In an apparent effort to poke a wild hornet’s nest with a flame thrower, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has begun an initiative to encourage baristas to engage in conversations about race relations with customers. Starbucks baristas, the people who spend entire days serving hot, caffeinated beverages to impatient yuppies and misspelling their names, some of whom are overqualified college graduates who are wondering where things went wrong. Yup, definitely the people who should discuss hot-button social topics with people who just want to get the hell off that line as soon as possible. Stellar idea. Nothing stupid about this at all.
In a video posted on the Starbucks site, originally shown to employees (whom Schultz refers to as “partners”), Schultz poses a rhetorical question:
“What can we do to create more empathy, more compassion, more understanding, not only within our own company, but how can we do it so that we elevate that sense of humanity inside our stores with our customers, and ask you, our own Starbucks partners, to facilitate a conversation and perhaps do something that would be catalytic for the country?”
“Catalytic,” “catastrophic,” “catatonic,” same difference. Schultz’s reasoning behind this came from being told that in the wake of current events such as the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice, race was too taboo a subject to bring to the Starbucks counter. Rather than be quiet, Schultz says he “reject[s] that” and now wants his baristas to speak freely with customers about race relations in the USA, handing them cups with “Race Together” written on them (in addition to a creative version of said customer’s name).
In addition to the video, an advertising insert, all black with the text “Shall we overcome?” and a logo for the “Race Together” initiative, appeared in Sunday’s issue of the New York Times. A similar ad appeared in USA Today, which will include another insert outlining more details about Race Together on Friday.
Couple of things: For one, at least you can’t bring guns to Starbucks. For another, has Howard Schultz never seen a Starbucks line? Is it really a good idea, for efficiency’s sake, to include a heated debate about sensitive social issues in the waiting time?
Schultz’s intentions are good, to be sure. And maybe he’s on to something about having these conversations face-to-face rather than on the internet where there’s a safe distance and the cloak of anonymity. But realistically, if this really catches on… ugh, now we won’t just have to wait, but all it takes is one jerk on either side of the counter to ruin everyone’s day.
“If you want milk, cream or sugar, it’s over there on the table labeled WHITE GUILT.”
UPDATE: Annnnnnnd one member of the Starbucks staff has already quit Twitter over the “overwhelming” response to #RaceTogether. Starbucks SVP of Global Communications Corey duBrowa said that after seeing how the internet hive mind responds to #sinceregoodwillgestures, he felt the need to temporarily shut down his Twitter account and make his Instagram account private.
Welcome to the internet, Corey duBrowa!