Articles Posted in Color discrimination

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Starbucks has decided to institute company-wide training on implicit bias. The company’s decision came on the heels of an incident where Starbucks employees called the police to remove some black people from the store for doing something that white people do all the time. These black people were waiting for a friend before they bought their coffee. It is, of course, possible that conscious racism against black people motivated these employees to call the police. However, it is more likely that implicit bias, motives that people don’t think about but that cause them to act in certain ways, caused these Starbucks employees to call the police.

Psychologists have studied the phenomenon of implicit bias for decades. Pretty much everybody has an implicit bias against certain groups of people and in favor of other groups of people. For instance, regardless of how much they abhor racism, almost everyone who is not black has implicit bias against black people which unconsciously drives their actions when they interact with black people.

One of the consultants assisting Starbucks believes that companies need to implement systems where employees work together to combat implicit bias, as opposed to asking individuals to police their own biases. “Any strategy that essentially relies on people to try not to be biased is doomed to fail; that’s the heart of the problem,” said David Rock, director of the NeuroLeadership Institute. “You’ve got to shift the focus from individuals trying not to be biased to teams being able to catch bias,” he said.

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A Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission Board of Inquiry recently found that the Black Educators’ Association (BEA), an agency funded by the Nova Scotia Department of Education, discriminated against former employee Rachel Brothers because of her color.  According to Donald C. Murray, who was appointed to hear the case by the Chief Judge of the Provincial Court in Nova Scotia, the BEA fired Ms. Brothers, who is bi-racial, because she was not “black enough” for them.

Mr. Murray found that BEA employees made comments about Ms. Brothers’ relatively light brown skin.  BEA’s executive director also heard these types of comments and did nothing to discourage them.  The BEA ultimately fired Ms. Brothers supposedly due to concerns about the stability of her office.  Those concerns, which Mr. Murray found to be vague and not credible, were brought forward by a subordinate of Ms. Brothers with demonstrated hostility toward Ms. Brothers because of her skin color.

“We take issues of discrimination very seriously at the department,” said Education Minister Karen Casey.  “It is important that the BEA, and every other organization funded by the department, ensure they are respectful and equitable to their employees and clients at all time.  I expect that the BEA will learn from this as they move forward and ensure that they create a workplace where discrimination will not be tolerated.”

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