Posted on March 19, 2015

Starbucks Hit by ‘Cascade of Negativity’ After Ordering Staff to Talk Racism with Customers

Jake Wallis Simons, Daily Mail, March 18, 2015

Twitter has ruthlessly mocked Starbucks campaign for the company’s new anti-racism campaign in which baristas talk to customers about race issues while serving their coffee.

One user tweeted, ‘I don’t have time to explain 400 years of oppression to you & still make my train’, while another pointed out, ‘y’all realize there are no coloured hands in the press photos right’.

A third speculated, ‘maybe Starbucks actually wanted to get people of all races & ethnicities to join hands and make fun’.

Corey duBrowa, the company’s Senior Vice President of Global Communications, was forced to delete his Twitter account, before re-activating it the next day.

‘Last night I felt personally attacked in a cascade of negativity,’ he said in a post on Medium. ‘I got overwhelmed by the volume and tenor of the discussion, and I reacted’.

Staff at the 4,700 cafés across America now have the option to write ‘RaceTogether’ on cardboard cups, which is the slogan of a Starbucks anti-racism campaign.

It was hoped that customers who encounter the slogan on their coffee cup would be inspired to discuss the deeper issues affecting America, in an attempt to ‘create a more empathetic and inclusive society–one conversation at a time’.

But many customers found the campaign ‘patronizing’.

‘#RaceTogether is what happens when a 1%-er without any actual anti-racist education or training has a mid-life “white man’s burden” crisis,’ one user tweeted.

Another took a sarcastic approach, tweeting a picture of a white barista, with the message: ‘Here’s your macchiato! Let’s discuss the historic disenfranchisement of your people that has allowed me to prosper.’

The campaign was the brainchild of Howard Schultz, 61, the company’s boss, who has a track record of speaking out about contentious topics, from gay marriage to gun control.

His decision came in response to the escalating racial tension that emerged when grand juries failed to indict white police officers involved in the killings of Michael Brown, 18, in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner, 43, in Staten Island, New York.

Last year, Schultz travelled to Starbucks branches in the cities most affected by racial tension, including Los Angeles, St Louis, Chicago, New York, Oakland and Seattle.

Mr Schulz met about 2,000 Starbucks staff on the tour, and made contact with the rest of his 200,000 employees–40 per cent of whom are from ethnic minority backgrounds–via a video address.

‘It’s an emotional issue,’ he said. ‘But it is so vitally important to the country.’

Last week, the company ran full-page advertisements in the New York Times and USA Today, highlighting race tensions in the country.

The page was black, with the words ‘shall we overcome?’ in the centre, and the company logo at the bottom.

The campaign will continue on Friday, when every copy of USA Today will carry an insert about racism, which will also be stocked at branches of Starbucks.

Schultz kicked off the campaign last December with a letter that appeared in TIME magazine.

‘Last week, one thing became clear: we cannot continue to come to work every day aware of the difficult and painful experiences facing our nation, and not acknowledge them, together, as a company,’ he wrote.

‘Indeed, despite the raw emotion around the events and their underlying racial issues, we at Starbucks should be willing to talk about them.’

Schultz has a track record of using his public profile to highlight issues close to his heart.

In 2013, he wrote an open letter requesting customers to leave their guns at home when they visited his stores, even in states where they can be carried legally.

‘We believe guns and weapons should not be part of the Starbucks experience,’ he said.

He also spearheaded a petition to end federal shutdown in the same year, and launched a scheme to boost job creation in the U.S. by selling bracelets in its cafés in 2011.

Starbucks is also intending to employ 10,000 former members of the armed forces and their partners over five years.

It is not known whether Starbucks is considering pulling the RaceTogether campaign.

Traditionally, those who oppose Schultz’ views get short shrift: in 2013, when an investor said that the company’s open support for gay marriage was harming sales, Schultz responded by suggesting that he sell his shares.