Yesterday, I reported that Starbucks had launched a new initiative called #RaceTogether. This initiative gives their employees the option to have an open and honest discussion with customers about race…over their delicious and overpriced coffee. As you can imagine, the initiative didn’t go over so well. And the backlash was even more apparent on Twitter.
But last night I felt personally attacked in a cascade of negativity. I got overwhelmed by the volume and tenor of the discussion, and I reacted. Most of all, I was concerned about becoming a distraction from the respectful conversation around Race Together that we have been trying to create. To be clear, Race Together isn’t about me, it’s about we: and having heard first-hand the number of stories our partners (at Starbucks we call our employees “partners”) shared with us in the open forums of the past few months, I have thought long and hard about the passion, concerns and painful experiences our people across the country have endured, and wanting to make sure they felt supported by their company.
So no matter how ugly the discussion has been since I shut my account down, I’m reaffirming my belief in the power of meaningful, civil, thoughtful, respectful open conversation — on Twitter and everywhere else. I believe in it personally, and Starbucks believes in it at the core of our company’s values. It’s this belief that led us to host a series of open forums with our partners in some of the communities most affected by the recent flareups of racial tension across the country. In those meetings, we heard loud and clear that we, as a company, have an opportunity to engage on this topic, no matter how difficult. You can learn more about those meetings, and about what Starbucks is doing, here: http://news.starbucks.com/news/race-together-conversation-has-the-power-to-change-hearts-and-minds.
I’m going to do the same. I’m only one guy, and I do actually sleep occasionally (and definitely needed to last night), but I personally will answer the challenge to participate where it’s uncomfortable, and to do so with integrity, openness, and empathy.
Some Twitter users aren’t so sure that this should be the end of the conversation, however. One user thinks it’s pretty ironic that Starbucks is asking people to have a conversation that they can’t even handle having themselves.
— Kim Moore (@SoulRevision) March 18, 2015
I think it’s fair to say though, that Twitter “discussions” aren’t usually discussions. When you’re being criticized left and right from millions of people via Twitter, I’m sure it CAN get overwhelming. But I also think that they knew what they’d signed up for when they made this campaign public. I only hope something good comes out of this, and that we aren’t left with another missed opportunity to talk about race relations in America.