Starbucks invites Common to take part in their ‘Racial Bias Training’ and now I have concerns

Rapper and actor Common is "so pleased" that many NBA teams are doing away with the title "owner" in a league where 75 percent of players are Black. (Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Starbucks has released a preview of their “lets learn how to stop being racist in one afternoon” training, and I gotta be honest – I’m nervous AF ya’ll.

Last month the coffee chain dominated the headlines after two Black men sitting quietly at one of their Philadelphia branches were arrested for basically breathing while Black. And after #BoycottStarbucks took off like wildfire, their CEO Kevin Johnson went on a national apology tour that ultimately resulted in the announcement that they would be closing 8,000 company-owned stores on May 29th to put its 175,000 employees through “bias training.”

While I appreciated this initiative as a first step towards making things right, many on Black Twitter found themselve asking, “Well who all is coming to run this thing?”

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Anyone who’s ever been to a corporate mandated gathering knows not all trainings are created equal and most of them end up being a lot of lip service with very little real life results afterwards.

Now, just a few days before this event is about to take place, details about what those workshops will look like are finally starting to pop up.

Un-Common sense

In the preview Starbucks shared with reporters, they revealed that rapper Common is set to appear in a video message during the training, along with similar videos from Starbucks execs.

Say what now?

Let’s count this as my first official concern. 

Common. That’s who ya’ll recruited for this epic undertaking? The same Common who sang Glory one to many times and said black people should extend a hand to white people and “forget about the past” as it pertains to race relations?

Nah bruh. That can’t be it. Try again.

For those who may have missed this (now infamous), soundbite from the former conscious rapper turned Hollywood socialite, during a 2015 appearance on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” the Oscar and Golden Globe winner told then host Jon Stewart:

““If we’ve been bullied, we’ve been beat down and we don’t want it anymore. We are not extending a fist and we are not saying, ‘You did us wrong.’ It’s more like, ‘Hey, I’m extending my hand in love. Let’s forget about the past as much as we can and let’s move from where we are now. How can we help each other? Can you try to help us because we are going to try to help ourselves, too.”

Anybody who still thinks we can hug our way out of racism, is so painfully out of touch on this topic, my arms are too short to reach them.

And while it’s not yet known what teachings Common’s video will specifically consist of, I have the sinking feeling it may be more of the same over-simplified, Kumbaya madness that he’s been on the last couple years.

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Piping hot coffee served lukewarm

My second concern about all this is the way the “mandatory training” has devolved in its intensity after the media took its foot off Starbuck’s neck.

First this was marketed like a day long, intensive deprogramming that would show baristas and store managers all over the nation how to check their deeply embedded racial biases steeped in white supremacy, and actually start treating patrons of color like everyone else.

The way they were talking you woulda thought that White Jesus was going to come riding in on a unicorn to usher us all into this “post-racial America” we keep hearing about in fairytales and at hipster happy hours.

But alas, that was a month ago. NOW the follow up is decidedly less grandiose.

Word on the street is, the training will take place next Tuesday starting at 1 or 2 p.m. (they haven’t even picked an hour yet ya’ll) and will only last for about three hours.

Reportedly, attendance is also not mandatory anymore.

Which means if you’re sick of seeing your coworkers you can just keep your ass at home and come back to work as racist and problematic on May 30th as you were on the 29th with no real repercussions.

“We understand that racial and systemic bias have many causes, sources, and ways of showing up within each of us and in our communities,” says one of the training videos from the preview.

I’m not sure if this verbiage is supposed to reassure us, but I’m calling bulls**t.

What the video should’ve said is, “Hey look, we can’t keep calling police on black people cause we think they’re all thugs. They’ve caught on to us,” at least then I could’ve respected them for being honest.

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It’s not about the bathroom

And my third concern about all this is, it’s becoming apparent that Starbucks still doesn’t completely get WHY what happened was so demoralizing; not just to those two young men but also to every Black and brown person who saw themselves in their dejected faces as they were cuffed and publicly shamed for doing nothing.


“We’re here to make Starbucks a place where everyone—everyone feels welcome,” said Johnson in a videos that was released shortly after the company announced that their bathrooms would no longer be restricted to paying customers.


If after all this, these rich white execs still think we were all mad just because bathrooms were only for paying customers, thats not only narrow minded but also kind of insulting.

Don’t get me wrong, economic disparities are real. But the men who were at that Philly store could have probably afforded a $3 croissant if they really needed to use the bathroom that bad. And the subtle insinuation that Black people aren’t paying customers and therefore taking away that one rule will make us feel more welcome irks me.

At this point everything about this training irks me, and I’m sure at least half of their employees are quietly rolling their eyes and feel the same way.

Oh, and in addition to the videos, the training will also be accompanied by a huge guidebook that outlines policies, values, and ways employees can “create a more welcoming Starbucks” as well as small group activities.

Cause we all know nothing inspires longterm change as effectively as employee handbooks and group ice breakers. All your racist coworker needs to see the error of their ways is to do a trust fall with a black colleague to see we all come from the same race, the human race. *insert rainbows*

Ok that last sentence was clearly meant to be sarcastic, but how much you wanna bet Common’s video is gonna include him rapping something similarly saccharin?

The only thing in all of this that gives me any sliver of hope is the inclusion of Melody Hobson who aside from having the distinction of being Star Wars creator George Lucas’ wife, is also an incredibly savvy business person and a Black woman to boot.

There is a thoughtfulness and accountability that she brings to this discussion that one can only pray will be able to cut through the feel good rhetoric that others involved in this undertaking have already fallen victim to.

We don’t need anymore warm and fuzzy catch phrases. We need people of color to be afforded enough humanity to get a cup of coffee in the morning without being reminded that they’re considered second class citizens.

Is that really too much to ask?

In the meantime, I’ll keep making my espressos at home.

Follow writer Blue Telusma on Instagram at @bluecentric