What happened to the two black men at a Starbucks in Philadelphia is an ongoing experience for African-Americans, but rarely understood by white Americans. Stories upon stories of racial bias, whether triggered by unconscious bias or overt racism, either are not believed or are questioned by white Americans. Even when the incidents are caught on camera, there is still doubt that African-Americans are treated unfavorably due to the color of their skin.
Unconscious or implicit racial bias is real and operative in interactions between blacks and whites. A 2016 study by researchers at the University of Virginia found that the determining factor in why African-American patients received inadequate treatment for pain compared to white patients was due to “deeply ingrained unconscious stereotypes about people of color.” Examples from the study of unconscious racial bias held by white medical students and residents are “that black people’s blood coagulates more quickly and that black skin is thicker than white.”
For several years a colleague and I have conducted unconscious/implicit bias training for a variety of businesses and professions such as law enforcement, education, health care, and not-for-profit organizations. The training focuses on identifying, acknowledging and mitigating unconscious bias. Participants are encouraged to challenge their biases on a daily basis. This can be accomplished through self-reflection, being conscious of how our minds filter experiences, associating with others who are different than ourselves, and be willing to recognize how privilege, especially white privilege, blinds us to another’s reality.
Starbucks is just the tip of the iceberg. We don’t have time to stop and smell the coffee. We have work to do in creating a more just, inclusive and accepting world.