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Expert: Starbucks anti-bias training is just one step

While the anti-bias training Starbucks announced after the arrest of two black customers in Philadelphia is a positive move, psychologist Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton says there's much more to do to combat racial bias in corporate America and academia.

When Starbucks announced plans to conduct anti-bias training at its 8,000 outlets following the unprovoked arrests of two African-American customers in Philadelphia, psychologist Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton was at once impressed and skeptical.

A veteran scholar of prejudice, stigma, and race relations, Mendoza-Denton is keenly attuned to under-the-radar discrimination that runs counter to the stated values of seemingly progressive individuals and institutions.

“It’s a huge step that most CEOs wouldn’t want to take, and so I applaud them,” says Mendoza-Denton, associate dean of diversity and inclusion at the University of California, Berkeley.

That said, he recalls Starbucks 2015 “Race Together” campaign that encouraged baristas to strike up conversations with customers about their racial and ethnic backgrounds, and which received lots of criticism.

“It was very symptomatic of race relations in the US, in that people try to do the right thing and everyone has something to say about it, and criticize it, including me,” quips Mendoza-Denton, author of the book Are We Born Racist? (Beacon, 2010).

He approves of anti-bias training insofar as it can jumpstart difficult conversations about deeply ingrained prejudices that play out as microaggressions. Ultimately though, he’d prefer to see a greater commitment to diversity at all corporate and institutional levels, not just the middle and lower rungs of the ladder.

Moreover, two decades of his research show that the cognitive, social, and physiological symptoms of racism recede significantly when people bond over common experiences and goals.

And so, he keeps beating the drum for cross-race relationships, which means more people stepping out of their comfort zones and making friends with people from different backgrounds.

Here, Mendoza-Denton shares more of his views on these issues:

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