I'm not a coffee drinker, and since that's the primary product of Starbucks, it looks like I won't be taking them up on their offer to talk about race.

Cheers to you from Starbucks - Coffee shops 2008, #53
Earl via Compfight

Last week's announcement that they were going to "ask" their barristas (I didn't even know that's what they were called) to talk to some of their customers about race, based on a campaign they're calling "Race Together", was met with a lot more vitriol and derision than even I thought was possible. When I was thinking that this project was a bit naive and probably didn't have a chance, others were calling for the head of CEO Howard Schultz. It got so ugly that he and some other high level staffs had to shut down their Twitter accounts.

Strangely enough, it wasn't the racists who were the main writers of hate. Instead, it was regular patrons, true customers of the store who basically said that they didn't want any kind of conversation at all with their morning coffee. They just wanted to get their coffee and move on. As someone who's not close to a morning person, I can understand that... to a point.

The thing is that Starbucks isn't only open in the morning but all day. I'm not sure how much coffee drinkers need their coffee later in the day but is the topic of race off limits to them all day?

Personally, I still think this is naive, and potentially harmful for the people selling the coffee. From what I understand there's no real training for them to initiate this conversation. So, if you're someone who's never even had the conversation before what to you say? "Sir, would you like to talk about race?" "Sir, what do you think about racism?" "Ma'am, do you have bad feelings towards Muslims?"

I get it; talking about race is really tough. Back in 2008 on this blog I wrote a post asking is a conversation about race possible? Last year I did a video saying Why We Have To Talk About Race . So I'm certainly not one to dodge this issue.

Still, I'm not sure that bringing it up when someone isn't prepared to talk about it is a way to do business. Imagine being asked the questions above when your mind is elsewhere; what do you say? How do you react? What if the barrista said something like "Did you know Starbucks doesn't support racism?" What can you say other than "that's nice"?

This is a conversation that has to be had. But the participants must be willing, otherwise it's just a waste of time. But I'll admit that my thinking isn't congealing well on Starbucks efforts. I'm trying not to be cynical or unsupportive, but I can't see this as all that positive a move.

So, I'm asking you what your opinion is? Do you have one? Do you just want to get your cup of coffee and move on? Will you avoid Starbucks for fear you'll be put on the spot? Or are you ready to talk about it, no matter when?

By the way... they also decided to end the conversation on race yesterday. Just thought I'd pass that news along. 🙂