Racial Stereotyping and Implicit Bias with Relations to Starbucks

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Updated: Mar 14, 2023
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This paper explores the relationship between the racial stereotyping of African American and implicit biases of individuals.  It also explains how social media influences cases involving racial stereotypes.  To put in perspective how these three concepts would affect an organization, the examines Starbucks and the incident that occurred in Philadelphia.  This paper will explain how these concepted affected Starbucks and how the effects of the problem relation to the company as a whole.  Then, this paper would provide possible solutions and recommendations to follow as they try to improve upon their organization.

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Problem Statement

Starbucks was originally founded in 1971, but it wasn’t until former CEO Howard Schultz bought the small Seattle coffeehouse along with all of its investors (“Company Information”, 2018).  It wasn’t until then, that Schultz created the Starbucks that we know today. Since then the company has expanded internationally, sourced ethically grown coffee, promised progressive benefits to their employees, and have strived to become a ‘third place’ in the communities of their stores (“Starbucks Company Profile” 2018).  The company’s recognition has not gone unnoticed.  Just to name a few, Starbucks has won ‘Top 10 Military Spouse-Friendly Employers’ from Victory Media, one of the ‘World’s Most Admired Companies’ from Fortune, and one of the ‘World’s Most Valuable Brands’ from Forbes (“Starbucks Company Recognition” 2018).  The infamous green siren has been one of the most recognizable brands in the world.  The problem facing this organization happened at one of their Philadelphia locations in about mid-April.  A Starbucks partner called the police on two African American men who were waiting to meet with their business partner (Neuman, 2018). The arrest went viral and sparked controversy surrounding the organization.

Reasons for the Problem

Implicit Bias

The first step to explaining what caused this problem is how the role of implicit biases 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 (Dovidio, Gaertner, Kawakami, 2002).  Implicit biases are considered to be learned judgments, thoughts, and behaviors that are formed throughout an individual life (Rudman, 2004).  Individuals retain these unconscious attitudes with them, but they will most likely not act on them.  One of the causes of an implicit bias is based around effective experiences, meaning emotion-based experiences (Rudman, 2004).  This simply means that when individuals witness a situation that provokes an emotional response with someone outside their group, the individual will more likely form an implicit bias on that group.  There has to be there has to be emotional reconditioning to reduce implicit biases (Rudman, 2004).  Other causes of implicit bias include past experiences, cultural biases, and cognitive balance principles. (Rudman, 2004).  Implicit biases will naturally occur in individuals because attitudes are formed and 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 were the root cause of the incident in Philadelphia.  Last April, two African American men were arrested at one of Philadelphia’s neighborhood Starbucks (Neuman, 2018).  They were arrested because did not purchase any items and were refused access to the bathrooms while waiting for their business partner to arrive (Neuman, 2018).  The former Starbucks partner who made the judgement to call the police on these two men had an implicit bias against African Americans.  The partner had a negative affective experience in their life that produced the emotional response of fear. With the combination of cultural biases against African Americans and past experiences, the former Starbucks partner made the conscious decision to remove the men from his store with police force.

Stereotype Activation

The second important causation to Starbuck’s problem is the stereotypes formed from implicit biases were activated and produced a behavioral response.   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” (Wheeler, Petty, 2001). This definition can be simplified as; when individuals come in contact with someone of another race, gender, or age group their brain automatically places them in their social stereotype.  Stereotype activation can be a subtle or a blatant action and can either be a positive or negative (Wheeler, Petty, 2001). Once those stereotypes have been automatically made, it can lead to the creation of a behavioral response out of an individual.  Studies have found that the activation of stereotypes can occur at the slightest presence of a feature of the stereotyped group, which would trigger an unconsciously controlled behavior (Bargh, Chen, Burrows, 1996).  The individual would not be consciously aware that, because of a person’s features attributed with their stereotypical group’s traits, that they are behaving in a certain way.  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 (Bargh, Chen, Burrows, 1996).  Connecting these ideas about stereotype activation and to Starbucks, the former partner had unconscious attitudes of hostility and fear toward African Americans.  These attitudes were formed automatically through previous experiences and portrayals of African Americans as a group, and then they placed those attitudes in that particular situation. The unconscious attitudes were then 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 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 then was posted to the social media app, Twitter (Van Sant, Dwyer, 2018).  The video instantly exploded in the internet and the media within hours of its post.   The video shows the two African American men being placed in handcuffs and bystanders trying to figure out what exactly happened; the video was retweeted by about 165,000 people, liked by 231,000 people, and had about 11.4 million views (Van Sant, Dwyer, 2018).  The enormous amount of exposure and emotion surrounding the arrest video elicited the public protest against Starbucks.  Protestors went to the streets the following day with signs that said, ‘too little too late’ and others turned to Twitter to voice their opinion, by creating hashtags like ‘#BoycottStarbucks’ (Van Sant, Dwyer, 2018).  The use of hashtags is critical for stories, like the one in Philadelphia, to get exposure and to grow on social media platforms.  Hashtags allow users to follow a chain of posts that relate to topic, view updated news that comes in by the second, and the ability to add their personal opinion or information to the story chain (Bonilla, Rosa, 2015).  The importance of social media for modern social movements is that they allow for individuals to become instantly aware of what is going on in the world.  It brings the ability to watch live streams of protests, to become a part of the conversation, and would ultimately allow individuals to get more political and socially involved in issues that they wish to change.

Effects of the Problem


Even though the incident was isolated to only one Starbucks location, the morale of the organization as a whole took a blow in the immediate aftermath of the arrest.  African American employees would face a stereotype threat if they felt their co-workers had negative attitudes towards them.  Robbins and Judge (2019) define stereotype threat as, “the degree to which we agree internally with the generally negative stereotyped perceptions of our group” (pg.48).  Stereotype threats can lead to employees feeling self-conscious of how they look, act, and speak at the workplace.


There is a significant effect on productivity when an individual is under a stereotype threat.  Stereotype threats can lead to an overall underperformance of an employee (Robbins, Judge, 2019).  They would feel self-conscious about every task, worry about the possible negative feedback they could receive, and over think how their stereotyped traits would affect the tasks at hand. Thus, the employee would not be as productive as they could be and would not contribute as much as they should to the organization as a whole.


The overall efficiency of the organization would be impacted by an employee’s stereotype threat.  Employees under this threat would be hesitated to engage in effective communication with superiors and co-workers, would form a negative attitude towards the job itself, and would be not seek feedback from others (Robbins, Judge, 2019). This would make the job within the company inefficient and affect the organizations efficiency.


The organization lose the effectiveness of its product and experience a decrease in revenue with problems of relating to stereotype threat. Also, the organization as a whole would face the same issues as the individual employee.  Less effective communication, job performance, the reduction of feedback (Robbins, Judge, 2019).  All of these lead to the damage of revenues and the risk of losing employees.

Goal Attainment

If all of organizational behaviors of morale, productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness are all compromised; then the goal of the organization as a whole is negatively affected.  An organization that would create an environment where an employee cannot perform to their fullest and feel like they can succeed, will ultimately impact the organizations own success. The lack of fulfillment among employees would increase turnover rate.  An organization has to create a positive diversity climate that would create the sense of inclusiveness and acceptance for their employees (Robbins, Judge, 2019).

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Racial Stereotyping and Implicit Bias with Relations to Starbucks. (2019, Jul 14). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/racial-stereotyping-and-implicit-bias-with-relations-to-starbucks/