When I started working at my current employer, I attended a full day diversity training session. It covered race, gender, sexuality, religion — all the things people often shy away from talking about. It was interesting, and at the end almost everyone thought it had been worthwhile.
When I heard about the Starbucks #RaceTogether campaign, however, I suspected it wouldn’t go well, for several reasons.
First of all, context. Someone going to a work-mandated training session is hopefully going to be at least willing to listen to things they may not want to hear, and will have prepared themselves accordingly. When I end up at Starbucks, on the other hand, I’m usually tired, sleepy, stressed, angry, or some combination of all four. Not really in the mood to talk about anything, frankly.
Then there’s the staff issue. The diversity session I attended was run by a trained professional who knew how to keep things on track and prevent discussion from being derailed or becoming negative. I don’t believe that Starbucks baristas will have been given sufficient training to do that job. Certainly a short memo isn’t going to do the job.
Then there’s the audience. Starbucks stores tend to be in upscale white neighborhoods. If we’re hoping for a dialog between races, it’d be better if (say) Taco Bell was sponsoring the campaign. While it’s appealing to think that white people might have a useful conversation amongst themselves, experience suggests that white people talking about problems of racism to other white people tend to be met with outright denial — just ask Tim Wise.
So I didn’t think the Starbucks campaign would achieve much, and would probably go badly.
However, it has done one thing really well: it has brought shitweasels out from under their rocks en masse. If anyone tells you racism is over, just search Twitter for #RaceTogether and you’ll find plenty of evidence to the contrary. Interspersed with the Nazi stuff you’ll also see plenty of whining about “political correctness”, and white people sneering that they’re already totally non-racist and don’t even see color. Racism and white fragility proudly displayed for the world to see. Thanks, Starbucks!