What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Our everyday assumptions can hurt others. Here’s what it takes to change your thinking

More than 8,000 Starbucks stores closed down Tuesday so that more than 180,000 employees could get anti-bias training aimed at reducing discrimination and unconscious stereotypes. How much can education help us overcome implicit bias? Yamiche Alcindor reports and Judy Woodruff learns more from Amrita Chakrabarti Myers of Indiana University and Patricia Devine of the University of Wisconsin.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    More than 8,000 Starbucks stores closed down across the country today so that its employees, 180,000-plus, could get anti-bias training.

    This comes after an incident last month that raises again the question of individual biases in all of us. Yamiche Alcindor begins with this update.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The implicit racial bias training that Starbucks is doing today is aimed at reducing racial discrimination and stereotypes, even those we may harbor unconsciously

  • Woman:

    We understand that racial and systematic bias have many causes, sources, and ways of showing up within each of us.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    As seen in this video from Starbucks, the training is grounded in the idea that communities thrive when there is a — quote — "third place" other than home or work to congregate.

    It includes an introduction by the rapper Common.

  • Common:

    Helping people see each other fully, completely, respectfully.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The action by Starbucks comes after an incident in April that sparked national outrage and protests. A store manager at this Philadelphia Starbucks called the police on two black men who were there for a business meeting.

    But the manager became alarmed after they requested a bathroom key without ordering anything. The men explained they were waiting on a friend's arrival to order. But by the time the friend arrived, the men were in handcuffs, arrested for trespassing.

    The company released a video apology after the arrest.

  • Kevin Johnson:

    I want to begin by offering a personal apology to the two gentlemen who were arrested in our store.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Today, on "CBS This Morning," Starbucks chairman and founder Howard Schultz responded to some skepticism that the training is a P.R. stunt and doesn't go far enough.

  • Howard Schultz:

    As I shared with you in Philadelphia, it was a reprehensible situation that we took complete ownership of, and something that really was embarrassing, horrifying and all the issues we talked about that day.

    It's interesting for us to be criticized for us doing it for four hours. It's just the beginning. What we have said to our board, to our shareholders is that we're deeply committed to making this part of everything we do. We hire 100,000 new people a year. This is going to be part of the ongoing training. We're going to globalize this.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Yamiche Alcindor.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    For a closer look at this issue and how much training or education can do to help people overcome it, we turn to two people closely involved in these issues.

    Amrita Chakrabarti Myers is an associate professor of history and gender studies at Indiana University. She's currently on a fellowship at the Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference at Emory University. And Patricia Devine is a professor of psychology and director of the Prejudice and Intergroup Relations Lab at the University of Wisconsin.

    And we welcome both of you to the "NewsHour."

    Amrita Myers, I'm going to start with you.

    Let's talk about bias. I think it's safe to assume we all have bias inside of us. We're human. How do you define it? Where does it come from?

  • Amrita Chakrabarti Myers:

    Thanks, Judy. It's a pleasure to be on.

    And, yes, I think you're right, Judy. We — we soak bias in through the very culture that we live in, Judy. And for those of us who are born and raised in the United States, we certainly get it from our families, from our parents. We soak it in from media, television, news, books, our teachers in our classrooms.

    And we call it implicit or unconscious because it's done so subtly that we're not even aware that we're picking it up. And by the time we're adult, we have these unconscious ideas or thoughts or stereotypes. If you were to ask someone if they're racist or if they have bias against a group of people, like African-Americans, they may well say to you no, but then they may well have these stereotypes.

    1 It might be something as small as thinking that all African-Americans like watermelon or fried chicken, or it might be something far more damaging or severe, thinking that African-American men are dangerous, are criminals. They — people might clutch their bags, for example, unconsciously and may not even be aware of it when African-Americans pass by them on the street or when they get onto an elevator with them.

    And these are things that they may not be aware of, but they have picked up these ideas from the culture in which they reside.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Patricia Devine, you accept the idea that most people don't realize they have these biases inside of them.

