On Starbucks' Race Together

[Content Note: White supremacy; racism; privilege.]

So, Starbucks has launched a program called "Race Together," after Starbucks chair and CEO Howard Schultz "voiced his concerns with partners (employees) in the company's Seattle headquarters and started a discussion about race in America."

Presumably, they mean "started a discussion about race in America" within the company, and don't imagine that Schultz started that discussion full-stop. Which still raises the question about why a discussion about race wasn't already happening at Starbucks (at the executive level, because I feel pretty confident that such conversations are already happening among employees who are people of color), but okay.

So Starbucks has held, in the last few months, open forums in Oakland, Los Angeles, St. Louis, New York, and Chicago, where "more than 2,000 Starbucks partners have discussed racial issues. ...In each forum, partners demonstrated vulnerability and courage as they shared personal stories. It was clear to those who attended, the gatherings highlighted the mission and values of Starbucks, and the partners' desire to do more."

I have no idea how these open forums were run, or how/if they were moderated, so I'm curious how safe they felt for participants who aren't white. Spaces in which white people are publicly working out their privilege can feel really alienating to people of color. And it can quite easily devolve into making people of color feel obliged to educate white people, as opposed to being able to freely express their own perspectives.

This sounds to me like a lot of wanting to Do Something, without a framework put in place with guidelines that ensure the safety of people of color.
Baristas in cities where the forums were held said they wanted to do something tangible to encourage greater understanding, empathy and compassion toward one another. Given their willingness to discuss race relations, many partners wanted to begin conversations with their customers too. Partners in New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Oakland and Los Angeles have voluntarily begun writing "Race Together" on Starbucks cups. Partners in all Starbucks stores in the U.S. will join them today. Partners in Starbucks® stores may also engage customers in conversation through Race Together stickers available in select stores, and a special USA Today newspaper section arriving in stores later this week.

...Race Together is not a solution, Schultz acknowledged, "but it is an opportunity to begin to re-examine how we can create a more empathetic and inclusive society – one conversation at a time."
Look, I'm glad that Starbucks wants to Do Something, especially ahead of their shareholders' meeting this week (ahem), but firing up a bunch of disproportionately white young people to "begin conversations with their customers" about race, without any meaningful guidance on engaging, could go very wrong very quickly. Has there been, for example, any discussion with baristas about the fact that unsolicited conversation started by a privileged person on a marginalized person's oppression could be profoundly triggering for that customer?

Finally: I'm also questioning the very concept at the center of this discussion. "Race Together" could very easily be wielded like a weapon, like the ubiquitous calls for "unity" or "solidarity" that actually serve to scold people of color for being "divisive" if they don't get on board with "the conversation" that's being led by white people.

What I see is a lot of "good intentions" without a whole lot of evidence that those intentions are underwritten by a commitment to safety for the people victimized by racism.

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