Starbucks makes progressive steps

Starbucks attempts to start discussion with the #RaceTogether campaign



When imagining a  Starbucks visit, you most likely envision finding refreshment in iced coffees and blended smoothies, not necessarily promoting diversity and starting a conversation about race. However, this is exactly what Starbucks is trying to do with its new Race Together initiative. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz unveiled this new campaign as an attempt to include Starbucks in the conversation on diversity that has been sweeping the nation in light of recent events.

Schultz announced the campaign on March 20 as an initiative that would encourage customers to discuss the topic of racism.

Schultz suggested that baristas at the popular coffee chain should, if they felt comfortable, write “Race Together” on the cup that was handed to a customer. The exchange would indicate an opportunity to begin a conversation about race if the barista and customer both wanted to.

Schultz wrote a letter explaining the new campaign.

“It is an initiative to stimulate conversation, compassion and action around publishing and in stores across America,” Schultz said.

Soon after the initiative was launched, however, protests poured in. One argument against Race Together was that the time that employees have with customers is not long enough to have a productive conversation about such an important topic.

Another was that the company was placing the weight of solving racism on the shoulders of its employees.

After intense backlash, Schultz retracted the program.

“An issue as tough as racial and ethnic inequality requires risk-taking and tough-minded action,” Schultz said.

“And let me reassure you that our conviction and commitment to the notion of equality and opportunity for all has never been stronger.”

The intensity of the arguments against Race Together are puzzling. Having a conversation beyond general pleasantries with your favorite Starbucks barista is not detrimental to society, but rather a creative way to spark an influential conversation.

Freshman Elena Goodenberger provides a potential answer to the complaints Race Together has received.

“I think that racism is a subject that people are generally uncomfortable talking about,” Goodenberger said.

If this is the case though, then encouraging conversation about race may help to dispel the sensitivity that surrounds racism as a topic.  Given the recent events such as Ferguson and other stories of police brutality in the news, many believe a larger-scale conversation on race needs to be started.

Freshman Nora Cheikh, however, does not believe this is an effective way to do it.

“It’s not necessarily a bad idea, but I don’t think it is what will make things better,” Cheikh said. “The race issue is much bigger than a hash tag on a coffee cup.”

There are positives and negatives to the Starbucks initiative. Whether or not it would have been successful in breaking down the barriers surrounding racism is unclear, as it was not given the time to test this goal. However, it is refreshing to see a corporation with as much power as Starbucks making moves to bring equality and empathy to our society as a whole.