Last week, Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz surprised many when he encouraged employees to scribble “Race Together” on the side of coffee cups to spark a conversation about what else? Race.
A little controversy with our coffee? That happened.
The initiative — a week-long campaign meant to facilitate race relation conversations between tired, coffee-starved customers and their baristas — was sparked by open forums for workers to discuss race in the wake of national protests to dismantle police violence and confront racial tensions. Well intentioned, but there were some problems with Starbucks’ attempt to join the race conversation.
Mainly this one:
Starbucks is going to discuss race relations without addressing gentrification. Interesting.
— Kim Moore (@SoulRevision) March 17, 2015
Another? More conversation sounds like longer lines to us. And another? Race really didn’t have a place in meaningless banter between baristas and the rush hour crowd, especially given very few of these people (employees or customers) are licensed to do so (or capable of spelling your name right, but that’s another issue).
— Aura Bogado (@aurabogado) March 17, 2015
Here’s a scenario. White barista tells Black Starbucks customer all about racism. Or, Black barista forced to explain privilege while serving the White customer.
It’s all pretty bad.
The campaign received a lot of flack, naturally, prompting GlobalGrind and NewsOne editor Christina Coleman to tackle just how problematic Starbucks’ newest initiative could be if it continues in this week’s The Retweet (see above). The company is on hiatus from their “Race Relation” coffee takeover — the Associated Press reports that the visible component of the company’s campaign has ended for now — but Starbucks is still planning to foster conversations about race.
The phase-out is not a reaction to that pushback, Olson said. “Nothing is changing. It’s all part of the cadence of the timeline we originally planned.”
He echoed the company memo, saying of the Race Together initiative, “We’re leaning into it hard.”
Schultz’s note to employees acknowledged the skeptics as an anticipated part of the outreach.
“While there has been criticism of the initiative — and I know this hasn’t been easy for any of you — let me assure you that we didn’t expect universal praise,” it read.
He said the campaign at its core aims to make sure that “the promise of the American Dream should be available to every person in this country, not just a select few.”
But before discussing the American Dream or diversity, the company may want to look within. After all, only 16 percent of Starbucks executives are people of color.
Check out The Retweet above for an in-depth look at the issue with Starbucks’ “Race Together” campaign and let us know what you think about controversy with your coffee in the comments section…
For previous episodes of The Retweet, see below: