Race relations with your coffee


This week, Starbucks unveiled a new ad campaign called “Race Together,” which is aimed at encouraging Starbucks’ baristas and customers to talk about race relations in America.

Howard Schultz, the chief executive officer for Starbucks, announced the new campaign at an employee conference in Seattle on Monday. According to Fortune Magazine, 40 percent of Starbucks employees identify as a racial minority.

“We at Starbucks should be willing to talk about these issues in America,” Schultz said during the conference. “Not to point fingers or to place blame, and not because we have answers, but because staying silent is not who we are.”

Immediately, the Twitter-sphere weighed in with its usual snark, which the Washington Post conveniently aggregated for me.

The campaign also includes a weekly USA Today insert that will have information about race relations and different perspectives on race. Starbucks stores will also have the insert.

While I agree with Schultz that race isn’t something America can afford to be quiet about, I do worry that this campaign doesn’t treat the issue of race relations with the sensitivity it requires. And asking employees who already have to deal with catty customers and long lines to opine on the current state of race relations in America seems tough.

I also think this campaign will succeed in certain geographies and largely fail in others.

It’s no wonder that urban areas seem to fear the proposal. People in large cities probably don’t know their barista very well, if at all. The idea of a stranger serving you coffee and forcing an intense conversation on you is likely very daunting.

But my hometown is small and the baristas in the one Starbucks in my town know nearly everyone. Encouraging those employees to be open and honest with customers about their feelings on current affairs will probably be one giant step forward for my little town.

I really appreciated The Daily Telegraph take:

It is a noble aim, of course, to improve “race relations,” and it would be churlish to suggest it stems from anything less than the best of intentions. But is Starbucks, in its very quest for equality, unwittingly entrenching those artificial divisions that have helped cause such unrest in the first place, not just lately but throughout history?

It could go really, horribly bad. People could have hilarious exchanges with baristas, similar to what happened with McDonald’s Pay with Lovin’ campaign. But I like that Schultz is open to the idea. And I think there are some places where it could really make a difference.


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