What the world is reading: Coffee and racial justice

Jia Tolentino at Jezebel said the campaign completely misunderstood the way we should talk about race.

Written by Aleesha Matharu | Published:March 29, 2015 12:00 am

One week ago, Starbucks brewed backlash when CEO Howard Schultz launched a new campaign which was geared towards having conversations on race between its employees and customers in the US.

Jia Tolentino at Jezebel said the campaign completely misunderstood the way we should talk about race. “Ordering coffee from a chain store is an act that necessarily takes place under conditions — quick, perfunctory, corporately polite — exactly oppositional to the conditions necessary to talk about race,” she wrote.

“But if Starbucks really cares about racial justice,” wrote Alice Speri for Vice, “it should take a hard look at its own contribution to the country’s growing inequality — which at Starbucks, like everywhere else, falls squarely along racial lines.”

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“Given the company’s predominantly white leadership — around 40 per cent of baristas are racial minorities, but only three out of 19 Starbucks executives are people of colour — and fairly wealthy patrons, the conversation feels forced and awkward,” wrote The Economist under the title #Fail.

Calling it “seemingly well-intentioned”, it added that it believes that the “instinctive disdain” for the campaign “seems to be rooted in the sense that Starbucks was appropriating a serious social issue for its own economic gain”.

Talking about how the campaign actually ignores the impact that Starbucks itself has in gentrification across the US, Rahel Gebreyes for The Huffington Post wrote: “The company has played an ‘instrumental’ part in increasing rent prices in urban areas. In fact, since 1997, homes near Starbucks locations have appreciated in value by 96 per cent, almost doubling their original price tags.”

Mercifully, Schultz decided to end the ill-advised programme within a week, said Stacy Patton for Dame magazine. “More conversations are not the answer to racism. And, love is NOT the answer to white supremacy! Would you tell a woman in a violent relationship to extend a loving hand to her abuser?”

But defending the campaign and berating “Internet haters”, CNN’s Van Jones wrote, “If we don’t tamp down the backlash against Starbucks “Race Together” campaign, I fear that no major corporation will even try to talk about race again — for maybe 10 or 20 years. Racial justice activists have spilled more digital ink criticising Starbucks for trying to fight racism than they have against other ‘actually racist’ companies.”

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