A coffee house is a place for calm. A temporary sanctuary for people to check their emails, complete office work, or read the morning paper–or at least that’s what I see when I enter a Starbucks. It’s now being turned into a drive-by hub for customers to get a lecture about race in America. Coffee is now politicized.
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is taking on another fraught political debate, with his company launching a new initiative this week to get employees to discuss with customers the state of race relations in the United States.
“We at Starbucks should be willing to discuss these issues in America,” Schultz said in a company statement released Monday announcing its “Race Together” campaign.
Approximately 2,000 employees of the coffee chain have shared their concerns about racial issues at open forums in cities across the country, including St. Louis, where racial tensions have flared in nearby Ferguson; New York City, Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles and Oakland, California.
Some folks on Twitter noticed something that was rather embarrassing for the coffee giant; their promotional photos for Race Together only featured Caucasian people’s hands.
Regardless, it may be time to find a new place to get our caffeine fixes. Thankfully, there’s McDonalds (yes, their coffee is pretty good), Dunkin’ Donuts, Sheetz, WaWa, and Caribou Coffee.
"Welcome to Starbucks. How do you like your coffee?" "I feel like this is a trick question now."— Matthew (@Matthops82) March 17, 2015
Discussions about race are fine, though I think sometimes we have them way too much, and they often devolve rapidly into absurdity. Just troll around Salon.com for a bit. It’s got to the point where saying, “that’s racist” has become a punch line for jokes. Given that this social experiment is upon us, it’s somewhat less maddening since a business owner decided, haphazardly, to begin this dialogue than some politician from Washington.
Often times, local matters become “presidential-level subjects of conversation” when they shouldn’t, as George Will aptly noted with the controversy surrounding the arrest of Henry Louis Gates in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2009.
This incident led to the “beer summit” at the White House between President Obama, Gates, Vice President Joe Biden, and the arresting officer, Sgt. James Crowley. It made for a nice photo opportunity.
Back in 2015, it seems most are in favor of being left alone at Starbucks, given that their senior vice president of communications, Corey duBrowa, deleted his Twitter account due to the backlash. Yet, he said this campaign will be explained in more detail at the annual shareholder's meeting this Wednesday. At the same time, I'm just trying to figure out how one would start a racial dialogue in Starbucks? Will it be when you order your coffee? Will ordering those giant Rice Krispie treats set off a discussion about slave reparations? Will buying the various bags of coffee elicit an anecdote about minority representation in the media with the cashier?
This sounds like it could go off the hinges easily, or at least get really, really awkward (via Mediaite):
Last night, a panel on All In with Chris Hayes became the ultimate example of how awkward the results of Starbucks’ #RaceTogether campaign could be.
Chris Hayes showed a video of panelist Jay Smooth‘s YouTube lecture, “How to Tell Someone They Sound Racist”, and fellow panelist Nancy Giles joked about the “brotha way he was trying to talk” in the video.
“I’m a rap guy!” Smooth said.
“Yeah, I know, but it’s another interesting, funny thing about race. Like, there would be some people that feel that you co-opted something like that, and other people might feel like that’s his background and that’s really cool, too,” Giles replied, poking fun at his impersonation of a black guy.
“It’s also interesting because I’m actually black, but you assumed otherwise,” Smooth replied. “And this is the sort of awkwardness that we can look forward to at Starbucks across America.”
To her credit, Giles immediately pointed out that her assumption was the kind of thing that race discussions led to, and Hayes broke into hysterical laughter in the background.