By Kristina Gonzalez

If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. – 1 Corinthians 12:26, NRSV

Coffee was available on the afternoon of May 29, but not at Starbucks. Starbucks closed its doors to reflect systemwide on unconscious bias and racism. The well-publicized incident in Philadelphia which was captured on video prompted the closure. A store manager summoned law enforcement to confront two Black men who were simply waiting for a friend to arrive. Starbucks has apologized to the men. The manager was fired.

Kristina Gonzalez

Public dismissals are pretty common these days. The #MeToo movement has prompted the removal of a number of powerful men – perpetrators of sexual harassment or assault in the workplace. Women entertainers and media are rightly lauded for standing together against this harassment.

By contrast, we have witnessed careers jeopardized for those entertainers – sports figures are entertainers – who have stood up or knelt down to keep Black Lives Matter in the public eye. Harrassment, assault, vilification, and the use of deadly force on Black and Brown people – men in particular – has a long and public history as well.

What has been missing in movements of late is swift and systematic responses to issues that allow discrimination or abuse to go unchecked. While I have not always appreciated Starbucks for its impact on smaller coffee vendors, I surely appreciate that it has raised the public consciousness around the terms unconscious or implicit bias, and taken significant steps to address bias systemwide.

In an open letter to Starbucks’ customers, Howard Shultz, CEO, wrote this, “The incident has prompted us to reflect more deeply on all forms of bias, the role of our stores in communities and our responsibility to ensure that nothing like this happens again at Starbucks. The reflection has led to a long-term commitment to reform systemwide policies, while elevating inclusion and equity in all we do.”

Of the four-hours, Shultz indicated that staff would be “…sharing life experiences, hearing from others, listening to experts, reflecting on the realities of bias in our society and talking about how all of us create public spaces where everyone feels like they belong – because they do.” Starbucks was founded on the principle of third place – gathering space outside of home and work where people can relax, interact, meet, debate, read, drink coffee or tea in community.

Click to view Starbucks training materials.

Post training, Starbucks did something astounding. It released its training materials to the public, providing a model for us to reflect individually or in groups on our biases. Check them out.

What a gift. We in the church should not miss the opportunity to reflect on our own ‘third places’ and to confront the ways in which our polarized society has embedded biases in each of us.

Look at Starbucks’ materials. Are they useful in your setting? How might the incident in Philadelphia be used by the church to reflect on our own challenges in welcoming and including all?

I took the opportunity recently to take a couple of the Implicit Bias tests developed by researchers from the University of Washington, Harvard University and University of Virginia to raise my awareness of the ways in which I have been acculturated to evaluate certain groups as good or bad, better or worse. I encourage you to do the same. Follow this link to find the assessments: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/research/

You needn’t share the results with others but try not to discount them. Our biases are deeply embedded. At best, they separate us from each other; at worst, they prompt reactions that if unchecked, can cause great and lasting harm. If one suffers from unconscious bias, all should suffer together.

The people called Methodists have confronted many Starbucks’ moments. Our history has been to split or segregate. What if we try something different? How about we – borrowing from Howard Shultz words – share life experiences, hear from others, explore our theological differences with respect, all while reflecting on the realities of bias in our church and talking about how we create spaces where everyone feels like they belong – ‘because they do.’

What can we learn from Starbucks?


Kristina Gonzalez serves as Director of Leadership Development for an Inclusive Church for the Pacific Northwest Conference and as a member of the Innovation and Vitality Team for the Greater Northwest Area.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you so much for your social issues which involve us all and bring awareness and understanding in making us better stewards and kinder children of God.

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