Starbucks and the Hogwash Known as Implicit Bias


by Christopher Paslay

The supposed implicit bias seen at a Philadelphia Starbucks is similar to the ‘spectral evidence’ seen during the Salem Witch Trials.

By now we know the story.  Two black men went into a Philadelphia coffee shop last Thursday in Rittenhouse Square, planning to meet-up with a friend.  One or both of the men asked to use the bathroom (amazingly, the story still lacks key details at this point), and were told by a Starbucks manager that the restrooms were for paying customers only, and were asked to leave.

The two men didn’t leave.  Or buy anything.  They sat down at a table, ignoring the manager.  The manager, a white female, called the police.  “Hi, I have two gentlemen in my café that are refusing to make a purchase or leave,” the manager said, according the the 911 call. “I’m at the Starbucks at 18th and Spruce.”

The 911 dispatcher responded: “Alright, police will be out as soon as possible.”

The police came and respectfully tried to explain to the men, for nearly 15 minutes, that they needed to leave or be charged with trespassing.  According to Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross, the police gave the men three chances to leave, but they didn’t move.  Finally, the two men were escorted out in handcuffs.


Not because the two men ignored the store policy and the authority of the manager (they could have simply purchased a cookie for a few dollars), and not because they ignored the polite requests by police to exit the store.  No; the two men were arrested because the police officers (one of whom is black) are racist.

Because the Starbucks manager is racist.

Not consciously racist, mind you, but unconsciously.  That’s the kicker.  The conscious intent of the store manager and police doesn’t matter here, even if they didn’t mean any harm.  Even if the manager was simply following store policy (the facilities are for paying customers only) and the police were simply following the law (it’s trespassing when you refuse to leave private property).

The verdict being rendered by social justice warriors across America is that the police and the Starbucks manager have an implicit bias.  How do we know?  Because people like Melissa DePino, an upper-middle-class white woman who does marketing for nonprofits, say so.  She took the video of the two men getting arrested.  In an article published on, she stated:

. . . none of this attention I’m getting for tweeting the video that showed the horrific treatment of two young black men in Philadelphia just doing what we all do at Starbucks—sitting and talking quietly—should be about me or any other person who does not experience these kinds of indignities, threats of violence and discrimination every day. . . . How did these two men feel as they were arrested? Why did this incident happen? What can we do to make sure that incidents like these—and worse—stop happening?

Well, one way to stop this from happening is to respect store policy.  When a manager explains that you must make a purchase in order to remain in the store, you make a purchase or leave; this is guaranteed to keep the peace in any coffee shop in America.  As for the matter of getting handcuffed by police?  Perhaps you might want to respect their authority as well, and not completely ignore them when they tell you to exit the building.

But according to people like DePino, the two black men experienced “horrific treatment” not because of their refusal to comply with a very reasonable store policy, but because of the implicit bias of the store manager and the police (one of whom was black).  That’s their verdict—implicit racial bias.  Case closed.  The proof?  Because people like DePino say so.  Are the people who cry implicit racial bias experts in psychology, psychiatry, or applied behavioral science?  No.  Do they have any clinical training whatsoever?  Not at all.

Were the arresting officers and the Starbucks manager psychoanalyzed by a professional, or put under hypnosis?  Were anecdotal records kept of their interactions with other customers in and around the store?  Do we have any documented evidence that the Starbuck’s manger treated these two black men any differently than any other people?  (When I say evidence, I mean real, empirical data showing that the behavior of the police and store manager was biased, not speculation from latte-drinking folks like DePino, who possibly suffer from white-guilt and project their own unresolved prejudices on the world around them.)

Do we have anything like this?

Of course not.

But this doesn’t stop DePino and the social justice folk from calling the Starbucks manager and members of the Philadelphia Police Department racists, and completely destroying their reputations (and in the case of the Starbucks manager, her career).  This doesn’t stop them from claiming they have, get this—an unconscious bias—not one that the manager or police can see, but only they can see.

How do you know the Starbucks manager has an implicit bias, Ms. DePino?  How are you able to get inside her unconscious and know her racial prejudices?  Seriously?  How do you do it?  If the manager were to say she called the police because she was simply following store policy, and insisted it had nothing to do with skin color, how could you prove otherwise?  How do you know, really know, this isn’t true?  The police have already stated that they didn’t act on skin color, so are you calling them liars?  Are you a mind reader, is that it?  You know their intentions better than they do themselves?

