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Five Reasons Why Starbucks Shouldn’t Tackle Race Issues on the Clock

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Starbucks’ #racetogether project was a bad idea, even if it started with good intentions. Buckies got with USA Today to launch the “Race Together: Conversation has the Power to Change Hearts and Minds” campaign to start customer/employee conversations about race relations in the U.S. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has an admirable track record of hands-on involvement in social issues, but unfortunately he decided to use his employees to tackle a huge job that they should not be asked to do.

Here are five reasons why Starbucks shouldn't tackle race Issues on the clock.

5) Starbucks’ customer-service model doesn't support lengthy employee/customer discussions.

Starbucks is a grab-and-go coffee shop that thrives on fast service and volume. The company makes its bread and butter by offering quick and efficient service to patrons at the counter, and then provides a comfortable — occasionally spacious — and technologically-accessible space for customers to come, go and have discussions about whatever they like among themselves.

The stores are not set up for employees and patrons to have university-level talks about complicated, nuanced and sensitive issues like race. Which leads us to…

4)  Buckies customers go there to get coffee, not get ambushed with hot-button topics.

It should be important to every American to really explore race and what it means, and how it affects us and society as a whole. There is not necessarily a “time and place” rule about this, but it's still a sensitive subject, and springing non-consensual discussions on customers who go to Starbucks to get coffee and snacks does not seem like an effective way to start up dialogues.

The #racetogether project had baristas writing “Race Together” on customers’ coffee cups, with the intent of kicking off individual/group discourse, but instead it kicked off a backlash in the media/on social media that you could have seen coming from a frillion miles away. Not surprisingly, the baristas are no longer writing those little notes.

3) People of color don’t like to be schooled by “white” companies.

There are so many jokes about Starbucks catering to middle-class white folks...sooooo….many. But even if Buckies isn’t a “white” company geared to serving just white folks ritzy coffee, it is generally perceived as being such — and thus really isn’t the best company to try and start multiple dialogues about ethnicity at the cash-register level. The corporate level, maybe, if done in a way that doesn’t come off as being condescending and inappropriate. But asking baristas to come at people of any color with pop-up discussions about race is rude and thoughtless at best, and downright harmful at worst.

And people of color absolutely do not deserve to be ambushed/preached to with race convos while surrounded by yoga-pants/Ugg boots- wearing white folks.

2)  This campaign isn't fair to regular Starbucks employees.

There is nothing fair about asking Starbucks baristas to start conversations about race with Starbucks customers, and it’sa mazing that Buckies corporate didn’t see this before rolling out one of the most misguided campaigns in the history of Starbucks. Employees are paid to go to work, make lattes, brew coffee, serve banana bread and clean up, not take on the roles of social justice warriors, college professors or therapists. That is what days off are for.

Sure, some baristas are more qualified than others to discuss racial issues, and intelligent, well-spoken and sincere enough to rock out legit opinions. But they should never have been expected to take on serious discussions about social issues while on the clock. 

1) Race-relation issues are too crucial to be reduced to hashtags.

Although Starbucks as a company has a good stance on most social issues it chooses to address, race is a subject that requires degrees of contemplation, sensitivity and actions that go far beyond a trendy hashtag, way beyond a cup of coffee, and need to be given more attention than a five-second pit stop at a coffee-shop counter can provide. How was this supposed to work? “Can I please get skim, no whip, and also Ferguson, WTF?” 

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