Dear Starbucks: How Do You Know Baristas Aren’t Racists?

Starbucks Racetogether Cup
Part of that criticism against Starbucks is that all it's #racetogether promotional photos featured white hands.
Starbucks Racetogether Cup
Part of the criticism against Starbucks is that all it’s #racetogether promotional photos featured white hands. (Starbucks)

The ink is black, the cup is white. Together, Starbucks learned how to tick off everybody.

The coffee company’s attempt last week to spark a discussion on race did accomplish one thing: People of all races were united in calling it a grande mistake.

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Starbucks decided to encourage its baristas to write a #racetogether hashtag on coffee cups. Then when customers asked what it meant, they could initiate a conversation about race.

Because #racetogether obviously means “race together,” and cannot possibly mean “race to get her” – something you might see in one of those 1990s rom-coms wherein Tom Hanks, unable to sleep in Seattle, would read the message on his coffee cup and immediately know it meant to chase down Meg Ryan, who has just exited the coffee shop and sped away in a taxi.

The critiques immediately flew in from all corners, with African Americans tweeting that what they really needed was a white coffee server telling them about the black experience. And just about everyone said that all they wanted from their overpriced seller of steaming bean juice was to get their drink and get to work.

People also asked how the baristas had been trained on discussing the sensitive topic of race relations. Starbucks replied that they had not been trained in any way and that they would simply be expected to rely on their own experience and opinions.

This from a coffee shop that trains its employees to make their drinks to an exacting standard so that they taste the same no matter in which of the 21,500 shops you purchase one.

But the part I find most amusing is that Starbucks just assumes that every single one of its employees has the right opinions about race.

I don’t care how liberal the company is, you can’t hire tens of thousands of employees without some of them being racists. That is just statistics.

I’m not saying they employ skinheads and Klansmen, but human beings have a range of opinions on everything. No doubt a fair number of the hardworking people at Starbucks think things that would make CEO Howard Schultz shudder.

During our own working experience most of us have shared a cubicle or a cash register with our own share of racists and anti-Semites. Or people who hate women. Or people who hate men.

They don’t let it out till they figure they can trust you. Then one day it comes out. And you forever think differently of them.

So I’m expected to believe that every single barista at every single Starbucks from here to the projected Mars mission – you know there will be 12 Starbucks on Mars when we get there – thinks about race the same way Howard Schultz does.

Among all those baristas, there’s not one single baracist in the bunch? Not one who would’ve said, “Let’s talk about race, because, hey, I’m a member of the master one.”

Because I don’t know how you possibly know that one of your tens of thousands of employees isn’t a racist unless he actually said he hated some certain group of people during his job interview.

And if he’d done that and you hired him anyway… Well, then let’s have a conversation about your hiring practices.

Starbucks announced the program was stopping on Sunday, and claimed that always was the planned end date. Maybe. But the negative reaction, including the company’s public relations executive quitting Twitter temporarily, makes most of wonder if that isn’t a tall tale.

In the end, an important lesson was learned. It just wasn’t the lesson Starbucks intended.

People want to talk about the racial problems in this country, but they don’t want preachy chain coffee outlets to be the arbiter.

Veni, venti, vici: I came, I overcaffeinated, I overcompensated.