STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

What the Starbucks incident tells us about implicit bias

Could implicit bias training prevent an incident like the one ...

Posted: Apr 17, 2018 1:37 PM
Updated: Apr 17, 2018 1:37 PM

Could implicit bias training prevent an incident like the one at a Philadelphia Starbucks in which two black men were arrested after asking to use the restroom?

The word "implicit bias" or some variation of it has been used by Starbuck's CEO, the city's police commissioner, its mayor, NAACP and outraged community members after the two were escorted from the coffee shop in handcuffs.

On Thursday, two men had asked to use the restroom at Starbucks, but were told that the bathrooms are for customers only. They occupied a table without making a purchase and a manager called the police after the men declined to leave the premises because, they said they were waiting for an acquaintance. They were escorted out by police, but were not charged with a crime. A manager who called the police, is no longer working at the store, Starbucks said Monday.

Starbucks' CEO Kevin Johnson has called for changes to its policy including "training around unconscious bias." Jim Kenney, Philadelphia's mayor also suggested that implicit bias training may be necessary for Starbuck's employees.

What is implicit bias?

Implicit bias is the automatic associations people have in their minds about groups of people, including stereotypes. It forms automatically and unintentionally, but results in attitudes, behaviors or actions that are prejudiced for or against a person or a group of people.

"The nature of implicit bias is such that you cannot subjectively experience when it's influencing you," said Jack Glaser, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley.

In policing, implicit bias causes some groups to receive undeserved suspicion while other groups are presumed innocent, according to the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, a project that was funded by the Department of Justice in 2014.

And studies have shown that implicit bias contributes to "shooter bias," which is "the tendency for police to shoot unarmed black suspects more often than white ones -- as well as the frequency of police stops for members of minority groups," according to the group.

Implicit bias can be insidious with deadly consequences, the NAACP said, listing recent examples of the police shooting of Stephon Clark and Saheed Vassell.

"The Starbucks situation provides dangerous insight regarding the failure of our nation to take implicit bias seriously," said the group's president and CEO Derrick Johnson in a statement. "We refuse to believe that our unconscious bias --the racism we are often unaware of-can and does make its way into our actions and policies."

Implicit bias is universal, so it's not only about the biases of officers, but those of the people calling police, Glaser said.

"Police officers are not the only one deciding who get subjected to policing," he said. "And so when people are calling in with a complaint, that's influenced by their racial bias -- the stereotype that causes them to regard a black person with greater suspicion."

Take a test from Project Implicit

Unconscious or implicit bias training

In the aftermath of the Starbucks incident, city leaders are demanding Starbucks engage in diversity and inclusion training and sensitivity training for all workers.

Anger has also been directed at the Philadelphia police officers for arresting the two men.

The city's police commissioner Richard Ross said Saturday that its commanders receive implicit bias training. Also, all new police recruits visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, because "we want them to know about the atrocities that were in fact, committed by policing around the world," he said.

"As an African-American man, I am very aware of implicit bias," he said in a Facebook video posted Saturday. "We are committed to fair and unbiased policing. Anything less than that will not be tolerated in this department."

Law enforcement agencies and companies have adopted bias training, but programs can vary.

Glaser, whose primary research interest is in stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination, says he hasn't seen evidence to suggest that implicit bias training reduces discriminatory behavior in police departments and other institutions.

After training, some people say they'll try harder, and it's also possible that they could use strategies and be more vigilant about overriding their biases.

"But when they're busy doing their job, they're distracted. The biases are still going to be operative and influence them unless you change the practices and the policies," Glaser said.

"The bottom line is we don't know how to change the biases in a meaningful, lasting way, because they're ...the way we think normally and they're based on years of exposure. So in the absence of being able to change them, we need to change the way people make decisions and the way that they act."

This could involve changing general practices -- such as how ending New York's stop-and-frisk policy reduced the number of minorities subjected to unnecessary stops, he said. Glaser suggested that Starbucks could employ prescriptive rules on how to handle someone believed to be loitering, with clear rules what to do in those circumstances when there's no danger.

"It's more a matter of changing the general practices, so that it's less likely to happen in the first place," he said.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 309223

Reported Deaths: 7153
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21005250
Hinds19989411
Harrison17590303
Rankin13388277
Jackson13169243
Madison9965212
Lee9900170
Jones8319161
Forrest7554149
Lauderdale7232237
Lowndes6306144
Lamar614685
Lafayette6081118
Washington5296133
Bolivar4778130
Oktibbeha458097
Panola4461103
Pearl River4447142
Warren4310119
Marshall4302103
Pontotoc417672
Monroe4063132
Union405175
Neshoba4009176
Lincoln3892109
Hancock373785
Leflore3471124
Sunflower332090
Tate325984
Pike3226105
Scott311973
Yazoo305369
Alcorn301566
Itawamba297977
Copiah294365
Coahoma290779
Simpson290486
Tippah285368
Prentiss276659
Marion266479
Leake262473
Wayne261541
Grenada257385
Covington255380
Adams247082
Newton246161
George238947
Winston226181
Tishomingo222867
Jasper220248
Attala213673
Chickasaw205857
Holmes187272
Clay183354
Stone179733
Clarke178177
Tallahatchie176240
Calhoun165632
Yalobusha160236
Smith159734
Walthall131143
Greene129633
Lawrence126823
Noxubee126634
Montgomery125842
Perry125238
Amite121041
Carroll121026
Webster113932
Jefferson Davis105932
Tunica103425
Claiborne101430
Benton97525
Kemper95728
Humphreys94732
Franklin83123
Quitman78916
Choctaw74417
Wilkinson65329
Jefferson64928
Sharkey49817
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 522512

Reported Deaths: 10790
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson755371494
Mobile39129799
Madison34124500
Tuscaloosa25408444
Montgomery24059573
Shelby23225242
Baldwin20730302
Lee15638166
Calhoun14358311
Morgan14171273
Etowah13705348
Marshall12012220
Houston10416279
Elmore10024203
Limestone9862148
Cullman9509191
St. Clair9486236
Lauderdale9280233
DeKalb8762183
Talladega8127173
Walker7151276
Autauga6763106
Jackson6762110
Blount6532133
Colbert6236132
Coffee5436113
Dale4781111
Russell431239
Franklin421382
Chilton4130110
Covington4069115
Tallapoosa3922148
Escambia390374
Dallas3528150
Chambers3519122
Clarke347360
Marion3076100
Pike306676
Lawrence296395
Winston273272
Bibb256761
Marengo248561
Geneva246475
Pickens233259
Barbour227155
Hale218675
Butler213268
Fayette209660
Henry188444
Cherokee182744
Randolph177841
Monroe173140
Washington165538
Macon156548
Clay150255
Crenshaw149557
Cleburne147041
Lamar140034
Lowndes137353
Wilcox124727
Bullock122040
Conecuh109728
Perry107726
Sumter103332
Coosa99428
Greene91434
Choctaw58824
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 70°
Columbus
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 70°
Oxford
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 40°
Feels Like: 68°
Starkville
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 70°
Sunshine should bring continued warmth into your Tuesday. But going into the night, a cold front approaches. This will bring a quick round of light to moderate showers overnight and a late-season frost that could damage or kill sensitive plants.
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather