Starbucks wants to talk about race - #NewStarbucksDrinks hijacks conversation

Starbucks are running the above ads in the New York Times and USA Today, and are encouraging their baristas to discuss race with customers by writing "race together" on the starbucks cups. It began with a candid discussion about race at an all-hands meeting at the Starbucks Support Center,explains the release, where Howard Schultz voiced his concerns with employees/partners in the company’s Seattle headquarters and started a discussion about race in America.

“we at Starbucks should be willing to talk about these issues in America," Schultz said. "Not to point fingers or to place blame, and not because we have answers, but because staying silent is not who we are."

Partners were not silent. For more than an hour, at an all-hands meeting at the Starbucks Support Center, partners representing various ages, races and ethnicities passed a microphone and shared personal stories.

“The current state of racism in our country is almost like humidity at times. You can’t see it, but you feel it,” said one partner.

All around the US in cities like Chicago, St Lois, Oakland, New York and Los Angeles Starbucks has held open forums discussing race with their partners. In St. Louis, a soft spoken young man shared that he was "proud to have reached the age of 20."

Now the plan is to take this out to all the Starbucks stores, where starbucks baristas will take a break from misspelling your name to write "race together" on Starbucks cups. The idea is to keep the conversation going across the counter, making the community where the Starbucks store is think about its place in the race. It's an idea that feels very influenced by Howard Schultz, who last year encouraged gun owners with “open carry” permits to no longer bring firearms when visiting the Starbucks store. Gun owners were happy to oblige and shop for their coffee elsewhere.

Will this effort of opening up about race in America work? In the currently polarized climate where everything is politicized some may find this off-putting. As John McWhorter writes in The Privilege of Checking White Privilege:

"Our country engages in an endless “conversation” about race year round, in the media, academia, and barstool talk, while schools, museums, the media, the publishing industry, and government organizations treat coverage, exploration and deploring of, as well as apology for, racism as ingrained aspects of their mission."

This is not a topic flying under the radar, at all.

Some may even find it awkward, if not downright condescending, and when word spread about this campaign on twitter the "conversation" spilled into the 140char snark-race. Reactions aren't all positive, in fact I've seen quite the opposite, which is the risk any company that adds ideology to products takes. With the success of fair trade coffees, sweat-shop free clothing and dolphin free tunas, wrapping a product or service with a dose of good conscience has hit the sweet spot of alleviating consumer guilt. We've now moved past tangible production changes to starting conversations and raising awareness, which has a much higher backlash ratio.

It wasn't long until the hashtag #newstarbucksdrinks took off. Suggestions include "All Fraps Matter", "African Americano", "and Frap Queen", and "White Supremacy Mochas " (1, 2). Some more examples:

So far I've seen an overwhelming amount of negative reactions to this Starbucks idea on twitter, ranging from cynical to offended.

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Anonymous Adgrunt's picture
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unitron's picture

And then the tag spammers showed up and crapflooded #NewStarbucksDrinks and that's why we can't have nice things.

Dabitch's picture

Very few hashtags survive longer than an hour without tons of crapflooding these days. The start of it had some real gems though.

kidsleepy's picture

I don't want a sermon with my latte.

Dabitch's picture

> which has a much higher backlash ratio.

Just to add to that, I was chided on twitter for using the word "hijack" in the headline here to describe what happened to Starbucks effort once it was made public. The converser declined to make her point in the comments here, so from the fragmented 140 char conversation we had I managed to understand that she was surprised that Starbucks was surprised that people actually started talking about race, which is what their campaign intended. Or something like that.

Comment box is free to use, y'all.