Starbucks' Race Together: May I Have A Latte and An Explanation for Why Your People Continue to Plunder My Country?
So this: Mixing healthy shots of hubris, cluelessness and no-doubt good intentions in a frothy faux corporate social conscience brew, the head of Starbucks has announced the launch of a new initiative that seeks to address racism by having servers write "Race Together " on your $5 cup of privilege while sharing a little Race Relations 101 seminar on the need for empathy and understanding, which is more than his idea has gotten. Twitter responses range from new drink ideas - Malcom Xpresso, Latte from Birmingham Jail - to withering putdowns: "I don't have time to explain 400 years of oppression to you and still catch my train."
In a video posted to Starbucks' website, CEO Howard Schultz - who has previously taken public stands in favor of marriage equality and against guns in his stores - explains the idea emerged from post-Ferguson "forums" on race relations where many of the company's 200,000 baristas, aka "partners," aka people who take coffee orders "said they wanted to do something tangible to encourage greater understanding, empathy and compassion toward one another." He decided the best way to resolve this arduous, centuries-old, unfathomably complex issue was for them to write the catchy if somewhat indecipherable "Race Together" slogan on each pricey tiramisu latte grande or caramel macchiato venti they served, and then "strike up a conversation" with that customer about, say, the legacy of slavery or the institutional methodology behind our deeply racist and unjust criminal justice system - all as the person standing in line blocks 72 other caffeine-craving people in line, and before he or she has actually consumed the steaming hot coffee he or she is now painfully holding, and is plausibly, given they're in line and all, likewise craving. This action, says Schultz, "is really important, not so much for the company, but for the country," which is why they are "asking their customers to do something together that could be catalytic."
Responses to the campaign, undertaken in partnership with USA Today, have been...somewhat skeptical. Okay, they've been scathing, brutal, merciless. Many agree that an informed, nuanced conversation about race among employees of any company in America sounds eminently useful. But cornering customers en route to their morning Joe, and giving the responsibility of facilitating that conversation to young hipsters who may or may not have once taken a Black History course in college - not so much. Other glaring problems cited: Starbucks is infamous as a harbinger of a gentrification process that commonly drives out poor, often black residents, and a conglomerate that drives out small local coffee shops. Starbucks sells insanely over-priced, not Fair Trade products while paying pennies to Ethiopian farmers for the coffee beans to make them. Starbucks called the cops on Black Lives Matter events. Starbucks workers who make 10 bucks an hour tops have now been given the somewhat hefty additional task of repairing our country's historically tortuous race relations with no additional compensation. Starbucks' management is almost entirely white. And while up to 40% of Starbucks store workers are reportedly people of color, the project launched with a big oops in the form of photos showing only white hands holding the sloganeered cups. Oh, and Starbucks burns their coffee, and what's up with that?
Then again, the idea did prompt an impressive show of solidarity: Pretty much everyone, from both ends of the political spectrum, savaged it. Right-wingers wanting to "be part of the normal American community" blasted it as PC-tard-bucks, coffee with leftist agenda additives, an attempt to talk about how white people are all bad, and proof that Starbucks needs to go in the dustbin of history with Islam. They also offered nuggets of racial advice like, "Don't be a criminal." Others created the NewStarbucksDrinks hashtag to offer such treats as Police Brew-Tali-Tea, Roasta Parks, My Chais Were Watching God, Some of My Best Friends Are Black Coffee, Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Chai, and Latte from Birmingham Jail. Many of the most furious, hilarious, blistering responses have been posted directly to Starbucks' #RaceTogether hashtag - often, judging from the accompanying photos, by people of color. Samples: "#RaceTogether should matter to Starbucks: Coffee and sugar were 2 of the 3 drugs (w/tobacco) that started this mess in the first place...Making white people feel good about themselves for superficially talking about race since 2015...Will you be paying for this with the food stamps we give you?...I don't always discuss racism but when I do I do it with my barista...Don't write #racetogether on my frickin' latte when you won't open your stores in low-income hoods...I can't even get Lars LapTop to share his little table with me long enough to stir my sugar - we're gonna chat about slavery?...Nothing Says #RaceTogether Like Only Hiring 3 People of Color Out of 19 Executives....STFU and gimme my coffeeee....They can't even call a small a small - how the hell is Starbucks going to fix racism?" Good question. But have a nice day.