Starbucks and USA Today Can #RaceTogether By Themselves - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Starbucks and USA Today Can #RaceTogether By Themselves

Rarely has there been such condemnation of a still-gestating corporate policy as the past week’s kerfuffle over Starbucks’ “Race Together” initiative. Rather than instigate a “national conversation about race” — as if race-weary Americans need more of that right now — news of the plan united critics and comics on the right and the left in going after Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz’s plan to have baristas write “#RaceTogether” on patron’s cups of hot liquid in order to goad us into talking about an important issue.

Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg and liberal PBS television anchor Gwen Ifill don’t agree on much, but they agreed on this.

Goldberg: “If I don’t have my coffee in the morning, I get a headache that feels like a Hell’s Angel is trying to press his meaty thumb through my forehead. This is not the most propitious moment to engage me in a conversation about my ‘race journey.’”

Ifill: “honest to God, if you start to engage me in a race conversation before I’ve had my morning coffee, it will not end well.”

And, for the record, me: Not least because “barista” is Italian for “I have a degree in transgender Eskimo comparative literature from Vassar,” even if I were obsessed with the issue of race and even if I thought a conversation about it could make a difference, why would I choose Starbucks at 7:17 AM as the time and place for that conversation?

Actually, I feel bad for the Starbucks employees who — although Schultz says participation is voluntary — are being pushed into uncomfortable situations outside of what they have always assumed to be their job description. As one writer put it, “Being a barista is hard enough. Having to talk #RaceTogether with a woman in Lululemon pants while pouring pumpkin spice is just cruel.”

Can you imagine all the discomfiting permutations? A black barista and a white customer? The other way around? What about a black barista and a black customer, or white and white, or black and Asian, etc.? As another liberal feminist predicted, sharing Gwen Ifill’s exact instincts, “This just can’t end well.”

Conan O’Brien is just one of the comedians poking fun at #RaceTogether: “Starbucks is being criticized for asking its employees to discuss race issues with customers. Just this morning, a barista asked me if I wanted my coffee, ‘African American, or with a splash of Caucasian.’” Deon Cole, joining Conan, gave the definitive rant on the topic — a must-view for blacks and whites, coffee-drinkers and Starbucks-haters alike.

Jokes notwithstanding, Starbucks — which moved ahead undeterred by beginning the official rollout of #RaceTogether on Friday — raises at least a couple of important questions for which it’s useful to understand the motivation of Mr. Schultz and his partner in this venture (strangely unspoken about in the squabbling so far), Larry Kramer, the president and publisher of USA Today.

Their view is standard liberal fare: “RACE TOGETHER is an initiative from Starbucks and USA TODAY to stimulate conversation, compassion and action around race in America.… Our companies share a philosophy: Elevating diversity is the right thing to do, but it is also a necessity. Our nation is only becoming more diverse. To ignore, dismiss or fail to productively engage our differences is to stifle our collective potential. Diversity of thought and skills lead to more creative ideas and higher performance. Bias, even unintentional slights, sap our potential for shared prosperity while denying our shared humanity.”

In a sense, I agree with Schultz and Kramer: Our nation is becoming increasingly diverse and the harm done by not including someone who could be a good employee or friend or business relationship or anything else based solely on that person’s race goes well beyond harm just to the excluded person.

Where I disagree, however, is in the supposition that pushing for a brief and superficial conversation by badgering customers with suggestions of “unconscious bias” and a navel-gazing questionnaire is likely to be an effective way to change the societal dynamics which Starbucks and USA Today perceive, mostly correctly, as detrimental to the country.

Seriously, is someone going to read “I have ___ friends of a different race” or “In the past year, I have eaten a meal with someone of a different race ___ times” and think, “Wow, I really have to go make a black friend!”

I bet you a grande Caramel Apple Spice (my favorite Starbucks drink, though it is 360 calories and on their kids menu) that when you read those questions, or considered the whole #RaceTogether idea, you — whether you’re white, black, Asian, Martian or whatever — forgot the word “together” and thought “this is about changing white people.”

But despite the liberal mythology that only whites can be racist because of nonsense such as “you can’t be racist if you don’t have power,” anti-white racism is rampant among blacks and liberal whites alike.

The one time I’ve had the privilege to work with Gwen Ifill was as an invited guest to her PBS special on “America After Ferguson.” PBS reached out to me after reading my American Spectator article entitled “Ferguson on Fire” and as far as I could tell I was the only right-of-center person among those whom PBS asked to participate in the panel.

