10 Things Starbucks Could Do to Combat Racism

By Jeff Adachi

Since a video depicting the arrest of two black men at a Starbucks went viral, Starbucks has issued a written apology, CEO Kevin Johnson has met with the men, the store manager who called the police has been fired, and the business announced it will close 8,000 stores May 29 for racial bias training. This is a great start. So what else could a global company valued at $50 billion do to combat racism?  Plenty, but here is a list of 10 ways to begin:

  1. Give their employees the experience of volunteering with anti-racist organizations and participating in diversity exercises with the public they serve. These activities could include discussing racism with children and customers, or inviting people to join them online to take Harvard’s Implicit Association Test or learn about civil rights history using iCivics.
  2. In 2015, Starbucks launched a campaign titled “Race Together” to encourage discussions of race through stickers and writing on coffee cups. The company pulled the plug on the campaign in a week after receiving criticism and mockery on social media. It’s time to bring it back.
  3. While no one can speak for the two men when it comes to fair compensation for being falsely arrested, accused of a crime and jailed for nine hours, Starbucks should make a large donation in the name of the charity of each man’s choice. In addition, Starbucks can donate to other organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, NAACP, Black Lives Matter, and other groups that have worked to mitigate racism in the U.S.   Starbucks can devote a portion of its sales to benefit such organizations for a period of time.
  4. Create a new training program using the experience of the two men arrested in a Starbucks as a teaching tool. Document how the employees react to the training, and how further incidents like this could be avoided by treating all customers with respect. Require all employees to undergo implicit bias training and to take the Implicit Association Test.
  5. Invest in programs and projects that help Americans understand how racism affects our daily lives, choices and access to the basic things we need to survive and thrive as human beings. From the arts, to documentary films, to student leadership programs, Starbucks could help produce programming to educate Americans on the impact of having positive race relations. Grants could be awarded to organizations willing to take on this work, similar to how Starbucks’ Opportunity for All initiative in 2017 provided educational opportunities for young people.
  6. Provide a physical space where ordinary people of all ethnic backgrounds can hear different perspectives on race. Panel discussions, neighbor meetups or film screenings open up new ideas and allow people to find common ground on tough issues.
  7. Explore strategic partnerships with organizations dedicated to showcasing African American excellence as well as telling the difficult history of police-minority interaction, such as the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
  8. Recruit and hire formerly incarcerated people who have firsthand experience with the perils of overpolicing, racial profiling, and mass incarceration. In addition to providing jobs to people who most need them, this expands the perspective of coworkers and the general public. And people with this sort of insight don’t call the police on customers.
  9. Provide clarification, consistency and transparency surrounding policies so that everyone knows customer service does not include profiling and policing customers or unnecessarily involving law enforcement in non-criminal matters.
  10. Providing education for all employees on the overcriminalization of America, which puts well-meaning citizens—particularly black men—in danger of being arrested for innocuous conduct.

Starbucks has demonstrated a particular genius at getting millions of people all over the world to drink their coffee. Imagine if it applied the same acumen to constantly reinventing ways to combat bias.

Jeff Adachi is the San Francisco Public Defender

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Keith O

    In 2015, Starbucks launched a campaign titled “Race Together” to encourage discussions of race through stickers and writing on coffee cups. The company pulled the plug on the campaign in a week after receiving criticism and mockery on social media. It’s time to bring it back.

    Terrible idea, people don’t go to Starbucks for that, they go because they want a cup of coffee.

    This is just an isolated incident, it’s not ingrained in Starbuck’s culture.  If anything Starbucks has been accused of being too liberal as has been shown over the years with incidents with conservative customers.  As usual the left has decided to never let a good crisis go to waste and is way overplaying this latest event.

  2. Tia Will


    This is just an isolated incident”

    This is incorrect. It is not an isolated incident. There is now documented on video an incident in which a white man, having made no purchase yet was given the code to the 
    restroom, while a black man was denied the code having not yet made a purchase. A third incident is claimed, but not on video. 

    I believe that the “Race Together” is a great idea. I support any company that recognizes that it has a problem with racism ( or that the country does) and works in ways that are not antithetical to its mission ( such as writing on cups/napkins/stickers) to call attention to the issue. Instead of boycotting, I would be much more likely to support such a company. And I drink a lot of coffee.

