Starbucks is closing all locations in response to the arrest of 2 black men who tried to use a store's bathroom -- and it's sparking a culture war on all sides

Sorbis/Shutterstock.comStarbucks is closing its stores for ‘racial-bias education’ on May 29.
  • Starbucks is closing all stores across the United States on May 29 to “conduct racial-bias education” for workers.
  • Response to the announcement of the closures was mixed on social media.
  • Some applauded Starbucks, while others felt that the move was an overreaction from a “liberal” company or fell short of what needs to be accomplished.

In a decision that is sparking debate on all sides, Starbucks is closing all its stores nationwide in the wake of an incident in which two black men were arrested at a Philadelphia location.

On Tuesday, the company announced it plans to close its more than 8,000 locations in the United States for the afternoon of May 29 to “conduct racial-bias education geared toward preventing discrimination in our stores.” The training will cover topics such as “implicit bias” and “conscious inclusion.”

The decision to close stores for a training comes after footage of two black men being arrested at a Philadelphia location of the coffee chain went viral. Employees called the police when the men refused to leave the Starbucks after asking to use the restroom without having purchased any drinks.

Backlash was swift, with some customers calling for a boycott and other people of colour sharing similar experiences. Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson apologised to the two men who were arrested and announced a review of the company’s training and practices.

Following the arrests, Starbucks’ perception level dropped to its lowest levels since November 2015, according to YouGov BrandIndex. According to the consumer-perception research firm, the response was similar to the backlash Starbucks received after its red holiday cups were seen as part of a “war on Christmas.”

“Since last Friday, Starbucks’ Buzz score [which measures purchase consideration and reputation] fell from 13 to -8 on Tuesday, a drop of 21 points in four days,” YouGov said in a statement. “When the 2015 Christmas cup incident occurred, Starbucks fell from a Buzz score of 11 to -9 in four days too, eventually hitting a bottom of -13 the next day.”

When Starbucks announced plans to close stores, debate exploded. Here’s what people are saying:

Responses have been mixed, with some people applauding Starbucks

Others felt that Starbucks was overreacting

While some felt that this was an overreaction to a one-off situation, many other black people shared similar experiences after the footage from the Philadelphia Starbucks went viral.

Temple University professor Bryant Simon said that, while working on a book about Starbucks, he witnessed “several” instances in which African-American men were not allowed in the stores’ bathrooms, while white customers were always allowed.

Some on the right felt that the closures are a prime example of liberal ‘over-sensitivity’

Starbucks has long been a target of the right, due in part to the company’s progressive policies on issues such as immigration and gay rights.

Other people were confused or concerned regarding how the training would play out

Starbucks said it was working with a number of experts to develop the curriculum for the training. Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defence and Education Fund; Heather McGhee, president of Demos; former US Attorney General Eric Holder; and Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, will be among the experts consulted, according to the company.

And, some believed that the police need to be addressed as well

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross said in an interview with local outlet Action News that the officers who arrested the men did not do anything wrong. Ross additionally said that the police did not wish to make the arrest after being called to the store by a Starbucks employee.

Starbucks’ long culture war

StarbucksHollis JohnsonStarbucks has earned a reputation as a progressive brand over the years.

Starbucks has long been a lightning rod for controversies that extend far beyond coffee. Over the last few years, the company’s progressive policies have sparked a number of boycott threats from the right.

In 2017, some customers threatened to boycott the coffee giant after the company spoke out against the executive order barring immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the US.

In late 2016, alt-right Twitter user Baked Alaska challenged followers to tell Starbucks employees that their names are Trump to “trigger SJW” workers.

And while he was campaigning in late 2015, then-candidate Donald Trump encouraged boycotting the chain for its lack of Christmas cheer.

Unlike most chains, Starbucks doesn’t typically shy away from discussing some controversial issues, including those related to race. In 2015, the chain received backlash after its “Race Together” campaign encouraged baristas to discuss issues of police brutality with customers – something many saw as a tone-deaf and overly simplified attempt to address issues related to racism in the US.

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