Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced on Monday that his company’s latest initiative would be “Race Together.”
By the end of this week, most Starbucks locations across the US will display pamphlets on race relations. Baristas will also be encouraged, but not required, to write “race together” on coffee cups and engage in discussions with customers who ask about it.
“Racial diversity is the story of America, our triumphs as well as our faults,” Schultz wrote. “Yet racial inequality is not a topic we readily discuss. It’s time to start.”
The #RaceTogether trending topic on Twitter quickly became flooded with critics of the campaign, and were often so harsh that Starbucks’ senior vice president of communications, Corey duBrowa, deleted his Twitter account for a few hours. He’s since re-enabled it.
To find out what Starbucks employees had to say about the controversial campaign, we visited seven locations in New York’s Manhattan. Three employees agreed to share their opinions and asked to be kept anonymous because they didn’t have official permission from the company to speak to media. Here’s what they said:
Schultz is a role model.
“I grew up around here,” said a 22-year-old Latino male employee, who was making drinks. “People judge you on what neighbourhood you came from, where you went to school, what you look like… Race is a difficult topic.
“We had a lot of bad role models growing up. It’s great that we have Howard Schultz as our CEO giving us this opportunity to talk about the issue, and that he gives people like us jobs.”
Regarding critics of the campaign, he said: “They’re not being real with themselves. This is a real issue. I happen to be very open to talking about it.”
The campaign is misguided.
“I really don’t agree with it,” said a 28-year-old black female employee, who was working at the cash register. “I mean, I just don’t think it’s going to change anything… We’re encouraged to participate but can opt out if we want to. Customers can opt out [of getting a message on their cups], too.”
It may be too ambitious, but it’s important.
“Race relations is something we should all be aware of,” a 21-year-old black female employee said. She was at the cash register with a roll of campaign stickers and wearing a Race Together badge. “I’d like to talk about race issues with everyone for hours, but I don’t have time. I have to work! But yeah, if a customer asks me a question, I’ll talk.”
None of the employees we spoke with said they have had a conversation with customers on race relations yet, but campaign materials have yet to roll out to the majority of locations.
Starbucks spokesperson Linda Mills told USA Today, which is a partner with Starbucks on the campaign, that they expected it to be a controversial initiative. “We knew it wouldn’t be easy — and we knew there would be criticism. But the conversation on race and America is too important. We can’t just be silent bystanders. We, as a company, have never stayed silent before.”
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