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Exploring the Issue of Racial Stereotyping and Implicit Bias With Relations to Starbucks

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    The first step to explaining why this incident happened is how the concept of implicit bias came into play. The definition of implicit bias can broadly be stated as the unconscious attitudes of an individual that are automatically switched on by the presence of an object. Implicit biases are considered to be well learned judgements, thoughts, unaware behaviors that are formed throughout an individual life. Individuals hold these unconscious with them, but they will most likely not act on them. One of the most interesting causes of an implicit bias is based on affective experiences, meaning emotion-based experiences.

    This broadly means that individuals that witness a situation that provokes an emotional response with someone of the opposite race, then that individual will more likely form an implicit bias on that group. There has to be there has to be an emotional reconditioning to reduce the implicit bias. Other causes of implicit bias include past experiences, cultural biases, and cognitive balance principles. Implicit biases will naturally occur in individuals because the causes are stored into our unconscious. It is just a matter of if they transition into the conscious, and thus turning into a verbal or physical result.

    Implicit biases played an important role because they were the root cause of the incident in Philadelphia. Last April, two African American men were arrested at one of Philadelphia’s neighborhood Starbucks because they were just simply waiting for a business partner, did not purchase any items, and were refused access to the bathrooms. The arrest was filmed by the costumers sitting near the arrest and quickly sparked controversy around the organization. The former Starbucks partner who made the judgement to call the police on these two men had an implicit bias against African Americans. They had a negative affective experience in their life that produced the emotion of fear. With combinations on cultural biases against African Americans and remembering past experiences of people of this race creating disturbances in businesses, the former Starbucks partner made the conscious decision to remove those men with police force.

    Stereotype Activation

    The second important causation to Starbuck’s problem is that the stereotype formed by the implicit biases formed by the former partner were activated. Stereotype activation can be defined as, “…the increased accessibility of the constellation of attributes that are believed to characterize members of a given social category”. This simply means that when individuals come in contact with someone of another race, gender, and even age that their brain automatically places them in their social stereotype. Stereotype activation can come out in ether a subtle or a blatant action and can either be a positive or negative. Once those stereotypes have been automatically made, it can lead to the creation of a social behavior of an individual. Studies have found that the activation of stereotypes can occur at the slightest presence of a feature of stereotyped group, which would trigger an unconscious behavior. The individual would not be consciously aware that because of a person’s features attributed with their stereotypical groups traits, that they are behaving in a way because of it.

    One of the experiments conducted in this study focused on the behavioral effects of African American stereotypes. It was concluded that individuals primed with hostile depictions were more likely to have an automatic attitude of fear and hostility towards African Americans. Connecting these ideas about stereotype activation and to Starbucks, the former partner had attitudes like hostility and fear toward African Americans. These attitudes were formed automatically through previous experiences and protrayals of African Americans as a group, and then placed those attitudes onto the two men just waiting for their business partner. Then, the unconscious attitudes were formed into a behavior, which led to the police to be called and the men being arrested.

    Influence of Social Media

    One of the biggest reasons that the incident in Philadelphia was so impactful to Starbucks as an organization, was the influence of social media. The arrest of the two African American men was videotaped by a bystander in the café and posted to the social media app, Twitter. The video instantly exploded the internet and media within hours of the initial videos post. The video which showed the two men being placed into handcuffs and bystanders trying to figure out what exactly happened; was retweeted by about 165,000 people, was liked by 231,000 people, and had about 11.4 million views. The enormous amount of expose, emotions, and anger that the arrest video elicted towards the general public sparked protests towards Starbucks. Protestors toke to the streets the following day with signs that said ‘too little too late’ and those who could not be there on the streets toke to Twitter, by creating hashtags like BoycottStarbucks’ and Enough Shame  On Your Starbucks’.

    The use of hashtags is critical for stories, like the one in Philadelphia, to get exposure and to grow. Hashtags allow users to follow a chain of posts relating to topic, see updated news come in by the minute, and to add their opinion or information to the story chain. The importance of social media for modern social movements allow for individuals to become instantly aware of what is going on in the world, to watch live streams of protests, to become a part of the conversation, and which would allow them to get more involved to make the social or political change that they desire.

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    Exploring the Issue of Racial Stereotyping and Implicit Bias With Relations to Starbucks. (2022, Mar 22). Retrieved from

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