Video: The sad reality of corporate "conversations" activism

Sure, plenty of critics blasted Starbucks for its condescending Let’s have a conversation “RaceTogether” campaign, but how many of them tried it out to see how it would go? Give NRO’s Kathleen Timpf credit for dipping her toes in the water (or the mochaccino, perhaps) by visiting a local Starbucks for her morning caffeine fix and a Venti-sized effort to engage on race relations with a few baristas. Unfortunately for Timpf — and most especially for the baristas themselves — the only people who want a little lecture with their lattés are Starbucks executives:

On Friday, I spent the entire day visiting Starbucks locations all around New York City, starting conversations about the initiative and racial issues in general.  Now, Starbucks has since announced that it has stopped the part of the initiative where employees put stickers that say “Race Together” on the cups. But, as you can see from the video, the stickers may have been the least ridiculous part about the overall ridiculous campaign.

Some wondered in the avalanche of criticism why just asking for a “conversation” was so objectionable. In part, it’s the condescension towards its customers that offends. If they want to have a “conversation” about race, they have lots of forums to choose for that without Starbucks pushing the idea when they’re buying the chain’s expensive beverages and snacks. Some of it is also the hypocrisy involved, too. As their “race relations reality check” worksheet showed, the questions themselves promote racialist thinking while posing as though they want the opposite. “In my Facebook stream, ___% are of a different race”? “Did you have a childhood friend of a different race that you’ve lost touch with?” How many of us are in touch with any of our childhood friends?

Just as bad on both counts, the executives far from the counters imposed this on their staff, and then didn’t give them the resources to back it up. If this “conversation” meant so much to Howard Schultz, then he should have allocated a lot more resources for staffing so that the front-line employees could respond, even assuming they wanted to do so in the first place — which this video clearly shows they didn’t. They’re under pressure to get to other customers, Starbucks hasn’t trained them to participate in these kinds of conversations, and clearly they’d really rather do anything else other than participate in Schultz’s fantasy.

If Schultz wants to turn Starbucks locations into debating societies — and he’s certainly free to do so, as long as his shareholders support it — then he should put his resources into supporting his front-line staff on that project. Otherwise, it’s just an incendiary publicity stunt that exploits both his customers and his employees in an attempt to stroke Schultz’ ego … which is really what drew the deluge of criticism in the first place.

Addendum: Molly Hemingway gets to the heart of the controversy, emphasis mine:

Listen, I love few things more than sharing the good news that Jesus has triumphed over sin, death and Satan with others and I hate racism. But there’s a reason why the American Airlines pilot and the Starbucks approaches freak people out! Yes, part of it is that there’s a time and place to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and discuss difficult social problems. But also, these things are highly ineffective when done outside of a personal relationship.

Both of these approaches also exhibit extreme vocational confusion. Lutherans such as myself are taught that we serve God by serving our neighbor in all your stations in life. Whether you are a daughter/son, mother/father, brother/sister, manager, employee, citizen, volunteer, pilot or barista, these relationships with others are the means by which God takes care of His people.

Simply flying a plane to the best of your ability and bringing hundreds of passengers safely from one point to another is a great way to serve your neighbor. You don’t need to hand out cross pins or get on the loudspeaker and introduce people to Jesus to make it a good work.

Likewise, making a latte to the best of your ability and cheerfully interacting with customers is a great way to serve your neighbor. You don’t need to write “race together” on the cup and begin a conversation about how many Asian friends you have to make it a good work.


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