Starbucks is not the place to talk about racial issues

Writing on coffee cups doesn't help mitigate racism

Starbucks+is+not+the+place+to+talk+about+racial+issues

Nick Booth, JagWire copy editor

On Sunday, March 22, Starbucks concluded the portion of its Race Together initiative that comprised of baristas writing either “Race Together” or just “Together” on customer’s coffee cups, following the initiative’s schedule. This part of the campaign was intended to start conversations and discussions about race in America (presumably inside Starbucks locations nationwide). Although they were well-intentioned, the coffee cup conversation starters largely failed to actually start serious, positive discussions about racial issues in modern day America. In fact, many reactions to the campaign were actually very negative.

The thing is, Starbucks actually expected some of the backlash from many members of the general population – in a letter to Starbucks employees on the day baristas stopped the coffee cup initiative, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz  wrote in a letter that he “didn’t expect universal praise.” Clearly, Starbucks thought that the inevitable criticism wouldn’t hinder the campaign’s ability to deliver its message. Unfortunately, all of Starbucks’ future efforts, including the rest of the Race Together campaign, may be colored by this blunder.

The simple fact of the situation is that hundreds of years of systematic racial oppression and prejudice cannot be explained or solved by a short conversation incited by the writing on a coffee cup. This is especially true considering the problems that are seen when a barista tries to have an extended conversation with a customer while several others are waiting in  line. At this point, Starbucks has managed not only to start a shallow conversation about a complex issue that will be ultimately cut short, but also annoyed multiple other customers and hurt the chances of them listening or participating in conversations about race. Because of this, Starbucks’ program is not just misguided, but actually detrimental to genuine discussions about race.

In the letter, Schultz claimed that the coffee cup writing was just a “catalyst” for the rest of the Race Together campaign. In some respects, that’s actually true. However, instead of catalyzing thoughtful and meaningful conversation, the way Strabucks handled the situation catalyzed a conversation that was much different: one of ignorance that tried to simplify an issue which was way too complex. Although the rest of the Race Together initiative has potential, it will be forever marred by this ridiculous mistake.

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