I said that the tone of the ongoing national “conversation” such as references to “four hundred years of repression and a system that’s still designed to hurt us” felt inappropriate to me, not least because my family, like that of so many other Americans, had absolutely nothing to do with slavery (or Jim Crow or any other violation of civil and human rights of blacks or others). I added that such language felt like “racism against me just because of the color of my skin.” Many in the crowd, again black and white alike — keeping in mind that it was largely a self-selected PBS-viewing audience — literally laughed at me. So much for conversation.

Ms. Ifill surely wasn’t surprised at my point of view because she had read the article in which I wrote, “I do not deny the existence of pockets of individual and institutional racism in America, and they — particularly the latter — need to be rooted out.… And I know that most middle class whites, including me, do not come close to understanding the struggles of daily life in some of America’s worst neighborhoods no matter how many Chicago shootings I hear about on the TV news. But I do deny that it’s all my fault, or all the fault of whites or conservatives or any other group that certain blacks and their non-black liberal apologists might point to as if a mirror had never been invented.” (In fact, Ms. Ifill introduced me by saying that I thought “a lot of people should be looking at themselves in the mirror.”)

When I stated, “I think that a lot of people in the rest of America feel that we’re being blamed for things that we didn’t cause and in fact that we would like to help, because we should care,” the audience laughed a little more. It felt more hopeless than insulting.

While I believe that Ms. Ifill wasn’t entirely sympathetic to my views, I was grateful for her professionalism and courtesy when she then interrupted the crowd to say that “there is a real, true divide, and a lot of people who agree with what Ross Kaminsky said.”

The whole experience reinforced my view that many (but not all) blacks and many (probably closer to all) liberal whites believe that problems of race relations and racial disparities in everything from economics to education to criminal justice are solely white-caused.

And so Starbucks will aim at their largely white clientele with prodding that implies whites need to get our heads on straight while the other side of the coin — the contribution of blacks (including our current president and attorney general) to racial strife — goes unindicted.

The left-leaning, calling #RaceTogether a “cringe-inducing campaign” highlights some responses on Twitter to Starbucks’ plans. Keeping in mind that the plural of “anecdote” is not “data,” to whatever extent these reactions are representative of Americans of all races, they are instructive:

“Not sure what @Starbucks was thinking. I don’t have time to explain 400 years of oppression to you & still make my train.” (Black woman)

“Going to Starbucks tomorrow to order a flat white to explain how milk takes all the credit while black bean does all the work.” (White woman)

“May I have a latte and an explanation for why your people continue to plunder my country?” (Black woman, though apparently with Native American sympathies)

Some people are having a little more fun with it:

“My @Starbucks K-Cups are having a discussion about race, however they are all white.” (White man)

“‘Race to get her’? Starbucks supports rape culture” (White man)

“WOW! Just walked into my local #Starbucks & there are folks having a great conversation about race relations! Said no one ever.” (Black man)

And then there’s the always hilarious Steven Crowder

The conversation about the conversation is far more interesting and thought-provoking than anything the liberal elitists want to prod us into talking about.

Back to Goldberg and Ifill for a moment because their initial agreement shouldn’t mask an important and fundamental disagreement: whether or not a “national conversation” about race is actually useful or is even a real conversation.

As Jonah puts it, “Among my problems with this relentless hectoring about the need for conversations or ‘honest dialogue’ or ‘frank talk’ is the way in which those calling for such things never actually want a real conversation. They want to speechify and indoctrinate. And, if you actually dare to say anything honest or frank, you can be sure the same people who want to create ‘safe places’ for dialogue will leap at the opportunity to denounce your insensitivity, micro-aggression, or alleged racism.”

Gwen, on the other hand, writes that “A ‘conversation’ about race cannot be a fleeting one. It certainly cannot be an under-caffeinated one. And it is, most importantly, not a black and white one.… It is about the nation we have become, and are in the process of becoming. It is about demography and destiny. It is about the distance we have come, and the distance we have yet to go.… There are so many good ways to talk about this. Yes, at the barista’s counter, but also at our kitchen tables and in the workplace.… One 12-year-old from Marietta, Georgia, put it well when he sent his six words in to the Race Card Project. He wrote: ‘Many Different Roads, But All Connected.’ So yes, let me get my latte first. But let’s not end it there. I’ll meet you on the road.”

The problem and the opportunity come from the fact that they are both right — with the possible exception of Ifill’s belief that “at the barista’s counter” is a good place to talk about anything except which metal jug contains half-and-half and why a tiny drink is called a “tall.”

