Should Starbucks Just Brew Coffee And Not Controversy?

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

200px-Starbucks_Coffee_Logo.svgMany are aware of Starbucks Corporation’s “Race Together” campaign where company senior management proffered to promote a dialogue on race relations among their customers. The main initial manifestation of the decision was for baristas to write the words “Race Together” on cups and encouraging a discussion on the matter. Cups were also adorned with labels furthering the message.

While there is little doubt that most persons in the United States want a harmonious relationship between all citizens, there is a question on whether such a campaign is in the interest of shareholders and customers who might be put off by such practices.

For full disclosure your author owns stock in Starbucks Corporation and has a close family member who for six years worked at Starbucks headquarters but does not presently.

CEO Howard Shultz is renowned for championing positive social and economic benefits to those affiliated with Starbucks and its company. The company offered health care benefits to part-time employees when the market generally did not; advocated fair trade and worker benevolence for suppliers in foreign nations; and offered grant money to laudable social causes in the United States and other nations. Such efforts continue to bring a sense of goodwill and a perception in the general public of being a responsible corporation even among those individuals who object to the notion of large corporations having a dominant position.

Yet, Starbucks might, despite having all the best intentions, have overstepped itself on some of the more up-front aspects of the Race Together campaign.

A common mistake made in marketing and other company strategies is that the customer base or targeted consumer shares the same goal that the company leadership does and will acquiesce to the advertising method. In this respect Starbucks might have made its mistake with the latter—that the consumer would acquiesce to the Race Together campaign methodology.

It is a safe bet that the Starbucks consumer favors good race relations, but it was too risky to assert this message, for lack of better words, “in the face” of consumers.

race-together-starbucks-cupStarbucks marketing strategy offers its customers a relaxing, personable, and “hip”, experience in addition to providing products desired by consumers. But injecting controversial or uncomfortable topics into this approach can detract from the experience, especially if the company wants to create the notion as a coffee shop being a form of escape or temporary retreat from the concerns each customer carries.

The customer might hold a political or social issue dearly but most individuals do not want to constantly occupy themselves with such matters, and this is a place where Starbucks might have miscalculated. What might have been a priority for discussion for the company leadership is not going to always be that for the consumer.

The media outlets report significant negative reaction to the campaign, mostly from the mandated interaction upon baristas handed down from corporate and the messages on the cups. Corporate, at least politely, directed employees to discuss the matter with customers. Unfortunately for the baristas this met with disapproval from enough customers that they individually abandoned the practice asked by senior management. In essence they were placed into a difficult position in wanting to please their superiors and not upsetting the customers from whom they derive their income.

On a broader scale the campaign was criticized as being opportunistic in that it coincided a contentious and churning period of race relations in the media and national dialogue. Others countered that it would be difficult for an employee to fully engage in such dialogue in the limited time available during customer service.

As of today, Starbucks reportedly will end the practice of writing “Race Together” on the cups which caused the most controversy. Starbucks Spokesman Jim Olsen said the initiative would instead continue on a broader approach and that the cup campaign was just a catalyst for the discussion Starbucks will continue to foster in the form of meetings, ad campaigns, and other forms of advocacy. Mr. Olsen stated the withdrawal of the cup effort was not in reaction to the criticism garnered but said “Nothing is changing. It’s all part of the cadence of the timeline we originally planned.”

In a company memo, CEO Schultz wrote “While there has been criticism of the initiative – and I know this hasn’t been easy for any of you – let me assure you that we didn’t expect universal praise.”

As stated before, there are risks in making any kind of social or political statement in approaching customers. It generally works very well with those who agree with the message and is quite effective in sending away those who do not. If politics is to be introduced a corporation had best be prepared for the cost / benefit of doing so. Even in this case, those having agreement with the company could easily tire of having more and more messages being directed at them where a perception could take hold that walking into Starbucks is going to involve yet another political cause and not an environment for which customers have become accustomed. They might instead choose another competitor that offers neutrality and suddenly divergent groups begin to strangely congregate because they have found a refuge from their former coffee purveyor’s politics.

