Is it 2015 or 1960?
There’s no shortage of news stories about Starbucks’ Howard Schultz’s “Race Together” initiative. I suppose it’s also no coincidence that this is coming on the heels of the all the violent arrests and deaths of African American men in the last few months.
My question for Mr. Schultz is this: Have you been in one of your stores lately, let’s say one in New York City or Seattle? Most Starbucks are usually (and you love that, right, Howard?) are crazy busy with customers lining up to get some kind of coffee drink.
How practical, let alone, comfortable, would it be for one of your baristas to strike up a conversation with the customer in front of him or her and say, “Can we talk about race, please?” Yeah, right. That would go over big with that one person who’s probably already late for work, didn’t meet his project deadline, and now must figure out way to explain to his boss why he screwed up. Awkward.
If I were a customer (and I am, I admit it), I would politely decline the barista’s request to talk about a subject that quite frankly is better served discussing in a quiet meeting room at the local library with a few close friends. But really, in a public place as a coffee shop? I don’t think so.
It is a topic that we should be talking about because I’m concerned that our society is undoing all that Dr. King and his supporters have worked so hard to accomplish in terms of civil rights since the 60's. But I believe that there are better forums for discussion on race than striking up a casual conversation in a coffee shop.
Mr. Schultz, you had good intentions when you decided on this initiative, but putting your store employees in an uncomfortable and awkward position to be the conversation initiator is a dumb idea. There I said it. I applaud your goals and aspirations for “Race Together,” but honestly, I think there’s other ways to get this accomplished. If you were looking to get some publicity for this initiative, and for better or worse, you have it.
It’s bad enough that there are still incidents happening all over the country where white police officers are confronting citizens (of color) and in many cases, using force, some think even excessive force to make arrests. And then you have the Chief of Police issuing a public apology on camera. And the cycle starts again.
So I’m confused. I’m not really sure what era we live in today: My calendar says “2015,” but with all the horrible and tragic events that have occurred in this country related to race issues in the past year, it could very well be 1960.
As for Starbucks and its “Race Together” initiative, I’m glad it’s only for a week. What will the big topic be next week?