*Editor’s Note: Starbucks rescinded their “Race Together” campaign after one week!
We all have our sanctuaries, our safety zones, where we comfortably feel we can escape the troubles of the world. Perhaps yours is the bookstore, dog park or movie theater. My place of respite is the gym, where my friends and I have a sacred rule not to discuss politics or religion. Sports, power tools and guys talking about gals/gals talking about guys is about as heavy as it gets. Fun, fluffy, harmless stuff as we go about sharing our common passion for working out. It creates an open, conducive atmosphere with positive energy where we feel connected with a sense of community.
Many share this sentiment, and seek the same experience, with their daily ritual for coffee. It’s a precious time where we carve out a few moments of our hectic day to take a deep breath and relax, sip a latte and perhaps engage in some friendly chit-chat on the weather or weekend plans. A safe haven where we relish a momentary escape, free of the gravitas where no one dwells on their troubles or debates the problems of the world.
This is precisely why we were all taken aback when Amanda literally erupted this morning at Starbucks. Amanda is the epitome of a morning person, always cheery, upbeat and smiling. It’s mildly annoying how happy one can be at six in the morning. But even the grumpy night owls forced to roll out of bed at the break of dawn ultimately surrender to her contagious charm.
So when Amanda went ballistic as she was handed her latte, we all took notice. On her cup was scribbled “Race Together”, essentially an invitation from the barista to engage in a discussion on race relations. It is a controversial new policy introduced by Starbucks to improve racial relations through dialogue, evidently inspired by recent events gripping our nation. Amanda’s tone and demeanor completely changed, devoid of any cheer or charm, as she berated the barista for crossing boundaries and demanded a new latte. You could cut the tension with a knife as she stood there waiting, silently, stone faced, staring down at the barista. Mercifully, she finally got her new drink and promptly stormed out, not exchanging niceties with any of us.
We were all so confused as this was so out of character. Perhaps she just woke up on the wrong side of the bed for once? But, contemplating it further, my sense is this was a reaction to a complete breach of her safe haven. Amanda comes to Starbucks for the “coffee experience” (please refer to http://markvincenti.com/the-coffee-experience), her safety zone to momentarily be stress free and connect with familiar faces. A terrible analogy is the Green Zone for our soldiers in Iraq, essentially an island surrounded by enemy territory and the hell of war, yet a tranquil zone of safety. This boundary was broken for Amanda, like an invasion from the enemy, and it shattered her enjoyable experience.
This may resonate with many of us, especially as we are all inundated with appalling news and imagery on TV. You cannot escape conflict and tensions on any channel these days, whether it’s regarding geopolitical, religious or racial issues. Even the world of sports now frequently has racial overtones like the NBA players wearing “I cannot breathe” t-shirts during warmups.
This new initiative by Starbucks has noble aspirations and I fervently agree communication and dialogue are absolutely necessary for improved race relations. But, ironically, this campaign may be misguided and have the opposite effect of its desired outcome. In my humble opinion, just by peacefully coexisting without broaching the subject exemplifies that we can transcend our differences when we don’t explicitly point them out. Race often only becomes an issue when we put a magnifying glass on it. Starbucks may just be a microcosm, but I witness people of all faith, color and political affiliation getting along just fine when we don’t shine a bright light on it. Ditto at the gym. As long as respect and tolerance exist for each other, we generally overcome our cultural differences. There is no need to put a heightened sensitivity to it. Starbucks, please, for Amanda’s sake, let us simply enjoy our coffee and peacefully coexist with one another as we can all indeed get along without your intervention.