The CEO of Starbucks has decided to cannonball his way into the very touchy subject of race relations, and he is dragging his employees with him.
Howard Schultz has begun a quite uncomfortable public discussion with his push for race-relation conversation in his coffee shops. The problem is that it is a common belief by many religion, politics, sexuality and race relations are all on that “Do not attempt” list when entering public conversations.
Schultz has apparently decided that just won’t do, and put out a full-page ad called with the words “Shall We Overcome?” and “Race Together” with the company log in tow. The idea appears to be that by opening the discussion at America’s “third place”, the discussion will create an organic appeasement of the stressful social issue. That appears to not have worked by many accounts.
PBS NewsHour anchor Gwen Ifill said of the movement, “Honest to God, if you start to engage me in a race conversation before I’ve had my morning coffee, it will not end well.”
Still, Starbucks moved forward, with baristas writing “Race Together” on cups, also handing out stickers. The USA Today publication even set a section for the “Race Together” section for Starbucks stores. “We at Starbucks should be willing to talk about these issues in America,” Mr. Schultz said in a statement on the campaign. “Not to point fingers or to place blame, and not because we have answers, but because staying silent is not who we are.”
One thing is for certain, Schultz is not interested in backing down from the issue. In a message to his 200,000 employees he stated: “I reject that. I reject that completely. It’s an emotional issue. But it is so vitally important to the country.”
While Starbucks may not be the only company to take on social issues, Schultz seems to have found a way to do so with a bigger splash. He has done so by not sugar-coating the issue. Simply pushing it forward with little glossing or preening has struck a chord. Once that starts with annoyance and push-back; but may end up creating honest dialogue about a long-muffled public issue.