Should Starbucks and other large corporations continue to engage in supporting worthwhile social benefit campaigns? Of course, but they should be mindful of the limits to which their customers will be willing participants.

Yet, all things considered, regardless of any meritorious or controversial actions taken on behalf of Starbucks or others, millions of dollars of free advertising was quickly bestowed by the mainstream media for this campaign: good or bad. But one thing that can be certainly agreed upon, Starbucks tried to do the right thing.

By Darren Smith


Starbucks Corporation

The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

187 thoughts on “Should Starbucks Just Brew Coffee And Not Controversy?”

  1. “*I’m* not saying that only “blacks do it”. Thinking that I did is even more stupid! Clearly, ” dems white folk love fried chicken and watermelon too”!”

    So, is the most reasonable conclusion that fried chicken and watermelon are racist terms?

    Or is it clear that fried chicken and watermelon can be used to create a racist image but that they are not in and of them selves racist?

    Should we never say watermelon because it is racist? Or does the racist implication of watermelon depend on the context and intention of the speaker?

    And what exactly is ” dems white folk”? Is that an attempt at ethnic dialog? I really don’t know what it is. If anyone knows please tell me. Does it inform or illuminate the point of discussion in any way? Is it an error? or is it just an embarrassment?

    1. bigfatmike

      hey buddy! I am hungy and in dire need of some fried chicken. You know what I used to do with my Mother’s Permission when we went down to that Red Neck Riviera Panama City Beach Florida – Well – Remember Laugh In
      Well I would go up to the counter to order food when I was 14 and start acting like a fool and jerking around and jiving and I would say “Are u are you shucking me?” Well, these people didn’t know what to think and no one knew us so my Mom who was usually buttoned up didn’t care. I couldn’t believe she let me do it . lol

      The point is NO ONE CARED about any of this crap back then and Obama has turned this country into a Totalitarian State along with his watchdog and the Sharptongue and his Light he shines on the roaches that turn into Demorats as they scuttle away

  2. Pogo Hears a Who: ”

    1. It has always referred to deceit. It wasn’t -even then- then complementary or negative per se, but could be seen either way depending on the context.

    2. No one but you has suggested that this is something “black people do”.
    Indeed, the reference in question was a white guy saying it of another white person.
    To my eyes, that suggests you in fact are ‘obviously racist’.
    Unless you have some defense for saying only “black people do” shuck and jive.

    That’s reprehensible.”

    And “abjectly stupid” it is! Congratulations! That’s impressive but not in a good way!

    *I’m* not saying that only “blacks do it”. Thinking that I did is even more stupid! Clearly, ” dems white folk love fried chicken and watermelon too”!

    So, it’s not complementary and the phrase is associated with the actions of a particular race. The phrase is textbook racist!

    1. davep – I am the “white person” who said that another “white person” was shucking and jivving. Now the actual derivation of the phrase is that it come from black worker (probably Southern) describing how they would trick “the man” into thinking they were actually working. The first time I (as a white person heard the phrase) it was in a Pam Grier blacksplotation film. And it meant the same thing then.

      I have already admitted that during my lifetime I have shucked and jivved a time or two, or maybe three.

      BTW, the phrase is not racist.

      1. I know how much contempt you have for wiki but you might want to consider:

        “According to the linguist Barbara Ann Kipfer, the origins of the phrase may be traced to when “black slaves sang and shouted gleefully during corn-shucking season, and this behavior, along with lying and teasing, became a part of the protective and evasive behavior normally adopted toward white people.”

        Protective and evasive behavior used to parry the power of slave masters – well I suppose some might find that ‘not complimentary’. But to me that sounds like a life skill that ought to be taught.

        Does it intrigue anyone that no one realized that ‘shuck and jive’ was racist till early in this century when the claim of racism was used to attack certain political candidates?

        I find that utterly amazing. We came all the way through reconstruction, Jim Crow, through the freedom marches and and ‘shuck and jive’ came to mean, primarily, deceit practiced by anyone. But then in 2008 certain political pundits discovered ‘shuck and jive’ is racist. Curious? Isn’t it?

