Race is an ongoing conversation in America. Recent events, like Ferguson, continue to highlight how far equality is from being realized and how far racism is from being eradicated. There is undeniable value in activism and informed discussions in working toward improved race relations in America.

 

Unfortunately, Starbucks’ new #RaceTogether campaign falls short.

 

Starbucks is a brand that recognizes its influence on society and prides itself on using its position to tackle social issues, so it wasn’t surprising when CEO Howard Schultz announced the launch of the #RaceTogether campaign. Baristas are to write the words “Race Together” on customer cups in an effort to spark a discussion about race in America. The idea is that making necessary conversations about race more prevalent will change how we view issues surrounding race relations.

 

On the surface, the concept seems positive enough, but in reality, the idea and its execution could not be more misguided.

 

As part of the #RaceTogether campaign, baristas are asked to write the words "Race Together" on customers' cups to spark discussions on race in America (businessinsider.com)

As part of the #RaceTogether campaign, baristas are asked to write the words “Race Together” on customers’ cups to spark discussions on race in America (businessinsider.com)

For starters, there is the simple logistical issue of Starbucks being an unrealistic location for important discussions on race to take place, particularly when those discussions are intended to occur between baristas and customers. Shouldering baristas with the task of engaging in racial debates with customers without the proper training and formal preparation to do so will not lead to informed discussions. It also makes little sense to reduce efficiency for the purpose of such a discussion. Starbucks is known, after all, as a business with the ability to cater to hoards of customers in an efficient, organized manner. Compromising the customer experience of quick, friendly service in the interest of sparking discussions that are out of place to begin with simply seems illogical.

 

On another level, the #RaceTogether campaign appears to trivialize a serious and complex issue. Words on a paper cup and rushed conversations about race over coffee do not have the same impact of informed, purposeful activists striving toward the goal of racial equality.

 

It is not untrue that in the fight for equality, every little step can make a difference. Who knew that one woman refusing to move her seat on a city bus would spark such a permanent movement to action. Why not coffee?

 

Being able to raise awareness is an important tool in changing how we think about race in America. Starbucks has demonstrated a commitment to being a part of the necessary change, and the company certainly deserves some credit for that. Rather than allowing the discussion itself to become a marketing gimmick, Starbucks’ influence as a company and a brand may be put to better use supporting the numerous organizations that already exist to promote racial justice and equality — organizations that have the proper tools to create necessary conversations on race relations and promote true change.

 

What are your thoughts on Starbucks’ #RaceTogether campaign? Do you agree that it is misguided, or do you believe it has the potential to spark real change? Share your thoughts below or tweet me @tamarahoumi