This week Starbucks baristas have the option to write “Race Together” on coffee cups, to potentially spark a conversation with customers about race relations. The company is also publishing a series of inserts in the Friday edition of USA Today, with articles expressing different perspectives on race in America.
A few people are applauding the company (albeit grudgingly) for trying to facilitate discussion on an important social issue.
But by and large, the social media response has been downright scathing.
The initiative has also given rise to the amazing #NewStarbucksDrinks hashtag.
A lot of the criticism asserts that a coffee shop is an inappropriate forum for that kind of discussion, that these discussions really won’t do anything to solve a serious social problem, and that asking workers to do this puts them in an uncomfortable position. However, Starbucks says the idea actually came from employees.
The concept grew out of internal “open forums” in which Starbucks workers had been gathering to talk about race relations among themselves. The company-facilitated meetings have been taking place around the country for the past three months, and according to a video message to staff from CEO Howard Schultz, after the open forums a number of employees approached him expressing a desire to broaden the conversation beyond their colleagues.
The company has also said that it’s up to individual baristas whether they want to write “Race Together” on cups and invite a discussion. For that discussion to actually materialize would also require a willing customer to respond to the invitation. So if you don’t want to talk to your barista about Eric Garner or how many people of color Starbucks employs at an executive level, you really don’t have to. But if the person in front of you does, you may be screwed.