On Tuesday, Starbucks initiated a “#RaceTogether” campaign, requesting that Starbucks baristas across America exchange in race-related discourse in the 30 seconds or so it takes for he or she to call out the order before getting started on making the next drink. They are also required to write the campaign’s title across the cups. On Sunday, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz withdrew this request.
And this is not surprising. The campaign has been the victim of a handful of Twitter trends and think pieces with a generally skeptical reception. No one can seem to visualize Starbucks’ plans to execute this somewhat far-fetched campaign in a real world situation without cutting into the baristas and customers’ schedules. The discussion is just too large, and the setting so incredibly inappropriate.
To say that the campaign does not stem from a place of good intentions, though, would be unfair. Schultz clearly has a concern for the larger issues America is currently facing and only wishes to fuel cognizance, no matter how delicate the topic. However, integrating hot button issues — race in particular — into the natural and unperturbed act that is buying a cup of coffee seems strained, uncomfortable, especially for the baristas, and, more than anything, simply unnecessary. It could be argued that the design and execution of what is rooted in a good cause may, instead of bringing races of people together, catalyze greater division and animosity.
When you grab a #RaceTogether flier, Starbucks asks that you take a “Race Relations Reality Check,” comprised of 10 suggested conversation starters pertaining to race. It has you fill in the blanks as the questions apply to your own life or to the life of your luckless applicant. The flier is complete with lines such as “[blank] members of a different race live on my block or apartment building,” and “ In the past year, I have been to the home of someone of a different race [blank] times.” I was upset to find this. In an effort to bring light to subliminal, often-surpassed racism in 21st century America, Starbucks is asking its customers to sort the people in their lives into categories and to evaluate the dynamics and significance of this cataloging through a prism of race.
And at whom is this campaign targeted? Customers who are aware of America’s racial disparities should not be compelled to start an authentic, reliable discussion. This customer has other outlets to do so. The customer who is less aware, though, is likely sick of hearing about race-related topics because they are prevalent.
It seems that all of this mounting evidence against the good-hearted Starbucks campaign has been heard. As of Sunday, the Starbucks baristas from coast to coast will be able to go to work without an agenda and unafraid of upsetting the customers their brand is built to serve. These guys make coffee, not socially sensitive discourse. We may all hear a well-deserved sigh of relief as these baristas get back to their daily, coffee-pervaded grind.