    1. Keith O

      Starbucks has found that by pushing these social justice initiatives they have hurt their sales.  Recently they ousted their liberal CEO for his activism.  He also initiated the hire a refugee program that backfired on the company.  Starbucks would be much wiser just to sell coffee and leave the politics out.

      1. Tia Will


        Sometimes, even in business, there are issues that are more important than just the money. I am thinking of the historic lunch counter “sit ins” in the south. If we decide who can use a restroom, or who can sit down while awaiting a friend based on the color of their skin, we have not come far from who can use the front door and who must use the back. I think Starbucks is at the place where they need to transcend the “color differential” for reasons that go far beyond profit.

  3. John Hobbs

    I drink a lot of coffee too, Tia. I think Starbucks response is fantastic and smart. Businesses responsive to their community engender trust and respect in their customers. I don’t go out for coffee that often, but will make a point of stopping by my local Starbucks next time I’m shopping nearby.

  4. Tia Will


    I’m in DC right now. Unable to make my own local Pepper Peddler coffee at home. Business social policies definitely affect my purchasing decisions.

      1. Tia Will


        Now it is interesting to hear that you also make purchasing decisions based on social policy, but feel that Starbucks should not be engaging in politics. Do you see it as equally unwise for a right leaning business to let their views be known knowing that liberals would be less likely to support their business? It would seem in a liberal leaning city such as Davis it would be a wiser decision for Starbucks than for example Chick Fil A or perhaps even Ace.

      2. Keith O

        It’s not just a local decision to do social justice campaigns, it’s national.  Starbucks will lose customers and they know it.  After the last few times they tried to send out messages their sales went down so they backed off.

        1. Tia Will

          After the last few times they tried to send out messages their sales went down so they backed off.”

          And that is a shame. I wish their executives had the courage of their supposed convictions. If the lunch counters of the south had done the same, would we still have seating for whites only with POC getting their food at the back door, because of course their money was the same color green?  And if you think that is not present in America today, I suggest watching this from Macon, Georgia:


  5. David Greenwald

    A few points to consider. I frequently meet people at coffee shops and often I will grab a table or use the restroom prior to their arrival and then purchase coffee at the same time as they.

    I, a white man, has frequently used Starbucks restrooms without ordering. I’ve never been questioned.

    I, a white man, has often sat down at a table at Starbucks and other establishments, usually to wait for a friend before ordering, I have never even been questioned.

    Is this isolated as some suggest?  Talking to people of color in the last week – it seems most have very different experiences than me.

    You may argue that Starbucks was within their rights to ask them to leave, but are those rules equally enforced or are they enforced only to keep undesirables out? Because if it’s the latter, then just like the poll tax, that’s where the racial issue comes into play.

    1. Alan Miller

      > I, a white man, has frequently used Starbucks restrooms without ordering. I’ve never been questioned.

      Not sure your point.  I was by the restroom in the new dowtown Sac Starbucks last week, and many homeless people of different skin tones came in without paying and used the restroom and no one stopped them.  They had someone frequently cleaning the restrooms.

      Quite annoying sidenote:  Starbucks has initiated a policy of removing all, and I mean ALL, electrical plugs within public reach in their urban stores that have a problem with homeless people.  They don’t acknowledge it as such, but I’ve done some digging on the internet and talking to employees and its pretty clear they had a problem with homeless people coming in and charging their devices.  Me, I just have a laptop with a sh*tty battery.  Even more annoying is there is no list of which stores have had their plugs removed — I contacted central Starbucks and asked, and they won’t release the list.

      So F— Starbucks.

  6. Tia Will


    I have never even been questioned.”

    As a white women, I have had the same set of experiences you have described. The only time I have ever been “questioned” is an employee asking me if they can bring me anything, such as water, while I wait, if I am not yet ready to order. Having never been a POC, I cannot confirm that a they are not treated the same, but I strongly suspect that my “white privilege” is coming into play.


  7. Richard Keefe

    “Starbucks can donate to other organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center…”
    The Southern Poverty Law Center’s latest online tax return shows that the company received $136 million dollars in tax-free donations in 2017, up from $50 million the year before.
    The IRS Form 990 also shows that the SPLC now has more than $477 million dollars in cash on hand, 98% of which is classified as “unrestricted” in use.
    In short, the SPLC doesn’t need the money at the moment. Your local food bank, women’s shelter, free medical clinic, even your local SPCA could do so much more with your gift.
    Giving more money to a private advocacy group with nearly half a BILLION in cash on hand really amounts to little more than empty virtue-signaling.
    Give locally, where the need is greater and where you can see the results firsthand. Give where you can make a real difference.

