Starbucks, the popular haven of caffeine-laced concoctions and assorted baked goodies, is now unveiling their newest product: hot button topic discussions. That’s right, your baristas are no longer simply the connoisseurs of delectable drinks. According to a new initiative launched by CEO Howard Schultz, baristas are now being encouraged to engage in debate with customers about one of the biggest subjects in our society to date: race relations. According to the new campaign, baristas will now be able to give out cups labeled with the phrase “Race Together,” and subsequently start up a chat with customers about the status of race and racism in America. The baristas will be under no obligation to do this, but with persons of color making up 40 percent of Starbucks’ workforce, this opens up the door for serious discussion all over the country.
This is an extremely bold and important move on Schultz’s behalf. The issue, while it has received national media attention, still lags on actual administrative action; and this new initiative could increase the possibility of unimaginable opportunities. One of the biggest roadblocks facing the activists for racial equality is that not enough people are on board with the idea that there is a crisis in this country. Perhaps it’s because many are not so quick to lose faith in the officers who are sworn to protect citizens, or it may be rooted in deeper racial biases—either way, the issue can only take off and get traction if more people start talking about it. Police brutality is just the tip of the iceberg, and we can infer that no issue will be off limits in these dialogues.
On the other hand, this move could also prove to be dangerous, and could even backfire on Starbucks with the opposite result. These are, after all, very emotional and crucial topics, where lives are at stake. With such a big portion of Starbucks employees being persons of color, these debates could easily turn into arguments with the slightest misuse of words—and frankly, nobody goes to a Starbucks to be exposed to heated disagreements. It could all spiral out of control very easily, and such an event would not be helpful to the furthering of the movement. It’s difficult for us to calmly discuss these issues even in a classroom or residential setting, let alone a commercial business where dozens of customers pass through every hour (and let’s not forget that there might also be children present when these talks go south).
Ultimately, we applaud Starbucks for attempting an initiative so progressive (especially one that many businesses might shy away from addressing), and we are definitely looking forward to see how this plays out!