  • Patricia Devine:

    I do.

    In fact, I would argue that most people don't want to have those biases. They intend to be non-prejudiced or non-biased. And yet, as the previous guest was describing, they have learned stereotypes, they have picked them up from cultures, to the point that they get so deeply entrenched in their minds, that they become default or habitual ways of thinking about others.

    And I use the metaphor of habits of mind as the starting point for understanding the problem and also as a starting point for trying to address how one might reduce the tendency to show these unintentional forms of bias.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Patricia Devine, staying with you, how then do you get people to recognize it and then get them to begin to change their thinking, change their behavior?

  • Patricia Devine:

    Well, the first thing is to get people just to notice that, in fact, spontaneously and unintentionally, they make assumptions about other people.

    Their conscious minds may not approve, but once they become tuned into these types of biases and are made aware of them, then they come to understand them as a problem to be addressed. And once they accept that — and one point to really recognize here is that having these biases doesn't make people bad people. It makes them rather ordinary, having been socialized into a culture where these biases are embedded into the very fabric of our society.

    They're picking up the messages. They're not bad people. They're ordinary. And that once you understand the problem that way, you can make a commitment to change, and you can start to think about the change process. If they are habits of mind, they can be broken like other habits can.

    And there's a number of interrelated factors that have to be set in place. People have to care. They have to be motivated. They have to want to do something. Without motivation, nothing will happen. They need to become tuned into, aware, and notice when they're vulnerable to displaying biases. They have to have some tools and strategies to do something else, to disrupt that habitual way of thinking.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Patricia Devine:

    And then, like breaking any other habit, they are going to have to put effort into it over time. It's not something that happens all at once. There's not sort of a quick fix or a silver bullet, but we can empower people to make the change, and we can provide them with assistance in the process to overcome these unintentional biases.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Amrita Myers, I see you nodding for — while you're listening to her.

    You're saying — both of you are saying it is possible to change behavior. It just takes work and it takes a desire on the part of the person.

  • Amrita Chakrabarti Myers:


    I think you have to want to do these things. You have to be willing. I talk to my students about these things all the time. I teach African-American history. I teach black women's history. I teach classes on slavery.

    And every semester, I have students who come in who have never taken these classes before who will openly express the fact that they have never gone to school with students of color, who have never had teachers of color. And they're often very resistant to the very material I'm teaching.

    And they will often say that they have never heard this material, that they often think it's not even true, because they have come from school districts where they have actually been taught alternative material.

    And so they find it hard to believe what they're reading, what they're hearing from their classmates and their experiences. And yet, over the course of the semester, being in small groups and reading this material, reading primary documents, hearing about their classmates' experiences, hearing from me, they begin to open up, and they begin to learn another way.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Can one session change someone? Can it change your thinking?

  • Amrita Chakrabarti Myers:

    No, I think what one session can do is, it can cause an epiphany. It's a beginning.

    But it has to be — it's a start. One day cannot do anything but be a beginning, but a beginning is important. Right? It has to be the beginning of a lifelong process. But we have seen that happen with people.

    There are — many of us have read stories online of people who used to be white supremacists who are now engaged with organizations like the NAACP, the Equal Justice Initiative, and other wonderful organizations, who are now working with others to bring about change. Right?

    They have amazing transformational stories. But it all begins with a single step. What Starbucks has done today is taken a first step. But it has to be the first step in another — in a long process.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just quickly, Patricia Devine, you agree, one session is at least a start, it's a good thing?

  • Patricia Devine:

    I think it's not the issue of whether it's one session. The issue is whether it engages people in a deep and meaningful way in the issues and it provides them with tools that can empower them to create a self-sustaining process of change that can last over time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Patricia Devine, Amrita Myers, we thank you both.

  • Patricia Devine:

    Thank you so much.

  • Amrita Chakrabarti Myers:

    Thank you, Judy.

Listen to this Segment