At the risk of sounding like the unfashionable cheapskate old fogies that we are, we confess we have never once patronized a Starbucks coffee shop. Instead we brew our two essential cups of morning coffee with a teapot and one of those conical things with the paper filter and two spoonfuls from a can of the local supermarket’s most inexpensive ground, and in the happy solitude of our kitchen table we savor its bitter taste and stimulating effects at a fraction of the price and without any conversation about race.
The conversation about race apparently now comes with the high price of a cup of coffee at Starbucks, according to press reports. It seems the 60-something white guy who runs the company has lately been concerned about the state of race relations in America and therefore instructed the “baristas” at his company’s store to engage the customers in heartfelt chit-chat about that “police shooting of an unarmed black teenager” and the rest of America’s racist sins. We put “barista” in quotation marks because it strikes us as such a highfalutin term for a coffee-slinger, and “police shooting of an unarmed black teenager” in quotation marks because he’s talking about such a clear-cut case of self-defense that even The Washington Post’s most exquisitely racially sensitive writer now admits it, but the press reports treat this cacophony as everyday language. They further note that the Starbucks “baristas” are writing some “hashtag” on the coffee cups with “Sharpies,” which is also apparently common parlance, and all the more reason to retreat to the solitude of our kitchen table.
At least the reports also indicate that Starbucks’ new policy has already met with widespread disdain. Many people have been “tweeting,” another one of those damnable neologisms requiring quotation marks, that the policy is patronizing toward minorities and insufficiently groveling toward the most up-to-date racial sensitivities. One widely “re-tweeted” “tweet” showed a smilingly caucasian waitress and the caption “Let’s discuss the disenfranchisement of your people that has allowed me to prosper.” Another offered “May I have a latte and an explanation for why your people continue to plunder my country.” Yet another suggested that the “hashtag” campaign “is what happens when a 1%-er without any actual anti-racist education or training has mid-life ‘white man’s burden’ crisis.” We wonder how the disenfranchisement of anybody has allowed Starbucks’ relatively meagerly paid waitresses to prosper, and we’re not at all sure what countries the corporation is plundering, but we do rather like the line about the executive’s mid-life “white man’s burden” crisis. If such more-progressive-than-thou self-righteousness is what it takes to force Starbucks’ retreat, we’re all for it.
The right doesn’t seem to be “tweeting” about it so much, presumably because they abhor the newness of the medium and brew their own coffee at home, but we’re also sympathetic to its largely unstated complaint that the even trendiest yuppie on his way to a multi-cultural sensitivity training session should be able to buy a cup of joe without having to hear some queer studies or gender studies or something or another studies graduate yammering on about race and class and gender and oppression and corporations and the rest of that nonsense they racked up $40,000 of debt learning about to get a job as a “barista” at Starbucks. That conversation Starbucks is hoping to provoke will involve the customer apologizing for his skin tone and that cop defending his life and getting absolution as part of the steep price of a cup of coffee, and somebody should object to that.
Besides, the formerly simple task of ordering a cup of java is time-consuming enough these days. After all the rigmarole about cream and sugar and foam and double mocha and beans from a certain region of Columbia and all the rest of it, adding in a discussion of the past 400 years of racial relations will make you late for that multi-cultural sensitivity training session.
— Bud Norman