A bungled invitation to talk

Starbucks and its CEO Howard Schultz set themselves up for criticism.

And the media obliged, as if its name had been misspelled on its half-caff grande mocha.

Schultz, in a recent videotaped message for Starbucks employees, encouraged baristas to write “Race Together” on customers’ coffee cups this week to encourage discussion about race, race relations and related issues.

Noting recent incidents of strife in the U.S., Schultz told his employees: “If we just keep going about our business and ringing the Starbucks register every day and ignoring this, then I think we are, in a sense, part of the problem.”

The reaction among media outlets was nearly unanimous: Silly idea; now get me my coffee.

Washington Post columnist Alexandra Petri called the initiative “a frothy combination of one pump hubris, three pumps privilege and four shots of I-can’t-even.”

Fusion blogger Danielle Henderson agreed: “It’s the height of liberal American idealism and a staggering act of hubris to think we can solve our systemic addiction to racism over a Frappucino.”

Starbucks should have spent more time in thinking out this campaign. It’s a little hard to have a conversation with a barista about race over the hiss of milk being steamed. Background noise is the death of any attempt at conversation in a Starbucks. It sounds like one of those great ideas from the boss that needed a little more fleshing out. Even its website offers nothing about the campaign. Search for “Race Together” on the website and it returns no results and helpfully asks, “Did you mean: rich together?” and offers to sell you a French press or a sampler of cocoa packets.

A quick canvas of three Starbucks in Everett found no one holding cups with the slogan but at least a little more acceptance among a few customers.

Maria Sexton, enjoying a coffee and reading a book at the Colby Avenue Starbucks, hadn’t heard much about the campaign, but on its face thought it didn’t sound like a bad idea.

“We all have different points of view regarding race. It’s a good conversation starting point,” she said.

Admittedly, Sexton may be better versed in these issues. She works with the Navy in its equal opportunity office at the Everett base. But she has also traveled extensively while in the Navy and has lived in or visited communities with a range of racial and social makeups, including Everett; Atlanta; San Francisco; Fargo, North Dakota; and her native Los Angeles.

With the exception of Fargo, she said, most everyone in each of those communities seems more interested in the interactions on their smartphones than in face-to-face communication. Sexton saw value in an encouragement to talk, even if it’s just written on a coffee cup.

If we take the expectation that Schultz’s idea solve the current crisis in race relations in the country and scale it back to the suggestion that we listen to each other about race, about what it means for our lives and our interactions in our community, that should be encouraged. Fostering discussion is one of the goals of this page.

But maybe find a spot where you can hear each other.

Talk to us

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