What is implicit bias? Viral Starbucks arrests spark conversation

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Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson said Monday that he wants to meet with two black men who were arrested at a Philadelphia shop to offer a face-to-face apology.

Social media video of their arrest has sparked outrage over racial profiling and discrimination.

Johnson said the manager who called 911 is no longer employed at Starbucks and the company plans to provide more training employee training, particularly against implicit bias, to prevent similar incidents.

The implicit bias training Starbucks wants to provide teaches people how to recognize when they have an immediate positive or negative reaction to a particular type of person.

Thomas Newkirk, a civil rights lawyer in the Des Moines metro, spent the last 15 years studying implicit bias. He teaches classes on how it impacts Iowans’ lives.

“I tell people not to be thinking of it in terms of racism or sexism,” Newkirk said. “I teach them to depolarize how they think about discrimination.”

The lawyer said everyone has automatic biases and everyone should pay attention to how they come across to others.

“What you are trying to do is create awareness so you can interfere with them, stop them, reduce them,” Newkirk said. “You are not going to eliminate your automatic processes.”

The Des Moines Police Department already includes training against implicit bias in its curriculum.

“We do annual training, and this will be one of those things that comes up all the time,” Des Moines police Sgt. Paul Parizek said.

Parizek said the Department’s goal is to teach officers to go into situations with a clear head and to learn more about the people they interact with.

“(The training) did create a really interesting awareness and really opened our eyes to a lot of things that are bouncing around inside everybody’s head,” he said.

Parizek said everyone, not just police officers, can benefit from training against implicit bias.

“Nobody is going to walk out of there not learning something interesting about themselves, and (they will) walk out of there with something that is going to help them in the future,” he said.



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