WASHINGTON – I’m standing in the Starbucks line behind 10 other sleepyheads waiting to order my tall skinny cappuccino, otherwise known as a shot of coffee described as I wish to be.
Absolutely no one is talking about race.
In fact, no one is talking at all except to mumble an order while checking email.
I confess I’m not usually here at this 8-ish hour but ventured out in a springtime snowstorm to investigate the current fuss over Starbucks’ suggestion that its baristas discuss race with patrons.
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Oh, you didn’t know there was a fuss at Starbucks about race? Why, then, you must be a normal human living a regular life away from the angst-inducing travails of urbanites who think nothing of spending $3.47 for a tiny jolt of java.
Here’s the scoop for those who missed it.
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is concerned about the seemingly growing racial divide in America and decided to use his considerable forum of 11,000 coffee shops to step up the conversation.
His mantra is “Race Together,” which Schultz urged his baristas to write on coffee cups while chatting up customers about race problems. I’m not sure how this would go: “So, how long have you been a racist?”
As long as we’re going there, why not a little banter about abortion? How about world hunger while you stuff yourself with a 460-calorie cranberry-orange scone? Want extra sugar in that salted caramel hot chocolate? Come to think of it, Starbucks would do the country a greater favor by cutting back on its sugars.
Schultz isn’t new to corporate activism, but this time he seems aggressively out of touch with his target audience. Nobody wants to be lectured before her coffee; Starbucks denizens, who often are toting newspapers and laptops, don’t want to be lectured, period.
Schultz is joined in his campaign by USA Today President and Publisher Larry Kramer. The two co-authored an op-ed, “Why Race Together? Because diversity matters,” and have pledged their resources to advance race relations.
Despite their best efforts, the only sign of “Race Together” in my neighborhood Starbucks was a single inscribed cup by the register. A few dollar bills sticking out prompted me to tithe in hopes of purchasing an exemption or mercy, but it wasn’t necessary. The two baristas seemed in no mood to talk about race or anything else. (It’s a job, Howard, not a calling.)
But the morning was young after all. Taking a seat and opening my laptop, I connected to the Starbucks Wi-Fi and quickly realized that by virtue of signing on, I had essentially joined the movement. The Wi-Fi network’s log-in screen urged me to follow links to USA Today, where I could read more about race and even take a test that would reveal my racial biases.
Here I thought I was going to drink coffee, not engage my fellow humans, toss my empty cup in the appropriate recycling receptacle and bow out without actually genuflecting. Instead, by merely walking through the door, I had committed a revolutionary act.
Of course, I took the test.
Not to brag, but I scored perfectly – as far as it went. The link failed on question seven. But I did learn something: The fastest-growing group of immigrants to this country isn’t Hispanics but Asians. And most whites in the South have some percentage of African blood.
Other race-related links were available, but I skipped them so I could meditate on my test results and consider how they might help reduce racial tensions in places like Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City.
I didn’t get far, probably because the music was too loud, but I began thinking that, oh well, there’s no harm in talking about race, especially when nobody’s really talking about it. Or is there? Last week, Starbucks’ senior vice president for global communications deleted his Twitter account after he was attacked by vicious tweeters about the race campaign. (I guess they didn’t want to talk, either.) In separate comments, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar warned that Starbucks’ race talk could escalate into violence.
The latter seems unlikely. The latte and cappuccino set isn’t generally inclined to fisticuffs. Nor are they likely to be seduced (or enraged) by marketing posing as virtue. So what’s new? As for Schultz and Kramer, the proper place for a race debate is, indeed, in the op-ed section. As for Starbucks, sometimes a cup of coffee is just a cup of coffee.
Kathleen Parker’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.