Race Together.

If you find those words gracing your morning cup of joe, it’s because Starbucks launched a new initiative yesterday. CEO Howard Schultz is encouraging baristas (or ‘Partners’ as Starbucks calls their employees) to initiate conversations about race with their customers.

Citing Ferguson and New York, Schultz decided to join the race conversation, “we at Starbucks should be willing to talk about these issues in America,” Schultz said. “Not to point fingers or to place blame, and not because we have answers, but because staying silent is not who we are.”

After holding forums in select cities like Oakland, St. Louis, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City, partners began voluntarily writing ‘Race Together’ on cups, according to a statement released Monday. Now, Starbucks is taking the campaign nationwide. Special ‘Race Together’ stickers will be provided to baristas, who may place the provocative stickers on beverages, as a way to engage customers in friendly discourse about race.

“It is an opportunity to begin to re-examine how we can create a more empathetic and inclusive society – one conversation at a time,” Schultz said.

Schultz’s efforts seem noble, but might be viewed as more legitimate were his reasons for entering the contentious race arena not predicated on blatant falsehoods and astroturfed race hustling.

To be fair, conservative ideology has bled into the turbulent world of corporate advocacy, though with marked distinction and with significantly less prevalence. Chick-fil-a President and CEO, Dan Cathy, got a chance to tussle with the gay rights mafia (which must be separated from advocacy groups working in earnest) a few years ago when his sentiments on same sex marriage made their way into the public. Enduring intense public backlash, Cathy later said Chick-fil-a had no place in culture wars.

The views Cathy expressed were his personal opinions, completely unlike the corporate campaign thrust upon unsuspecting java-lovers by Starbucks. Chick-fil-a employees weren’t instructed to engage customers on marriage equality nor were “let’s talk about your views on heteronormative sex” stickers placed on boxes of waffle fries.

The public typically responds well to powerful figures with large microphones who champion their values, and each side has their folk heroes. But being confronted with politicized discussion (and currently the topic of race is certainly politicized) while engaging in the sacred morning ritual of caffeination? Not only is it wholly unnecessary but it ventures into naiveté and borders on cruel.

While change must begin somewhere, and honest conversations must be had, are well meaning platitudes, forcing unsolicited political discourse on consumers who voluntarily frequent your establishment is probably not the best way to effect change.

Personally, I prefer my coffee sans social justice.

Follow Kemberlee Kaye on Twitter


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