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Tags: Mellody Hobson | Kareem Abdul-Jabbar | Howard Shultz | Starbucks

Starbucks' Racial Frappuccino

By Friday, 20 March 2015 10:47 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Someone should tell Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz that there is a reason why we are told not to discuss politics or religion at the dinner table — it can be divisive, ruin a good meal, and bring on indigestion. The same applies to racial issues.

Shultz is encouraging Starbucks employees to write “Race Together” on coffee cups and engage in a discussion about race with customers. I commend Shultz for stepping up to the plate on such an important and divisive issue which has only gotten worse under this administration whose supporters yell “racism” at virtually every criticism of the President.

But doesn’t Shultz understand that the most uncomfortable discussion in this country for decades, if not centuries, has been race?

Board member Mellody Hobson, who is black, told the shareholders meeting that “it’s time for us to get comfortable with an uncomfortable conversation about race.” Maybe so.

But do she and Shultz really want to put their employees — and customers — in such an uncomfortable position? Were managers and employees consulted on whether this would be a good idea?

How many employees are competent to discuss or are well versed on matters of race? Will they get any training on the do's and don’ts?

How are they supposed to start the conversation?
  • Will it be okay to address a black customer with “hey bro do you want to express your feelings on racism this morning over an espresso?"
  • Will it be okay to ask a white person if they believe they are part of the racism problem?
How are they going to detect that rare unbalanced offended customer who might react by throwing a hot coffee at them? As Kareem Abdul-Jabbar recently wrote: “Most of the customers at Starbucks probably don’t want to have their political awareness challenged by the person foaming their coffee . . .  Those who do wish to engage in a conversation about something as volatile as race are not open to change, they are either already the choir of believers in equality or are racists looking for an audience. Either way, no change will result from the exchange. In fact, I worry that such conversations could quickly escalate to violence.”

When I go to a Starbucks — or any eatery — all I want is to get my order as soon possible without waiting in a long line. The last thing I want to talk about is race.

Actions speak louder than words. The best thing Mr. Shultz can do for race relations is to make sure that he has a racially diverse workforce at all levels especially among store and regional managers, and in corporate offices. I note that there is only one black member of the Starbucks nineteen member Leadership Team.

I do not have the statistics on diversity at the store and regional manager levels, but I would hope that Starbucks is taking the advice of Ms. Hobson who said “we must be color brave.” If you are in a meeting trying to solve a problem and “you notice that everyone looks like you, you can stand up and be color brave.”

If customers see diversity and color bravery when they go into a Starbucks, that’s a good way to send a message about inclusion — they do not have to write it on a cup!

Why put Starbucks employees on an uncomfortable racial hotspot? Does Shultz want his St. Louis County, Chicago and Staten Island Starbucks employees to discuss race with black and white customers and police? If so, I am sure many will prefer go to Dunkin' Donuts or some other establishment that does not impose a racial sensitivity conversation as a condition for getting a cup of coffee.

Shultz’s heart may have been in the right place and I appreciate his sensitivity to this issue. A discussion needs to be had. However, I do not think that holding up a line of caffeine starved customers with a debate or discussion on race while ordering a white chocolate mocha is the right time or place.

What’s the next politically correct slogan on Starbucks’ cups — “Hands up Don’t Shoot” or “No Justice No Peace?

Clarence V. McKee is president of McKee Communications, Inc., a government, political, and media relations consulting firm in Florida. He held several positions in the Reagan administration as well as in the Reagan presidential campaigns and has appeared on many national and local media outlets. Read more reports from Clarence V. McKee — Click Here Now.


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I do not think that holding up a line of caffeine starved customers with a debate or discussion on race while ordering a white chocolate mocha is the right time or place.
Mellody Hobson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Howard Shultz, Starbucks
Friday, 20 March 2015 10:47 AM
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