Starbucks has been getting a lot of flack since announcing its “Race Together” initiative. People are mostly either calling the company self-serving or questioning why a cafe chain would want to take on an agenda that seems so unrelated to its core business.
Now, I’ve certainly criticized companies for cause marketing that seems to have nothing to do with its purpose. For example, I’ve publicly questioned why Ford has chosen to support a breast cancer charity rather than something related to, say, transportation access.
And I’ve given space to Starbucks critics like Dean Cycon of Dean’s Beans, who says the coffee giant could be doing a lot more on sustainability, fair trade, and organic.
But I actually think this time Starbucks did something sensible and good, and I was really pretty shocked at the negative media firestorm.
- In the post-Ferguson climate, where black communities are showing righteous anger about police violence, race is back on the agenda
- Many legislative bodies are imposing onerous barriers to registering and voting, ostensibly to stop “voter fraud” (which is close to zero)—but whose deeper agenda seems to be denying the vote to people of color and those with low incomes
- As a culture, when we want to talk things over, we do so over coffee—so what better place to start a national conversation?
- Starbucks has thousands of locations in cities—Ground Zero for the recent race incidents; thus, the company has a vested interest in de-escalating tensions and opening dialog so those stores continue to thrive, in addition to the moral grounds it cites
While writing the message “Race together” on cups ends today, Starbucks continues to see fostering dialog on race as a priority. In a public letter yesterday to the company’s employees, CEO Howard Schultz wrote,
We have a number of planned Race Together activities in the weeks and months to come: more partner open forums, three more special sections co-produced with USA TODAY over the course of the next year, more open dialogue with police and community leaders in cities across our country, a continued focus on jobs and education for our nation’s young people plus our commitment to hire 10,000 opportunity youth over the next three years, expanding our store footprint in urban communities across the country, and new partnerships to foster dialogue and empathy and help bridge the racial and ethnic divides within our society that have existed for so many years…The heart of Race Together has always been about humanity: the promise of the American Dream should be available to every person in this country, not just a select few. We leaned in because we believed that starting this dialogue is what matters most. We are learning a lot. And will always aim high in our efforts to make a difference on the issues that matter most.
If this is self-serving, I say we need more of that kind of self-serving.