After the arrest of two black men waiting inside the Starbucks at 18th and Spruce Streets last spring, I almost swore off the brand for good.
A year later, I still go to Starbucks a couple mornings a week.
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The Seattle-based coffee chain didn’t do all it could have in the aftermath of that ugly incident, but at least it tried to make a statement against racial prejudice when it shut down all 8,000 of its stores a year ago for anti-bias training.
Now, it’s Sephora’s turn.
On Wednesday, the beauty products retailer based in Paris will close all 400 of its U.S. stores to conduct diversity training. All of Sephora’s distribution centers and corporate offices are scheduled to be shut down as well.
The move follows an incident involving the singer SZA at a Sephora store in Calabasas, Calif., on April 30.
SZA, whose hit song with Kendrick Lamar, “All the Stars,” appears on the Black Panther soundtrack, had been shopping for makeup from Rihanna’s popular Fenty Beauty brand when a store associate reportedly asked security to see if she was stealing. She was not.
The Grammy Award-nominated performer wasn’t arrested like the two men at the Philadelphia Starbucks, but she didn’t let the matter drop.
SZA tweeted about the incident, writing, “Lmao Sandy Sephora location 614 Calabasas called security to make sure I wasn’t stealing. We had a long talk. U have a blessed day Sandy.”
SZA’s tweet sparked yet another #livingwhileblack conversation online about incidents in which black people are just going about their business only to have the cops called on them. There’s seemingly always one in the news. I’ve written about several of them, including what happened at Starbucks.
Most recently, there was a case in Mississippi where a white Kampgrounds of America employee pulled a gun on a black couple relaxing at a lake because they didn’t have a reservation.
Sephora responded immediately to SZA on Twitter, saying it takes such complaints “very seriously.”
I’ve never had a problem at Sephora. But as someone who has been followed in other stores while shopping more times than I can count, I applaud the makeup giant for instituting implicit bias training for its workers.
But let’s be clear.
Closing stores for a day won’t stop racist employees from discriminating. Racial prejudice runs deep and is as American as red, white and blue.
What the mass shutdown will do for ,Sephora is send an important message to employees that racial profiling won’t be tolerated.
It will also send a message to African American customers that Sephora welcomes our business. It’s saying that Sephora wants us to feel free to stroll up and down its aisles, and test out its many beauty products, without fear.
That’s something many white customers take for granted.
Sephora announced the Wednesday shutdown on the same day it introduced a new marketing program called “We Belong to Something Beautiful.” It includes a video with a “Sephora Manifesto” saying it "believes in championing all beauty” and “standing fearlessly together to celebrate our differences.”
Those are moving words from a chain that’s long been a beauty mecca for consumers around the world.
I only hope that after Wednesday’s nationwide diversity training, the words will be more than a surface thing. Because the important business of beauty really should be more than skin deep.