Starbuck’s most recent campaign is all sorts of controversy. In the latest Starbucks news, CEO Howard Schultz announced the global corporate’s plan to talk race. By writing “Race Together” on each coffee cup, baristas are encouraged to engage in race-related conversations with their customers. Schultz acknowledges the widespread criticism the campaign received and explained that the company did not expect a “universal praise”. In his letter, Schultz quotes: “the heart of Race Together has always been about humanity: the promise of the American Dream should be available to every person in this country, not just a select few. We leaned in because we believed that starting this dialogue is what matters most. We are learning a lot. And will always aim high in our efforts to make a difference on the issues that matter most.”
It only took a week for the campaign to end. According to the New York Daily News, the campaign “drew criticism for being opportunistic in the wake of Ferguson and even inappropriate for a barista to task such a conversation while making coffee.” Many took to twitter to criticize the campaign. One barista tweeted: “Being a barista is hard enough. Having to talk #RaceTogether with a woman in Lululemon pants while pouring pumpkin spice is just cruel.” Others have explained that there is no time for race dialogue during a quick coffee trip before catching a train.
In my opinion, that’s the problem. There is no time for race dialogue simply because people are not making time. Starbucks made a powerful move by inviting topics such as racial inequality in a corporate setting, where this kind of dialogue is rarely discussed. We tend to shut down the things that make us feel uncomfortable. And that’s exactly why this campaign did not last. How dare we talk about the things that matter in a coffee shop? How absurd for Starbucks to add an extra shot of wake-me-up by encouraging awareness? Moreover, Starbucks is one of the places where race dialogue should indeed be encouraged. Since pumpkin spice lattes are hashtag “white girl probs” as current millennials like to call it, perhaps Starbucks felt it necessary to talk about real race problems.
Sure, baristas and fellow coffee drinkers may not be able to engage in an hour long conversation about racism. However, encouraging a race-related dialogue could improve the willingness and ability to talk about race; even if it’s for two minutes. For a big-time corporation to promote this kind of conversation, confirms the reality of these issues on a much larger scale. When we talk about something, it becomes a reality we must face. When we stay silent, we are either agreeing with injustice, or are too afraid to engage in issues cloaked with lies.
Some deemed this campaign inappropriate and unprofessional for a barista to talk about race while making coffee. But if we want to talk professional, let us not forget how unprofessional it is for women to get paid less than men in a “professional” setting. Now that’s inappropriate. Let us not forget how unprofessional it is that people of color have a harder time getting hired at jobs. You know what else is inappropriate? Getting legitimately mad that someone has invited you to talk about race with them. God forbid your five dollar macchiato will start to taste bitter.