Relax. Starbucks Baristas Won’t Be Writing #RaceTogether on Your Cup

But Starbucks says this is just the first phase of the campaign.

Sean Wandzilak /

After a tumultuous week or so in which the criticism of Starbucks’ #RaceTogether campaign came fast and furious, the coffee purveyor now says it’s safe to come in for your morning joe without facing a “Race Together” note on your coffee cup.

On March 22nd, the portion of the campaign that left it up to baristas to post the message to launch a conversation about racial issues came to an end.

A letter from CEO Howard Schultz that went live yesterday claims the campaign was always meant to roll out this way:

This phase of the effort — writing “Race Together” (or placing stickers) on cups, which was always just the catalyst for a much broader and longer term conversation — will be completed as originally planned today, March 22. 

But this initiative is far from over. We have a number of planned Race Together activities in the weeks and months to come: more partner open forums, three more special sections co-produced with USA TODAY over the course of the next year, more open dialogue with police and community leaders in cities across our country, a continued focus on jobs and education for our nation’s young people plus our commitment to hire 10,000 opportunity youth over the next three years, expanding our store footprint in urban communities across the country, and new partnerships to foster dialogue and empathy and help bridge the racial and ethnic divides within our society that have existed for so many years.

Schultz acknowledged the harsh feedback the company has received for the campaign, but reaffirms his commitment to the campaign and its purpose.

Is the campaign simply ending as it was supposed to end, or did the company have to cut things short after a response that led comms chief Corey buBrowa to delete his Twitter account for a day?

Many have questioned Starbucks’s dedication to diversity while others have accused the company of using a serious topic as a shameless play for media attention.

We’re not that cynical, but from the beginning I’ve wondered why the company didn’t partner with a civil rights organization for this campaign…in other words, a group that has more experience in dealing with these sensitive issues.

Race Forward, one such organization, has actually offered its help and, more importantly, its expertise. The group, which also publishes Colorlines, said in an open letter:

Effective conversations on race are grounded in the understanding that racial discrimination isn’t just, or even mostly, about what happens among individuals. It is about what happens as a result of systems. For example, if we consider that Ferguson was about an altercation between an unarmed teen and a police officer, we miss the opportunity to consider the entire picture.

“If I wanted to go into the coffee business [or] newspaper business, it might be a good idea to spend a little bit of time with people who do that,” says Jyarland Daniels, marketing and communications director at Race Forward.

The problem isn’t that Starbucks wants to address one of the more pressing, longstanding social issues facing our country. Rather, the campaign’s struggles demonstrate the importance of useful, sound partnerships — and why companies are so eager to enter into them. Daniels’ point is a good one: racial tension isn’t a new thing, and fostering a related “conversation” isn’t going to be easy despite the strides we’ve made. Starbucks can take a leadership role moving forward, but leading means acknowledging your own strengths and weaknesses…and calling on others to step in and fill the gaps.

Starbucks claims that #RaceTogether was only the first phase of a much longer campaign, so let’s hope they’ve learned their lesson and they’ll take Race Forward — or some other organization — up on that proposition.

Image via Shutterstock

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