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Starbucks closed more than 8,000 stores today to give employees training on how to combat racial bias. The move is prompted by that inappropriate arrest last month of two black men at a Starbucks in Philadelphia. The company quickly apologized and called the incident reprehensible. And today it rolled out four-hour training sessions for employees across the country. NPR's Joel Rose got a look.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: It was a cellphone video that sparked the controversy. It shows two black men being led out of a Starbucks in handcuffs after a white manager called the police.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: But what did they do? What did they do?
ROSE: And video is a big part of the company's response. Starbucks commissioned a short film by award-winning documentarian Stanley Nelson about race in America. There's a moment when a black man faces the camera and talks about his own experiences being profiled in retail establishments.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Well, I have to make sure that my hands are visible when I walk into certain places so they make sure I don't - I'm not stealing. I watch my tone to make sure that I don't come off as threatening. Just leaving the house some days - you know, it's - sometimes it'll just keep you at home.
CARRIE TEETER: That made me just go, wow, that's heavy. And that's a lot to carry around.
ROSE: Carrie Teeter is a Starbucks district manager in Manhattan. She was one of the first company employees to get the training today in Brooklyn.
TEETER: First it made me sad, and then it made me realize, I'm not aware of that. And I don't realize what impact that has on you to constantly be feeling that way.
ROSE: Her colleague Les Fable (ph) was not as surprised. Fable, who is African-American, says he had similar experiences of being profiled growing up in Brooklyn.
LES FABLE: You know, I have a 12-year-old son, and we've never had that conversation. And to look at those young men have the same, you know, experiences is like, wait; maybe I need to have that conversation today.
ROSE: Hundreds of thousands of Starbucks employees are watching Nelson's film and a series of other videos that tackle thorny topics like racial anxiety and implicit bias. Then the employees talk with each other about their own reactions and experiences. The training was voluntary, but all employees were invited and encouraged to attend. Howard Schultz is Starbucks' chairman.
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HOWARD SCHULTZ: I don't know of another company in the history of American business that's done anything remotely close to this.
ROSE: Schultz has talked about this moment as a transformation for Starbucks. But people who study racial bias say that's asking a lot. Frank Dobbin teaches sociology at Harvard.
FRANK DOBBIN: Training virtually never has any effect on pupils' bias. And it's partly because bias is based on a lifetime of experiences with the media and also experiences with real life.
ROSE: Dobbin says the benefits of training tend to be short-lived. What works better, he says, is more diverse hiring at the management level. But Starbucks executives today stressed that this is just the first step. There are plans for more employee training. And outside advisers are looking at other steps the company can take. Former Attorney General Eric Holder is one of them.
ERIC HOLDER: In some ways, it's disheartening that we're still having these conversations. But when a company is willing to put the hard issues before us, I think those kinds of companies should be supported, should be applauded.
ROSE: Starbucks is making all of its training materials available for free tomorrow to anyone who wants to see them. The company reached an undisclosed settlement with the men who were arrested in Philadelphia. The woman who managed that store no longer works for the company. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.
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