Witch TrialsThis so-called “implicit bias” is very similar to the “spectral evidence” that was used to
convict people of being witches during the Salem Witch Trials in the 17th century.  Townspeople who had a gripe with a neighbor could claim that they were attacked by the neighbor’s spirit, and the only proof was the testimony of the victim.  Many, many people were killed until folks started to realize the absurdity of the situation—the fact that there was absolutely no conclusive way to prove such crimes.

Interestingly, there’s no conclusive way to prove implicit bias.  Project Implicit, which was founded by Harvard professors and describes itself as “a non-profit organization and international collaboration between researchers who are interested in implicit social cognition—thoughts and feelings outside of conscious awareness and control,” is a recognized expert on the subject.  You can even go on their website and take a test to see if you have an implicit racial bias.  However, the organization has posted a disclaimer.  It states, “these Universities, as well as the individual researchers who have contributed to this site, make no claim for the validity of these suggested interpretations.”

Incredibly, even the experts on implicit bias admit there is no validity for the results of their tests.  Loose translation: implicit bias is hogwash.

Granted, people are subject to conditioning and often use life experiences to make important decisions.  In addition, the way we interpret the world is based on physiological, psychological, and sociological factors.  But no one has the right to tell another person what they were thinking at the time they made a choice, nor do they have the right to claim to know a person’s intent better than that person themselves, whether conscious or unconscious.

Any attempts to do so is outrageous, and dangerously close to 17th century Salem.

Better Way to Police Teens




Note: This commentary was originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on January 25, 2008.  I’m reprinting it here on Chalk and Talk as a means to try to ease tensions between teens and police in light of the incident at Sayre High School last week.


 by Christopher Paslay

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover once said that justice was incidental to law and order. Although there is some truth to this statement, when it comes to our police force, there is a fine line between keeping order on the street and fostering a culture of mutual respect.


The balance between order and respect is even more delicate when it comes to policing teenagers.


An alarming number of the adolescents I teach admit in class discussions that they don’t like cops. Many feel disrespected by police on a regular basis, and complain that cops are always “in their face,” when they’re talking on street corners, for example, or congregating at playgrounds.


I believe this hostility stems from a communication breakdown between teenagers and police. The majority of law enforcement officials in our city are good, hard working people, and so are most of our youth, even though some are quick to challenge authority figures. But when the two interact in our fast-paced society, relations can go sour.
As a
Philadelphia public school teacher, I understand the importance of being able to communicate effectively with teenagers. In my experience, effective communication boils down to three things: awareness, listening skills, and tone of voice.
Everyone—teachers, police, and teenagers included—are the star of their own personal drama. As human beings, we have the egotistical habit of taking everything personally. If a teenager gets mouthy with me in class, my first reaction is that she doesn’t like me. If she doesn’t immediately submit to my authority, I assume it means she thinks I’m a push-over.
In reality, this isn’t the case. When a young person acts out, the root cause could be anything—trouble at home, a fight with a sibling, a missed meal—none of which have anything to do with me. There’s no excuse for the behavior, but as a mature authority figure, I have the awareness not to take it personally.
I don’t have to argue, raise my voice, or become hostile. Most importantly, I don’t have to compete with the child. I can take a step back and become a neutral observer. I can note the emotion of the individual, and try to find a way to defuse it.
In order to do this, I must be a good listener. I must have the ability to listen to alternative points of view, even if it’s from a juvenile. And I must take this point of view to heart. Many times as a teacher, when I’m dealing with a student who rubs me the wrong way, I find myself shutting down and refusing to hear what he or she has to say. It’s during these times that I take a deep breath, close my mouth and open my ears and listen. Most times, I realize the student has something important to say. Either way, it builds mutual respect and keeps the lines of communication open.
Finally, I believe it is important for authority figures such as teachers and police officers to watch their tone of voice. Sure, there are times to get loud just like there are times when you must stop and listen, but either way, it’s important to have a respectful tone. I think the “golden rule” works well in this situation: Talk to others the way you expect to be talked to, even it’s a young person.


Police officers are not teachers; their job isn’t to counsel or educate. Their jobs are obviously more dangerous; oftentimes, in threatening situations, they don’t have time to reflect upon opposing points of view. However, a heightened awareness of teen behavior, coupled with listening skills and a respectful tone of voice, might make a world of difference when confronting adolescents. It might help dissolve underlying tension and cut down on violence against police.


The hostility teens feel toward law enforcement officials is unhealthy and must be addressed. Communication skills could be the first step in a new and improved relationship between cops and our region’s young people.