The circumstances leading up to Starbucks’ racial bias training in May 2018, ABC television’s cancellation of Roseanne that same month, and the National Football League’s ongoing “knee problem” are not anomalies. They are big, bright, flashing signs of changing times that we as communicators must help our organizations manage. Now more than ever, organizations are having to publicly address issues of racial discrimination that affect not only their reputations and brands, but society in general. Racial issues become amplified by social media, creating firestorms of controversy that require organizations to respond to situations to which there is no clear set of guidelines that can guarantee a tidy resolution that’s satisfactory to all.
Managing racial issues
The case of Starbucks
There is no way to predict if, when, or how an issue involving racial discrimination will arise. For example, Starbucks could not have foreseen that it would become the target of heated protests at its stores and online after an employee at a Philadelphia store called the police on two black men who were waiting for a meeting without making a purchase. The employee’s behavior, widely considered racially discriminatory, caught the company—known for supporting racial equality—off guard. A comprehensive response from Starbucks leaders followed, which included a formal apology and racial bias training.
The case of ABC television
ABC could not have imagined Roseanne Barr, star of the hit TV show Roseanne, would send a tweet comparing Valerie Jarrett, a former adviser to President Obama, to an ape while also inflaming anti-Muslim sentiments. The network quickly condemned Roseanne’s remarks, cut ties with her and cancelled her show....
This content is available to IABC members only. To continue reading, log in below.