Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Starbucks CEO expects uncomfortable dialogue to resolve racial tensions in America, and it won't work

The first thing I learned this morning as I woke up was that Starbucks CEO Charles Schultz has an idea to improve race relations in this country.  He will urge his store baristas to write "race together" on $5 cups of coffee and urge employees to engage customers in conversations regarding "race and racial inequality."

This type of idea is the problem, it's not the solution.  Lecturing people about how they should behave will only incite anger in many, and cause them not to want to go back to Starbucks.  

Think of it this way.  When I go to a Detroit Tigers baseball game, I go there to see the best baseball players in the world.  It never even occurs to me that this guy is black or this guy is a Latino.  I don't care about any of that.  It is my assumption that some of the best baseball players in the world are amassed together at Comerica Park so I can enjoy a good game.  

I don't go there thinking, "Oh, my goodness, there are no black pitchers in today's game. We need to do something"

When I go watch a basketball game I go there to watch the best players in the world play basketball play a good game.  I don't go there thinking, "This sport is all black."  

When I watch the Detroit Lions I look forward to seeing big plays by some of the best football players in the world.  I don't go there thinking, "Gosh, Calvin Johnson is Black and most wide receivers are black," or, "Gosh, The Lions Quarterback is white and most quarterbacks are white, we need to do something."

No we don't.  All this number counting is only making race relations worse.  It doesn't matter what color a quarterback is, all that matters is he was hired because he was the best.  It doesn't matter what color a basketball player is, all that matters is he is the best man for the dunk.  If players are hired by color, then the teams they are on will suffer. 

Of course now you have videos of Starbuck's employees participating in the "Race Together" campaign, and as I was watching it I saw many Starbuck's employees participating.  It was my assumption that these people were hired because they were the best for the job.  Yet now you have people complaining because most of the hands are white.  

You see, number counting is not the solution.  Forcing people to engage in conversation when all they want is a cup of coffee is no solution either. All these things do is incite anger and make the problem worse.  The solution is to treat ALL people with dignity and respect, and to hire the best people for the job.

So, Starbucks can help solve the problem with race relations, but it's not by encouraging employees and customers to engage in uncomfortable conversation.  The way to do it is by setting a good example for others to follow. 

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