There are conversations to be had, but only if they’re actually honest. So far, in my experience they’re mostly not. They’re more like show trials, complete with hanging judges.

White liberals and too many blacks refuse to admit that the malign effects of the welfare state and the destruction of the black family and not wanting to “seem white,” i.e. the behavior of blacks and of the liberal governments they along with white Democrats so dearly love to elect, are barriers to progress. It doesn’t help that promoting racial grievance and finger-pointing is now a big and profitable industry, for the race hustlers and government bureaucrats alike.

The unfortunate synthesis of everything that makes improvement in race relations and government’s role in it so difficult can be found in Fox News commentator Juan Williams’ missive about #RaceTogether in which he attacks “the smart, cocky cynicism in response to Starbucks effort” by saying that “…whites might fear being called racist and tapping into guilty feelings while blacks fear being told they have a chip on their shoulders and play the victim/race card.”

I wanted to scream, “No, Juan, nooooo!!!”

I don’t fear being called racist any more than I fear being called any other false adjective. I don’t feel guilty because I don’t have anything to feel guilty about (at least not when it comes to any form of racism or bigotry). I don’t assume that blacks have a chip on their shoulders, nor do I assume a black conversationalist will try to trump reason and data with “the victim/race card” until it actually happens.

Williams reminds me of one of my favorite quips: “Thank you for being my point.” 

There is little virtue in a conversation about race when those people who want you to have the conversation are biased against your sincerity and motivation from the get-go.

I, more than most, have tried to be part of a national conversation about race. The result was “atta-boy” from conservatives and literal laughter from Ferguson blacks and mindless white liberals. In other words, despite stating in writing and on television that racism really does exist and it’s really a problem, but it’s not exclusively the fault or responsibility of Caucasians, nor is it a condition found uniquely among those with low skin melanin content, almost nobody’s mind was changed. (Not only are there anti-white blacks but as I found in St. Louis there are also plenty of anti-white whites among the American left.)

In my view — again recognizing explicitly that I’m a middle-class white guy who’s never experienced the life of an inner-city black American — the lack of honesty in even calling for a conversation about race, much less in the content of any subsequent conversation, is deeply embedded in many blacks, most liberals, and the entire leadership of the Democratic Party which requires national division for their survival. The fact that race relations have worsened so much under our first black president (whom Howard Schultz has publicly supported) and our indelibly racist first black Attorney General is no coincidence.

I should note, despite my deep skepticism about #RaceTogether specifically and “national conversations” generally, discussions about difficult issues can be productive. I had some intense but enjoyable talks with two other participants in the PBS special, Philip Agnew (the self-described black radical founder of Dream Defenders) and Rashad Robinson (who heads up Color of Change, which was co-founded by the “rowdy (black) nationalist” turned communist Van Jones).

We didn’t agree on a lot but we did find a few areas of commonality and we came a little closer to understanding each other. I can’t read their minds, but I think we all assumed that the other guys were giving their honest opinions; having some quality alcohol in front of us didn’t hurt (as I recall it was gin for me, bourbon for Rashad, and cognac for Phil — as if we were all trying to promote racial stereotypes).

But this leads to the final, and perhaps most basic point about why even the increasingly liberal Economist titled its article about Starbucks’ Race Together venture “#Fail.”

In St. Louis, I spoke about race relations publicly and privately at a time and place that I knew was for that purpose. On the rare occasion that I go to Starbucks, I can absolutely guarantee you that the closest I want to get to engaging my brain is skimming the front page of the newspaper while I wait 90 seconds for an overpriced beverage.

Given that people open newspapers, even USA Today, for news and information, Race Together might have been more wisely launched as an initiative of the publication with Starbucks secondarily helping to spread the word. It might have spawned less criticism and ridicule if it hadn’t involved the public impressment of baristas into becoming social psychologists, writing do-gooder corporate propaganda on our cups, an act that seems, even to many liberals, wildly inappropriate not to mention a waste of precious seconds during a time of day when every moment seems important.

Sorry, Howard, I don’t want to talk about race at your establishment. I don’t want to talk about the Middle East or the stock market. I don’t even want to talk about sports. It’s too early. And it’s Starbucks. So I’m surrounded by 22-year old employees and effete millennials on iMacs and a handful of real people whose real lives are too busy to want a real conversation any more than I do and whose caffeine jones risks my getting a plastic stirrer in the eye were I to say anything more than “mornin’.” Just ask Gwen and Jonah.

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