    2. davep

      What alternative universe do you come from?? I lived in Ferguson most of my life and near St Louis and East St Louis and we grew up with the Doo Wop Shuck and Jive Generation. It was about dancing in the 1950s and early 1960s. Wonderful movement and moved into Gospel.

      Now, you are doing a Sharptone and Holding the Light on the roachs and watching the Demonrats scuttle away to expose their true uneducated white colors.

      Any black person on this blog is laughing at this I guarantee you

  3. These people were so incredibly talented that they make the drugged out thuggish Snoop Dogg types of today look like a sad bad joke. I can’t imagine why the culture even follows them as they have no talent whatsoever.

    1. Squeeky – there is so much talking in my Starbucks that you cannot hear any music. I am not sure the music or Muszak is playing.

    2. “Hank Williams sang this song, but he didn’t write it. ”

      Your cheatin’ heart, play Your cheatin’ heat.

  4. Starbucks decided to pull this initiative because good ole Howie Shultz doesn’t see black, he doesn’t see white. . .he only sees one color, and that color is the color green. He finally came to his senses and thought better of having overly-tatted up, uneducated and ignorant coffee monkeys engaging in any kind of political discussions with his patrons, while serving them scalding hot sludge. The little old lady from McDonalds would have nothing on the those people suffering from burns resulting from these dialogues. I can see the coffee flying now. What do they say? Any publicity is good publicity?

  5. BFM, We need you here more often. I don’t know if you’re a friend of Larry David? But, he like most comedians skewer PC whenever they can. Now, David is quite liberal. But, he sees PC as dangerous to open communication. In his show, Curb Your Enthusiasm, he had a great scene. He was @ a wedding, seated @ a table next to a table w/ some black folk. Black folk can be very loud. This group was being very loud and no one @ Larry’s table could converse. He asked them to lower the volume. “RAAAACIST” was hurled @ him. Larry said black people can be very loud and “RAAACIST” was hurled even more angrily @ him. The show made a very important point w/ humor. In that same vain, I have related how a black buddy of mine plays on white guilt in sometimes a very nasty way, making white people, stammer and apologize for everything but the killing of MLK. It’s both edifying and disturbing.

  6. “davep
    “The current usage of “shuck and jive” isn’t complementary and it’s something “black people do”. It’s obviouslly racist.”

    1. It has always referred to deceit. It wasn’t -even then- then complementary or negative per se, but could be seen either way depending on the context.

    2. No one but you has suggested that this is something “black people do”.
    Indeed, the reference in question was a white guy saying it of another white person.
    To my eyes, that suggests you in fact are ‘obviously racist’.
    Unless you have some defense for saying only “black people do” shuck and jive.

    That’s reprehensible.

  7. davep

    “The current usage of “shuck and jive” isn’t complementary and it’s something “black people do”. It’s obviouslly racist.”

    Saying it is so doesn’t make it so.
    Prove it.
    Literature, studies, with references.

    I do not believe you.

  8. Hmmm. Definition from the ‘net:

    Racial discrimination is when a person is treated less favourably than another person in a similar situation because of their race, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin or immigrant status.

    Sooo, if you treat a white person less favourably when they say “shuck and jive” than you do a black person, then it is RACIAL DISCRIMINATION.

    There, solved that problem! (at least for those whose minds still work. . .)

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  9. Paul C. Schulte: “mespo – Starbucks is shucking and jivving right now so we will see where it ends.”

    This could be (arguably) a clever way of turning the racist phase in on itself against Starbuck’s (alleged) racism.

    The subsequent arguments that “shuck and jive” can’t be racist when used by white people is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen on the interwebs. The fact that it originated from the black commulity is irrelevant (“nigger” had an equally benign origin).

    The current usage of “shuck and jive” isn’t complementary and it’s something “black people do”. It’s obviouslly racist. It’s use by white people like Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin to characterize Obama underlines that.

    I hope the defence of the phrase not being racist is just rude trolling rather than it being abject stupidity (on the internet, it can be hard to tell)

    1. davep – you do realize the Obama is white and both he and his entire administration ‘shuck and jive.’

    2. “The current usage of “shuck and jive” isn’t complementary and it’s something “black people do”. It’s obviously racist. It’s use by white people like Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin to characterize Obama underlines that.”

      It is not obvious to me that the phrase ‘shuck and jive’ is racist.

      What is obvious is:

      the term originated from an ethnic group – but that in and of itself does not make the term racist

      The term has negative connotations – but that does not necessarily make the term racist

      African American sometimes ‘shuck and jive’ – so what? If you understand the term then you know that whites and other ethnic groups also sometimes ‘shuck and jive’.

      As for Rush Limbaugh – by now it ought to be clear most anything Rush says about Obama is likely to be an attack regardless of his vocabulary.

      It seems to me that the sum total of the claim that ‘shuck and jive’ is racist comes down to the fact that some have used the term in racist attacks at some time in the past. But that cannot be the standard for usage. Most any word can be used in a racist attack. It ought to be obvious that the fact that a word is used in a racist attack does not in and of itself make the word racist or a pejorative. If we eliminate words because a racist uttered the word in a racist attack, what words would be left. How could we communicate?

      Sometimes I can help but wonder if pc enforcement officers sincerely believe their over wrought claims or if they are just shucking and jiving to put others in their place?

    3. Oh, BTW, I admit it. I fell into the trap and let ‘shuck and jive’ pass, unchallenged, as a negative.

      The fact is if you are shucking and jiving with the man or a slave master then shucking and jiving is a good thing – a very good thing.

      So I urge you all to point out shucking and jiving politicians where ever and when ever you encounter them. And don’t hesitate to shuck and jive yourself if that is what your personal situation requires. Sometimes shucking and jiving is the most effective way to deal with power.

      1. bfm – I will admit that I have shuck and jivved my way through a few situations with authority figures.

  10. Bitchin, Been to that race track a few times. Which brings to mind the fact that horse race tracks are some of the most diverse venues in this country. You have the old money to poor minorities.

  11. There is a Starbucks right near Fairgrounds Race Track in East Saint Louis, Illinois. You can not only talk about the races on race day, but you can actually place bets there on race day. There is one race that you do not discuss. If the horse named CoffeeKlutch is in the race the Starbucks will not allow you to discuss him or the race issue. He is a thoroughbred from Louisville and might be a ringer. Y’all know what a “ringer” is? Yeah, that is when they have a horse who is real fast and lives in another state. They change his/her name and bring him in as a new guy and the odds are like 40:1. This is a “ringer”.
    Starbucks does not want to get involved in litigation involving this horse CoffeeKlutch.

  12. PaulS, Your pointing out the lily white nature of both the clientele and workforce @ Starbucks was an early superb comment. And, like Starbucks, the self appointed black knights are whiter than white bread w/ mayo.

  13. Well, well, well. There are a few people I know personally here, and several more I know pretty well from here and elsewhere. NONE of them are racists. Some live in quite racially diverse areas, as have I. They socialize and have friends who are black, as do I. It is always so apparent the people who live in white enclaves, would never venture into a black neighborhood, but fashion themselves racially enlightened. Indeed, as the Dixie barrister points out. There was a time when diverse thought was NOT TOLERATED. When they patrolled this blog like black shirts and SHOUTED down ANY opinion that was not lockstep. They formed their own little echo chamber. I encourage folks to go read Flower For Socrates. It is a cautionary tale of “Be careful for what you wish.”

    As Camille Paglia has pointed out, the most disappointing aspect of Obama’s presidency is how he has used the likes of Al Sharpton, a man who has complete access to the WH, to pit black against white. I think “disappointing” is a generous term.

  14. I can see it now–a person orders a grande bold with a double shot to get going in the morning and another person strikes up a conversation about race. The grande person doesn’t want to be bothered with such discussions, but after a couple sips goes off the deep end and starts a loud debate.
    Does anyone need to confront others about race, first thing in the morning? By the time one reads or listens to the morning news, misery is already setting the tone of the day.
    Besides, don’t we hear enough about how horrible white people are to minorities in general?
    It’s all more left wing propaganda and politics. Just give me my coffee and let me get on with my day.

  15. There are tons of other places to get coffee. if you don’t like their coffee or messages, just don’t go there. I don’t, and I don’t.

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