UPDATE, 3/23/15 at 8 am: Starbucks will no longer be writing “Race Together” on your coffee cup, reports The Washington Post. The most visible facet of the program has been pulled just one week after implementation. CEO Howard Schultz released a memo insisting this phase of the initiative was “originally planned” to end on March 22nd (he also says support for Race Together was “fearless” and “energetic”). The campaign isn’t completely over – we’ll see sections in USA Today and open forums over the next year. If you didn’t get a chance to have a difficult conversation about race at your local Starbucks last week, don’t worry, a few intrepid journalists did your work for you.
Famous for the addictive seasonal brews (pumpkin spice lattes anyone?), Starbucks is a staple for quite a lot of us. Which is why, with their diverse clientele in mind, Starbucks is now suggesting baristas across the country voluntarily write “Race Together” on their cups. In addition to a free USA Today publication which included quizzes and discussion prompts about race, ‘bux employees have also been encouraged to chat with customers about racial issues if they choose, Today.com reports.
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz released a statement Monday: “Each story, each voice, offered insight into the divisive role unconscious bias plays in our society and the role empathy can play to bridge those divides.” Since coffee houses have always been a space for friends and coworkers to meet and discuss controversial topics or debate opinions, it seemed like a natural step for the company.
I commend Starbucks for attempting to improve customer engagement with the seemingly detached megacorporation. But race is quite a touchy subject to experiment with in this type of interaction with for the company — especially during interactions at a cash register, which aren’t much more than a minute long. Isn’t the point of delving into serious issues like racial relations to have back-and-forth?
In the days since the “Race Together” initiative was announced, customers have taken Twitter to show their discomfort in Starbucks’ efforts, CNBC reports. Starbucks also took to Twitter to defend their initiative.
Nevertheless, “Race Together” writings on cups are only the first installment of the year long project. We’ll all see how it goes, I guess.