Starbucks employees talking about racism in the United States for one afternoon won't solve the problem — but some say it's a necessary start.
After the coffee giant closed more than 8,000 stores for a few hours on Tuesday for racial-sensitivity training for its staff, the unprecedented move by a major corporation should be seen as an important step in opening a lasting national dialogue about racism and biases that must happen now, civil rights leaders, policy advisers and people affected by discrimination said during a town hall on MSNBC.
"I think this country is overdue for a truth and reconciliation process in every corner," said Heather McGhee, president of the public policy organization Demos, among the outside groups that helped Starbucks prepare for its training.
MSNBC'S "Everyday Racism in America," hosted by Joy Reid and Chris Hayes from Philadelphia, aired Tuesday night.
Panelists said they were dismayed by the apparent rise in incidents of racial, religious and sexual orientation discrimination and hate crimes over the past couple of years — coinciding with the election of President Donald Trump, who has been criticized for making comments embraced by white nationalist groups.
Panelists added that larger conversations must also be had about policing and the effect on minority communities, as videos shared on social media routinely capture instances of law enforcement being called on black people, even as they do innocuous activities such as sleeping in a common area of Yale University or moving out of an Airbnb rental in California.
"We have a long way to go, but we made some progress, and some of us aren't going back," said the Rev. Al Sharpton, an MSNBC host and president of the National Action Network, who met with Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson last week.
Starbucks leaders announced the anti-bias training following the arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia store last month while they waited for a business associate. The incident — caught in a video that went viral — led to protests across the country and an apology from Philadelphia's mayor for the "trauma of racial profiling."
The training also came the same day ABC announced that it was canceling the hit show "Roseanne" after star Roseanne Barr tweeted earlier Tuesday that former Barack Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett was a "child" of the Muslim Brotherhood and "Planet of the Apes." Barr later apologized for the tweet as a "bad joke," but ABC Entertainment and its parent company, Disney, ended production.
Jarrett, a participant in MSNBC's town hall, said the network made the right decision and called it a "teaching moment." She also said other corporations shouldn't be silent about racist behavior and must "hold people accountable the way Disney did today, the way Starbucks is doing."
Other panelists agreed that companies such as Starbucks have a responsibility for making their policies fairer toward everyone, even if they can't force people to change what's in their hearts.
Starbucks has also overhauled its policies in recent weeks, including allowing people to sit inside a store or use its bathroom without making a purchase as long as they act responsibly.
"I said that this is not about sitting down with civil right leaders and writing a check — this is about you've got to deal with the culture in your store," Sharpton said he told Starbucks executives. "It has to be a beginning, not an end."