  8. Howard P

    Tempest in an expresso machine…

    Looking at all the problems in the world, this country, this state, this county, this city… less than a spit in the ocean…

    Yet, look at the number of comments, and the self-righteousness… both ends of the bell curve…

    Reminds me of the “brutal pre-meditated murder”/”accidental discharge, no intent, of a randomly found gun”, (in SF, no less), that got played up to be a reason why all illegal immigrants have to be rounded up, or why we need to be a “sanctuary state”…

    Enjoy self-pleasuring yourselves…

  9. Jeff M

    8000 stores.  238,000 employees.  One employee is an idiot and is fired.  The CEO apologizes directly to the customers mistreated.  And that should be enough.  Except for the social justice activist not having enough to fill their day with meaning.

    Did you hear that San Francisco is the third liberal city to tell Chick-fill-A they are not welcome?

    Liberals politicize everything.  It is what they do.

    1. Keith O

      Right Jeff, not to mention how many miilions of customers they deal with everyday.

      Liberals have to try and make hay out of every isolated incident.


    2. Howard P

      Liberals politicize everything.  It is what they do.

      True… and uber-conservatives tend to push back big time… it is what they do…

      Moderates tend to push back against uber-liberals and uber-conservatives… it is what we do…

  10. Alan Miller

    By the way, a laundry list of every possible perceived cure for Starbucks racism isn’t a very interesting or helpful article.  How about some basics at least first, such as why they were arrested, the other side of the story, and where this took place . . .

      1. Howard P

        What Alan said… context is important… the fact it is an “op-ed”, doesn’t move the football…

        Lay the problem with the author of the op-ed…

  11. Dave Hart

    Here is the link to a CNN interview with the person who shot the video that ultimately went viral https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVKZqbzDUl4 and sparked .  There is no question that white privilege is invisible to those who refuse to acknowledge it.  That is not debatable.  To pretend that white privilege does not exist or is somehow an artificial social creation should be embarrassing to anyone who would say that in writing or out loud; but, that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t or shouldn’t be embarrassed for you.

    1. Howard P

      To pretend the clip shows what the situation was is disingenious…  only shows the aftermath… even the woman interviewed admits she has no knowledge of what led up to the police arriving…

      And yet, based on “evidence”, Adachi has a ten-step program set out, and people are saying that would be a minimum… go figure…

      Damn good thing Adachi is a public defender, rather than a prosecutor… he’d make Reisig look like a rank amateur (according to some)… I smell “overcharging”… and cowardly, in that it is done thru the media, and not with filing of charges…

      Really had no intention of posting other than my first, but the BS is becoming smothering…

      I don’t pretend to know what the precipitating events were… nor does anyone else commenting/opining…

      Far less ‘evidence’ than the Cenario thing…

      1. Dave Hart

        If one doesn’t believe that the earth is round but does believe it is flat, it’s not debatable that you are a flat earther.  But if you want to debate that, I guess it’s possible to do so in the mirror. But if I found you debating yourself in the mirror, not sure I’d be embarrassed for you or just laugh.

  12. Joel Shandling

    The manager of that Starbucks was an African American. The men were asked to make purchases or leave. Many cafes have that rule, especially in locations where people take advantage of the space intended for and supported by paying customers.

    These rules are not meant to be enforced on a militaristic basis. They are meant to prevent habitual abusers of the space from taking advantage of it. Virtually every cafe in a urban area would become a day shelter for homeless people if they are not allowed to enforce rules.

    This is a made up incident that someone is trying to score a payday on.

    1. Keith O

      The manager of that Starbucks was an African American. 

      Ah ha, that’s something CNN and other lame stream media outlets have somehow (wink, wink) not been telling us.

    2. Don Shor

      The manager of that Starbucks was an African American.

      Since this doesn’t appear to be true, I’d be curious about your source for the assertion.

    1. Joel Shandling

      “No witness more trustworthy than an ex-employee with a gripe and an entertainment career aspiration!” That was Granny’s favorite saying.

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