Starbucks' amusingly ill-conceived plan to bridge America's racial divide through the power of stilted conversation has come to an end. Last week, CEO Howard Schultz released a message urging the company's baristas to start writing the words "Race Together" on customers' cups and possibly strike up chats with them about racial inequality in the United States. The idea was appropriately panned, because nobody (including people who are paid to crank out espresso at lightning speed) wants to talk with a stranger about the gross discrimination faced by America's black and Latino communities during the morning coffee rush.
Anyway, in a companywide memo Sunday, Schultz told his employees that they could put their sharpies away:
After a historic Annual Shareholders Meeting that focused on diversity and inequality, and an initial push for much-needed national discussion around these difficult topics, it is time for us to take stock of where we are, what we have learned from our efforts so far, and what is next.
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.
Sure. Had nothing to do with the tsunami of mockery. Nothing at all. Anyway, Schultz says there will be other #RaceTogether initiatives, but none will apparently involve buttonholing customers for a heart-to-heart discussion about inequities in criminal sentencing, or whatnot.
So it's now safe to order your latte again. But in the meantime, a quick lesson. While looking at Schultz's memo, I noticed something interesting. Apparently the company has a plan to hire 10,000 so-called opportunity youth—teens and young adults who aren't in the workforce or enrolled in school—over the next three years. Which is, you know, very cool of Starbucks. More companies need to employ and train kids looking for their first foothold in the workforce. If the chain had decided to make more noise about that issue, rather than diving haphazardly into racial politics because Schultz decided to watch a little too much MSNBC, people would react a bit more positively. Progressive hiring practices are much more laudable than weird PR campaigns that have nothing to do with coffee.