Starbucks is encouraging its baristas to write the words "Race Together" on cups to get customers talking about racial issues. The idea started internally when about 2,000 Starbuckians attended a forum to talk about Ferguson, Mo., but surely no one foresaw the shit storm that would erupt when it went public.
This isn't the coffee company's first time at the social cause rodeo. It's taken on guns and gay rights gamely, with applause from its largely liberal audience. But somehow, the clumsy nature of reducing a serious, impossibly complex national conversation to a hashtag on a coffee cup has united Twitter users of all races in roundly denouncing the attempt.
Being a barista is hard enough. Having to talk #RaceTogether with a woman in Lululemon pants while pouring pumpkin spice is just cruel.— Ijeoma Oluo (@IjeomaOluo) March 17, 2015
if only Selma had just put in a starbucks— Jessica Misener (@jessmisener) March 17, 2015
Entrepreneur points out that the campaign puts an unfair burden on the baristas. And let's be frank, they maybe aren't being given the resources and information to hold an informed, nuanced discussion of the topic when a customer walks in and asks their feelings on the subject of cultural appropriation. By the way, do they find it awkward that ordering a black coffee or a flat white espresso will now have an extra layer of uncomfortable meaning?
More than a few people are suggesting Starbucks needs to first have a serious conversation with itself about race—more diversity in leadership, a serious look at where they are and aren't putting their stores (interestingly, there are no Starbucks in the town of Ferguson), and of course, fair trade for all their coffee growers.
Starbucks, for its part, claimed that broaching the topic is worth a little discomfort. But that was right before vp of communications Corey duBrowa deleted his Twitter account because attacks were distracting from a "respectful conversation."
The important thing is that Starbucks has finally united Americans in a conversation about how much they don't want to have a conversation about race—at least, not before they have their coffee.