Would you like to discuss the legacies of institutional racism with that vanilla latte, sir?
You may get that chance now, as Starbucks is launching a new campaign geared toward having conversations on race between its employees and customers.
But the campaign to talk about race got off to an inauspicious start Tuesday, producing widespread ridicule on social media and prompting the company’s senior vice president of communications to delete his Twitter account when users tried to talk to him about race.
“Race Together” has already started in Oakland, Los Angeles, St. Louis, New York and Chicago. Over 2,000 Starbucks partners have discussed racial issues at open forums, and CEO Howard Schultz is pushing for more.
Starbucks baristas were given the option as of Monday to give customers cups with “Race Together” on them in the hopes of sparking a conversation. They’re also being encouraged to wear pieces of flair promoting the campaign. The company also promoted the “#RaceTogether” hashtag on Twitter.
Mr. Schultz said on the company’s website that the campaign, which is in partnership with USA Today, is not a solution to racial tensions within certain communities, “but it is an opportunity to begin to re-examine how we can create a more empathetic and inclusive society — one conversation at a time.”
The CEO said that if baristas are uncomfortable with the campaign, there is no mandate to force a conversation about race with customers. But the baristas aren’t the only ones made uncomfortable.
Corey duBrowa, senior vice president of communications, deleted his Twitter account just one day into the “Race Together” campaign, prompting
“Starbucks’s @coreydu wanted to talk about race so much he deleted his account after people started talking to him about it. #RaceTogether,” wrote Brianna Leigh, a self-identified liberal.
“The senior vice president of @Starbucks global communications, Corey duBrowa, deleted his twitter to avoid talking about race #RaceTogether,” added Chris Edwards, along with many others who echoed his sentiments.
Mr. duBrowa told Business Insider he deleted the account after a barrage of negative responses.
“I was personally attacked through my Twitter account around midnight last night and the tweets represented a distraction from the respectful conversation we are trying to start around Race Together. I’ll be back on Twitter soon,” he told the website.
The campaign was also widely ridiculed from both sides of the political and racial divide.
“I am desperate to hear a Starbucks barista studying Lesbian Dance Theory at the local community college tell me about race,” said Ben Shapiro, a best-selling conservative author and editor-at-large at Breitbart News.
Jasbir Kaur Bawa, an assistant professor at Howard University School of Law, wrote at the liberal Talking Points Memo site that the campaign “can create unfair onus on minority employees and minority patrons.
“It suggests that Starbucks, not their own communities and their own sense of identity, is what empowers them. Doing so not only gives a disproportionately loud voice to the clientele who can afford to buy Starbucks’ coffee, it also overlooks the very real economic disparities inherent between Starbucks’ clientele and its staff,” she wrote.