When you go to your local Starbucks, you expect a few things – mediocre coffee at an exorbitant price, unnecessarily complicated drink orders and a plethora of laptop users deeply engaged in finally writing that novel they’ve had knocking around in their head since they first gave up on their hopes and dreams, switching their major from Romantic Literature in the Era of Feminism to Medical Billing.
What you don’t expect to encounter is a deep, burgeoning discussion about race. Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz has announced a new initiative (can you really call anything done at a coffee shop an initiative?) aimed at sparking a national conversation about race.
Aside: I would like to propose a new initiative banning from public interaction anyone who ever again uses the phrase “National conversation about race.” I think that phrase should take its place in the trash bin of rhetorical history alongside “meme”, “gravitas” and “YOLO”.
The initiative, titled “Race Together” places pamphlets discussing race issues inside Starbucks across the country and encourages (although does not force) Starbucks employees to engage customers in conversations about race.
This gives me the giggles and the sads all at the same time. Here’s why:
- If I hear one more person call for a “national conversation about race” I’m going to need surgery to repair my eyes after they have frozen in a permanent state of Liz Lemon eye roll. We’ve been having a “national conversation about race” since I can remember. Bill Clinton had one – he even went so far as to set up townhalls across the country for his “national conversation about race”. Al Sharpton, Barack Obama, basically any talking head on MSNBC and every single Hollywood “it” girl of the day. There is no lack of people calling for a “national conversation.” In fact, there are too many people doing it. How many conversations are we supposed to have about this? When the same issues are brought up over and over again in marriage, that’s called nagging. It also happens to be identified as one of the biggest causes of tension and communication breakdown in a relationship. Too much nagging and the other party begins to shut down and simply tune out. It could be argued that this incessant national conversation about race we keep being forced to have (but never really have) is the very thing preventing us from properly addressing the problems of racial unity.
- I don’t even like telling the Starbucks baristas my name for my drink order as I feel that is already revealing way to much about myself to a total stranger. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to stand there waiting for my latte while my barista asks my opinion about the intricacies of interracial relationships in modern America.
- Which brings me to another quandary – just how in the hell is this “conversation” supposed to get started by said barista? The very initiation of the conversation would first require all kinds of assumptions to be made about the customer, starting with the assumption that they even want to be talking about racism with a coffee server in the first place. What does that even look like? “Here’s your latte, Miss. Shall we put that on your Race Card”?… “Here’s your large decaf, sir. Would you mind setting aside your white privilege for a moment while I give this to that brown person in line behind you”? I don’t understand what this is supposed to look like.
This whole idea seems not only ludicrous but impossible to implement without causing more offense to customers, not less. Sometimes, most times actually, I don’t wish to be seen as a person who has to walk around with the weight of an entire nation’s racial sins on my shoulders. I would just like to be seen as an American woman who wants her tall, soy, double-shot, sugar-free, caramel latte with just the right amount of foam and wants it as quickly as possible.
Yes, my name is Kira. No, I don’t care how you spell it. And if you ask me how I feel about the violence in Ferguson I will turn over this stand filled with iTunes codes for free Trivia Crack and Taylor Swift CDs … and never come back.
Photo credit Gwendolyn