OPINION: Racing together starts with Starbucks

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Starbucks recently launched a campaign called “Race Together.” Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz encouraged baristas to write the words “Race Together” on Starbucks cups. By writing or placing a sticker saying “Race Together,” Starbucks hoped to open up the conversation about race in order to make it feel more conversational.

Schultz said he saw a cultural divide with issues like Ferguson separating the nation and forcing us to talk about race. While these issues were happening, Schultz internally met with his staff, and they shared their own race-related stories. Schultz said he believed that this helped further the general idea of race.

According to a March 20, 2015 CNN article titled, “Starbucks’ critics are making a big mistake,” Schultz said Starbucks could use its large scale for good and create a national footprint with this campaign. Writing on the cup, though, wasn’t the big idea. The idea was the relationship between USA Today and Starbucks, who inserted a “Race Together,” graphic in papers as well as in stores. This served as sort of a mental wakeup to realize that this issue affects all of us. Starbucks didn’t believe they were going to change the race problem, but they thought they could help move the conversation forward in a safe environment.

Schultz was actually told to avoid this issue and that Starbucks shouldn’t be a part of this. He still pushed for this campaign, however. He said he was embracing diversity and inclusion, because not only are the employees of Starbucks diverse, but the entire company is as well.

According to a March 21, 2015 NPR article titled, “Starbucks’ ‘Race Together’ Campaign Begins,” the reactions to this campaign haven’t all been positive. Some people have said they believe it is a naked marketing ploy for free advertising, while others have said they think it was well-intended but poorly executed. Others said they are having fun with the new campaign. For example, the new hashtag #newstarbucksdrinks was created as well as fake “drinks” like Malcolm X-presso and police brew-tality.

After watching interviews on the street, it is clear that the reviews about the campaign are mixed. Many people said that the coffee shop isn’t the place for such “an important discussion.” This makes me think, though, where is the right place? Would a public forum, like the notorious crackpot conventions on television shows like Parks and Recreation where everyone screams at each other and accomplishes nothing, be the right place?

According to a Sept. 25, 2013 Wall Street Journal article titled, “Miss America Nina Davuluri Reveals Her Secret Life as a Nerd,” Miss America winner Nina Davuluri is the first ever Indian-American to hold the title. Many tweets following her crowning accused her of not being “American enough.”

“It’s part of the reason I was so determined to focus my platform on diversity,” Davuluri said in the article. “But you can’t just scream in the dark, you have to try to shed light and awareness.”

Similarly to Davuluri, I am a passionate advocate for not only education on race and equality, but ultimately want compassion and thoughtfulness. I come from Indian parents, but I was born in the U.S.

I work at a Starbucks in Overland Park, Kansas, and I suffer from constant ignorant questions being asked concerning my ethnicity on a daily basis, both at work and school. While I am always content to explain my heritage, I also find it exhausting. These questions look a little something like this:

1. “So … where are you from?” Most people really just want to know my race, but they word the question incorrectly, so I normally respond with the name of my hometown, to which they reply, “No … where are you really from?”

2. “So .. you’re Indian? Like … from India?”

3. “You speak English?”

I usually am met with an incredulous face when my answer is yes, my father was indeed born in India and I coherently speak English and act American.

My experiences have taught me there is a much more appropriate way to act when you want to know someone’s heritage that does not involve interrogating someone about their race and the stereotypes associated with it. I’ve also learned there is a big difference between curiosity and projecting your assumptions onto someone else, especially in regards to their race, and then being shocked when they don’t fit into the assumptions you have in your mind. The American mold is changing, and we need to race together, as Starbucks is suggesting.

The question of race needs to be brought up because so many Americans are ignorant towards many of the cultures and traditions the so-called melting pot prides itself on. If you need proof of this ignorance, I suggest you look directly at the Twitter reactions to Coca-Cola’s “America the Beautiful” Super Bowl advertisement in 2014.

According to a Feb. 2, 2014 Huffington Post article titled, “Coca-Cola ‘America the Beautiful’ Super Bowl Ad Celebrate Diversity, Twitter Explodes (VIDEO),” some audience members were so upset by the commercial that they were tweeting they were never drinking any Coke products again. Another example of this would be the crowning of Davuluri as Miss America. It doesn’t matter where we talk about race, as long as we talk about it, even if it is brought up in the place where we spend close to $3 on a small cup of coffee.

Starbucks was right when they wanted to address race head-on, and it’s a shame that many people are still too scared to address this issue. I understand that racial experiences are painful, traumatizing and some find it hard to share with people who have never ever dealt with the issue of race. We need to talk about it, however, whether or not you want to, even if it’s uncomfortable. These issues not only affect us as human beings, but also as members of our communities, our families and the heart that the U.S. was built on.

According to NPR, Consultant McCall Jones said he thinks the “Race Together” campaign is putting our social and cultural differences directly in our faces, making us have to ultimately deal with them, and that upsets some people.

“I know that some people are uncomfortable with it,” Jones said in the article. “But I think that to move the conversation forward, simply avoiding it is not the answer.”

Racism and the race question doesn’t end by ignoring it, but by addressing it.

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