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Starbucks Faces Long Road in Racism Fight After Massive Training

Coffee chain now looks at how best to measure the effort’s success
A 'store closed' note is displayed at the Spruce St. Starbucks store on May 29, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Starbucks closed about 8,000 stores across the United States Tuesday to conduct employee training on racial bias, a closely watched exercise that spotlights lingering problems of discrimination nationwide. Starbucks announced its own training on April 17 as it battled to contain outrage over the arrest of two young black men at the Philadelphia store.

A 'store closed' note is displayed at the Spruce St. Starbucks store on May 29, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Starbucks closed about 8,000 stores across the United States Tuesday to conduct employee training on racial bias, a closely watched exercise that spotlights lingering problems of discrimination nationwide. Starbucks announced its own training on April 17 as it battled to contain outrage over the arrest of two young black men at the Philadelphia store.

Photographer: KENA BETANCUR
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Carla Ruffin, 57, spent essentially all of her working life wearing her hair straight, the kind of decision black women often make in order to fit in in the mostly white corporate world. She's worked at Starbucks Corp. for 14 years and had been considering starting to wear her hair natural, but it wasn't until Tuesday that she and her colleagues discussed the idea of doing so at work. "It represents freedom in embracing your ethnicity," she said.

Natural hair was just one of a broad range of topics that came up in the racial bias training session attended by Ruffin, a regional director who oversees more than 100 Starbucks stores in New York City. The interactive training provided prompts for small groups of employees to discuss their own experience of race. One of the questions intended to generate discussion asked employees to recall the first time they went to work with “natural hair without comments or questions from others." Another asked workers if they’d ever “felt distracted at work because of external events related to race.”