses that episode in workplace training he offers. He plays the whole thing.

ERIC DAVIS: It makes others in the room say, OK, wow. I'm not that bad. (Laughter). OK, I'm not Michael Scott. So it breaks down folks' barriers. It removes some of the angst.

ALICEA: Davis teaches sociology at Bellevue College near Seattle. He teaches about implicit bias and how it manifests. He says whether it's in an academic setting or a corporate training, getting to the heart of racial bias takes practice and talking.

DAVIS: Conversing with one another, empathizing with one another, seeing the other person as an extension of yourself.


DAVIS: Others?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: First of all, was a very powerful presentation.

ALICEA: Davis gives other lectures that incorporate anti-bias training, too. In a Q&A posted on YouTube, a woman says his talk made her reflect on biases in her life and ask new questions.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: And what I'm starting to come to is, instead of asking the question, why aren't we learning from what we did before, we need to change that question. What can I do to make it different?

ALICEA: He says his goal in a corporate training is to get people talking about their own culture before exploring notions of privilege and recognizing how they might reinforce divisions in a workplace.


UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: Philadelphia police. Officer 363. How may I help you?

HOLLY HYLTON: Hi. I have two gentlemen in my cafe that are refusing to make a purchase or leave.

ALICEA: This is a moment Starbucks has disavowed at the highest level. Starbucks executive chair Howard Schultz and CEO Kevin Johnson have said the white manager was wrong to call the police on two black men waiting for their friend. Last week, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross apologized in a press conference for previous comments saying officers did nothing wrong in the Starbucks incident.


RICHARD ROSS JR: The issue of race in this situation is not lost on me. The optics are not lost on me. I just think that as we work to make this city safer and better, we do have to acknowledge that there are still things that we have to work on.

ALICEA: Starbucks was even more direct on Twitter, saying racial discrimination is, quote, "a reality our customers face both within and outside our stores." The company said that to explain and defend its decision to give anti-bias training. For NPR News, I'm Simone Alicea in Seattle. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Simone Alicea