When Starbucks announced it would be launching a campaign called #RaceTogether to initiate conversations about race inequality, my first reaction was finally. Finally someone who’s not a civil rights activist or indie film maker is tackling race. Finally we can talk about this grief sitting in the pit of my stomach and stop pretending nothing horrible is going on in our country because we don’t have to deal with it in our (mostly white) Starbucks stores.
But the discussion online in those first few days was pretty ugly. I started to question whether or not this was a good idea, whether it was actually helping the situation or just soothing our “bleeding liberal hearts”. So I waited over the weekend to see how things would play out in stores and process my feelings about it. My misgivings were legitimate, but here are the three biggest reasons I’ve decided to stand behind #RaceTogether anyways.
1. So far, I haven’t heard racial minorities say they feel like they’re being used as a marketing campaign.
My biggest fear in starting a conversation about race in a mostly-white corporate environment was giving the impression that we were trying to curry favor with the market using a hot button social issue. But as of now, there’s been no raging on the blogs I follow that discuss race issues. They may make fun of it a little, but that’s not surprising.
If this changes, my opinion will definitely change. You don’t tell people of color that you didn’t mean to offend them by talking about race. You apologize and consider it an education.
2. No one’s trying to “solve racism”.
Not a single Starbucks barista is saying, “Oh, good! Now that I can talk about this for 60 seconds at the hand-off plane without getting fired, we can solve racism!” Most of them are at least as conflicted as I am about the whole campaign. We just want to talk about how things are not ok with us right now regarding race relations.
Just in case you were wondering, partner participation is completely voluntary. The first thing I told the baristas about #RaceTogether was that they don’t have to talk about it – they can say “I’d prefer not to discuss this” or even walk to the back room if they want. So if a barista engages you about race issues, they’re not selling you Starbucks approved ideas. They’re connecting with you about their own feelings and experiences.
3. The policy that it’s not polite to talk about race (see also, “I don’t see race”, “Only racists talk about race”) isn’t working for us.
I know it’s not working. I’ve seen it utterly fail us as a society, and that failure came to a head this past year. I don’t know if #RaceTogether will be effective. I don’t know that it will do any good at all – it may even be harmful.
But I do know, without a doubt, that not talking about it doesn’t work. There’s no excuse for me as a moral member of society to continue to do something I know harms huge numbers of our population. Fear of being wrong isn’t an excuse. Fear of looking like a fool isn’t an excuse. Fear of offending someone isn’t an excuse.
I don’t actually know what the next step is, but I’m pretty sure our biggest weapon moving forward will be excessive amounts of grace. We don’t know how to discuss racial relations in a productive way because were raised not to talk about it. Most of us are learning as we go, which means we can expect a lot of misunderstanding and embarrassment. Give yourself grace to make mistakes. Give your neighbor grace to say the wrong thing and apologize for it. And finally, give marginalized people grace to express anger, even towards you. God knows they came by that anger honestly.