UPDATED 2x: This journalist (who's braver than me...aren't they all?) walks into Starbucks and tries to talk about race. You'll never believe what happened next!
UPDATE: This is better -- why wasn't it announced at the same time?
ORIGINAL POST: "It's worth a little discomfort."
Did I mention that this is a terrible idea? Look, the reality is that a real conversation about race with a barista is about as likely as the Dead Kennedys or NWA blaring from Starbucks' sound system when you sink into your lounge chair with your next caramel flan latte (a popular drink with race conversers, I'm guessing). More likely is that your server will write "Race Together" on your cup, or give you a sticker. Selma, it's not. Even so, as many wags before me have observed today, just the idea of your barista asking your opinion -- on affirmative action or stop-and-frisk policing or whatever Schultz's idea of a race conversation is -- has actually managed to bring together people of all races and political stripes...to blast Starbucks naivety.
Here's an excerpt of the best piece that I read, posted on Medium by Tressie McMillan Cottom:
It is hard to know where to begin talking about race the way Starbucks wants to talk about race. I know theories, histories and measurements of race and racism. I do not know much about race "perspectives" that might fit on stickers that would be worth sticking somewhere. I do know that I require payment to talk about race and racism. It is a hard job. People don't mind the race part when it is about sharing feelings and opinions. It gets a lot harder to talk about the value of wealth from slave labor in the 18th century, for instance. If you really want to bring a party to a halt, you can talk about racial differences in death penalty sentencing when the victim is black and the murderer white and vice-versa.
Look, for all the pounding that Starbucks is taking today, it's worth noting that within America's reigning kleptocracy of unlimited corporate power that has persisted for more than a generation, Starbucks is one of the better actors. Among its many vaguely progressive initiatives backed by Schultz (whose idea of a bold stance is that Congress and the White House should start getting along), the coffee behemoth offers better-than-minimum-wage pay and benefits including health coverage even to many part-time employees. But in 2015, being the best player on the playing field of labor relations is akin to being the best player on the 76ers.
There is so, so much more work to be done.
It's worth a little discomfort to ask Starbucks how on earth it can expect to host the Great American Conversation on race when so few -- OK, actually none, essentially -- of its franchises are located in the neighborhoods where working-class and low-income people of color actually live. Take a look at this map of where Starbucks is actually located within our City of Brotherly Love. You'll see the vast majority of its franchises are clustered around Center City in such upscale locales as 19th and Chestnut in Rittenhouse Square or in the Bellevue Hotel.
There are *technically* Starbucks locations in places like North Philly and Southwest Philly, but if you look closer they're actually embedded on the campuses of universities with majority-white enrollments such as Temple and La Salle. There's University City near the Ivy League campus of Penn, of course, and then three "neighborhood" locations -- one in South Philly at Broad and Jackson, and two in the predominantly white Great Northeast.
Rather than writing empty race slogans on my next iced coffee, it would have been quite a milestone if Schultz announced today that Starbucks was opening in Hunting Park or Fairhill or Strawberry Mansion or other inner-city locations, and training and hiring youths from the surrounding blocks to work there. Rather than "What about that race problem?," I'm thinking that "You're hired!" might be a better conversation starter in predominantly black or Latino areas with higher unemployment.
It's worth a little discomfort to see Starbucks do much, much more to tackle income inequality. Despite its better-than-most record, the coffee company was embarrassed just last year by this article about its abusive scheduling habits for many of its workers. Endorsing the $15 minimum living wage and challenging rivals to do the same would have more impact on Philadelphia that caffeinated chatter. I suspect that the hard, hard work of bringing back America's middle class is a much, much more uncomfortable conversation in corporate boardrooms, including Starbucks', than race platitudes.
But, hey, it's a free country, and if Howard Schultz wants to talk about race, bring it on. But our closest Starbucks is a little cramped...mind if we have it at your place?