Well, that was fast. I was considering a blog post on Starbucks RaceTogether campaign and just that quick, it's gone. Or at least, the first phase - baristas writing "RaceTogether" on cups - is over. And depending on where you source your news, this is either totally planned (Starbucks) or a result of social media backlash (everyone else).
I'm still not sure what, exactly, to think of the effort. It sounds fantastic, and important...BUT something about it bothers me. A large part of my botheration, I admit, is that I don't go to Starbucks for conversation, or even very often. I go there for coffee, (specifically a double-tall caramel macchiato, the most perfect coffee drink ever). I want to order my drink, pay for it, and continue on my way. I'm not hanging out there. I'm not interested in engaging in meaningful conversation with the baristas, which sounds ruder than I mean it to be.
My initial reaction - and indeed, much of the social media commotion - was something to the effect of: "Is forcing the dialog over a retail transaction the best way to move this forward?" Because no matter what Starbucks wants us all to think, they are a retail operation. And I know i was not the only one wondering what kind of training and support was being provided for baristas to handle the conversation - no matter what that conversation might end up being.
There have been assurances that any conversation will be customer-driven. The concern over training has been a little more vague. How employees (ok, "partners" in Starbuck-ese) are to engage - and just as importantly, disengage - in these conversations, how this could impact their actual service (taking the time to have a meaningful conversation) and their perceived service (long line, it's because of these conversations)...this all seems to be missing in the roll-out.
On Friday, it was revealed that the RaceTogether campaign is a year-long event, a partnership between Starbucks and everyone's favorite airport-waiting-area newspaper, USAToday. It sounds great. And thoughtful. It's explained here and the supplement, filled with videos and articles and quizzes designed to prompt conversation and understanding (with or without coffee I guess) is here.
I don't mean to sound cynical, and that may be the crux of my puzzlement with the idea - it prompts a cynical reaction that has little to do with a diversity dialog and everything to do with where this is coming from - a retail coffee giant, and a media conglomerate. Not exactly my go-to resources for how to have a respectful dialog with a meaningful outcome about race, ethnicity and how we treat each other as humans.
My brother, who is a part-time barista for Starbucks, tells me it's about community - "Community, not coffee. You're confusing your C words again." (We talk to each other like this all the time). And he is certainly right. Dialog about diversity IS about community.
He also pointed out that, in a way, the campaign was already working because he and I were having this conversation. Except the conversation was not about race. It was about Starbucks. And that's the problem.