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A huge moment of reckoning may be coming for Starbucks if company leaders choose to really lay bare all of the racist incidents that have happened at its stores across the globe.

The wrongful arrest of Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson at one of the coffee chain’s Philadelphia stores last month has been one of the most publicized cases of racial profiling this year. Nelson and Robinson settled with the city for a “symbolic” $1 each and the promise of a $200,000 program for young entrepreneurs, the Associated Press reported Wednesday. Their decision to settle, which was admirable for being so selfless, also angered many folks who were expecting a major six-figure lump sum or more to be awarded.

Nelson and Robinson also reached a deal with Starbucks that included “a financial settlement as well as continued listening and dialogue between the parties and specific action and opportunity.” This agreement came after the company announced it would close down its stores for one day of racial sensitivity training later this month.

With international eyes on Starbucks, the company has a big opportunity to really acknowledge and address every racist incident that has come to public knowledge and ones that have been kept behind closed doors.

For example:

  • Victor Washington, a former Starbucks engineer in Seattle who is Black, sued the company for racial discrimination in 2008. His supervisor had failed to confront racist bullying, he said. The company settled for $120,000 with Washington in 2009, the same year that another reportedly discriminatory incident took place at a Minnesota store. Azmera Mehrbatu, an Ethiopian immigrant and mother of three, was fired from a Starbucks in St. Paul for alleged theft in 2009. Mehrbatu’s coworkers and other supporters boycotted the store after the firing.
  • A deadly shooting of a Black man was tied to Starbucks in Milwaukee in 2014. A Starbucks employee called the police on Dontre Hamilton, a 31-year-old man who had a history of mental illness, before he was fatally shot 14 times by a police officer after he was found sleeping in a local park. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz met with the man’s family in Wisconsin.

Considering these past racist incidents, executives should go well beyond just monetary settlements, meetings and one-day racial sensitivity trainings. They can take suggestions from Robinson and Nelson, as well as other Black customers, to help prevent these occurrences as much as possible.

Or, perhaps they should take a cue from National Geographic, which published an issue last month examining the publication’s history of racism.


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