Culture

Starbucks Have Launched A Truly Terrible Campaign To Fix Race Relations In America

It's not really helped by the fact that all their promo shots only feature white people.

From the colonisation of Native American land to the slavery of African Americans to segregation to the structural inequalities and instances of racially motivated violence we see today; the United States has an awful history with race.

Now, in the wake of the high-profile deaths of Eric Garner and Mike Brown, as well as the ensuing #BlackLivesMatter protests and damning report recently released by the Department of Justice concerning police brutality in Ferguson, one of the nation’s biggest corporations has started a campaign to start real discussions about these issues.

Unfortunately, this corporation is Starbucks: the number one listing on ‘Stuff White People Like’; only a few places above ‘Diversity’ and ‘Having Black Friends’.

starbucks

Could this be the new Martin Luther King? (The answer is no.)

Of course, this isn’t what makes it inherently bad. By all accounts, the campaign looks incredibly well-intentioned and any attempt to start these kind of important conversations should be congratulated. So, y’know, good job Starbucks!

But here’s the thing: they’ve done it all wrong.

The campaign will see the words “Race Together” written on customers’ coffee cups; words which are intended as a stimulus to get people thinking about the nation’s race relations. “We at Starbucks should be willing to talk about these issues in America,” said CEO Howard Shultz. “Not to point fingers or to place blame, and not because we have answers, but because staying silent is not who we are.”

More specifically, these words are intended as a stimulus for talks between the customer and their barista. Though it is not mandatory, Starbucks employees are being encouraged to initiate these incredibly nuanced and volatile discussions with people in the two short minutes it takes to make their coffee.

Though all this was only announced yesterday, the backlash has already been enormous.

For starters, many are pointing out that around 40 percent of the 150,000 people who work at Starbucks in the US identify as racial minorities. And though the company’s executives have viewed this as a justification for the idea, it could in fact end up pretty bad. As Vox write, there are recent surveys which suggest many white Americans think they face more discrimination than people of colour and the debate around Ferguson is incredibly divisive. These short and superficial interactions with such a controversial subject could leave employees open to serious abuse or criticism.

Also, every promo shot for the campaign exclusively features white people.

Elsewhere, Entrepreneur argue the initiative could “actively hurt employees and business”, ThinkProgress suggest Starbucks have no business talking about these “fraught, complex and sensitive” issues since they continue to screw language by calling a small drink “tall”, and The NY Daily News have written a one-act play of an imagined cringeworthy interaction in store.

“It’s the height of liberal American idealism and a staggering act of hubris to think we can solve our systemic addiction to racism over a Frappucino,” wrote Danielle Henderson in Fusion.

Importantly, Starbucks are aware that this is not a solution rather describing it as “an opportunity to begin to re-examine how we can create a more empathetic and inclusive society — one conversation at a time.”

Here’s how that conversation is going so far:

All in all, it’s pretty different to how the Starbucks execs imagined: