Starbucks, Race and the Culture of Criticism

We live in a culture of criticism so it’s to be expected that Howard Schultz is facing a crescendo of complaint for his decision to have Starbucks’ baristas spice up their customers’ lattes with a discussion on race relations in America.

Like Starbucks coffee, the foaming at the mouth comes in all shapes and sizes: it’s a PR stunt that’s doomed to fail; the baristas aren’t qualified to lead the discussion; customers don’t want to have it; it’s ridiculous to address this subject in a matter of seconds over a coffee counter. The list goes on.

I demur. It’s unseemly for those who us who constantly bemoan our polity’s inability to have adult conversations (and I mean me) to complain when someone wants to encourage them.

Yes, the idea might not work. It might backfire. Some customers might be irritated. Some verbal, or physical, arguments might ensue. (For a really good essay on the pros and cons, see Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s piece on

But maybe some constructive interactions will result. Maybe some stereotypes will be shattered. Maybe some common ground might be found among some uncommon pairings.

Anyone who has a better idea and a more public platform is welcome to try something else. In the meantime, as communicators, shouldn’t we applaud the attempt at communications?

PS — There is plenty of room for disagreement here so in the spirit of encouraging dialogue, please fire away.

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