Starbucks brews controversy through ‘Race Together’ campaign

By Abbey Nickel
@abbeynickel

Findlay might not have a Starbucks, but the popular coffee chain was a hot topic not only here, but across the country over the last week.

For those that haven’t heard, Starbucks chief executive Howard Shultz decided to use the coffee cups in his stores to try and heal the racial divide in our country. He wanted to try and step up the conversation about race through encouraging his baristas to write “Race Together” on coffee cups while chatting with customers about racial issues.

I stopped at a Starbucks on my way home last week to see how just involved this campaign was and if local stores were actually participating.

As I waited in line to order my overpriced coffee (I had a gift card, so it was justified), absolutely nobody was talking about race.

The cups were not embellished with Shultz’s slogan. The people who were standing in line were not bringing up the issue of race, but rather staring at their smartphones and trying to avoid eye contact or even the slightest conversation with a stranger.

If this was the case at the store I was at, I’m sure it was a familiar scene at other stores across the country.

Shultz’s efforts came to a halt on Sunday after there was widespread criticism about the campaign on social media. People mocked the effort and many called it awkward and weak. Starbucks is now saying that they are moving forward with other efforts to help curb racial inequality.

My issue with the campaign is this: What did Shultz think he was going to accomplish through having his baristas write two words on coffee cups?

People who go into Starbucks usually only have one thing in mind: To get their coffee, drink it, and get out and back to their busy lives. While opening the discussion about race is definitely of importance and it’s promising that people like Shultz want to spearhead efforts to help put an end to some of the cruelty in this country.

But let’s face it, people love to say “let’s start a conversation” or “at least we’re finally talking about it.” But the truth is we have been talking about it. We’ve been talking about it for a while. But what we haven’t done is actually put action behind our words and try to actively heal the racial divide in our country.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the 50th anniversary of the Selma March and my thoughts on how our country has progressed since then. This is undoubtedly a promising, and heartfelt effort from Shultz.

But it’s a little unfortunate that some of us think writing with a sharpie marker on a $3.97 coffee cup will somehow magically bring some peace to the hurting people across this country.

But the truth is, nothing is going to change if we don’t change. We can walk around and openly talk about racial issues, but we’re not going to correct anything if our motives stay the same and racial discrimination happens all around us at every hour of the day.

Just recently, the University of Oklahoma expelled two students for playing leadership roles in the singing of a racist chant that that was recorded on video during a fraternity event. The university also shut down the fraternity as a result of the video, declaring a zero tolerance attitude toward racist behavior.

Actions speak louder than words when it comes to things like this. Starting conversations while we’re waiting for coffee early in the morning is a start, but it’s not going to accomplish what we need. We’ve made progress, but we’re still far from we need to be, and who knows if we’ll ever get there.

But one thing I do is know is that it starts with us, and our actions, to make the changes that we want to see around us.

As for Starbucks, they might be better off doing what they do best, which is marketing overpriced coffee – not sealing our racial divide.

 

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