Racial inequality is a topic rarely discussed in a corporate setting and seldom encouraged as a coffee shop conversation. That is changing as Starbucks and USA TODAY embark on an initiative called Race Together.
As recent racially-charged incidents unfolded across America, Starbucks partners (employees) gathered in six major cities to share their experiences and ideas about moving the country forward. Below is a video from the first partner meeting in December 2014.
“Each story, each voice, offered insight into the divisive role unconscious bias plays in our society and the role empathy can play to bridge those divides,” said Starbucks chairman and ceo Howard Schultz, in a free USA TODAY newspaper section that will be distributed in Starbucks stores beginning Friday and through the weekend.
The compendium called “Race Together” is the first installment in a year-long effort designed to stimulate conversation, compassion and positive action regarding race in America. The title of the publication mirrors the words Starbucks baristas have been voluntarily writing on cups this week in support of diversity and dialog.
The printed edition features an unconscious bias experiment – exploring the attitudes and beliefs that guide us, along with an interactive diversity index that asks “what is the chance that the next person I meet will be different from me?” Readers will see how that likelihood has changed since 1960 and is projected to change by 2060.
In addition to two quizzes, USA TODAY includes questions to consider discussing with family, friends and co-workers such as, “How have your racial views evolved from those of your parents?”
Partners and customers may join the discussion on social media using the hashtag #racetogether.
Starbucks partners may also send comments about their personal experiences to the Starbucks Newsroom. These baristas gave us permission to share their stories:
I was adopted from the Philippines during their revolution in 1986. Growing up in suburban Connecticut I did not feel or know that I was of a different race, that I wasn’t white. My family and friends were truly color blind to that fact. It wasn’t until middle school that I met another black boy, Tim who I became friends with. Throughout school I suppose I wasn’t as popular as most because I was a nerd but my high school valued academic excellence so it wasn’t a lonely existence. It would be fair to say, that almost all my friends were white growing up. Again, I didn’t feel that my brown skin was a stigma because in my town, it’s 90% white. People just didn’t think anything about race relations.
I attended Boston College and graduated in 2006. I decided to join the Marine Corps. I remember the recruiter, said to me when I came into the office after calling, “Oh we thought you were white. You sound like it.” And I thought well, I know that my accent is what people would consider educated.
Now as an adult, I find more people view my skin color and do make judgments. For example, some people don’t think that I know English. Some try to talk to me in Spanish. I know that a few times police have stopped me for no reason but simply for the color of skin. Some of us call it DWB “driving while brown.” The police apologize afterwards when they realize I’m a veteran and was not breaking any laws. Race relations in this country are a serious and grave concern. But also we need to move forward and almost have a childlike innocence. We not only want tolerance, we want acceptance.
I’m a three-year partner in a Midwest city that would have no racial diversity if not for the college nearby. I’ve lost count of the number of times people have looked at me with a puzzled expression and then finally asked, “What are you?” “Excuse me,” I’d say knowing exactly what they wanted to know. What race am I? My mother is black and my father is a Japanese American. “Oh,” they say walking away as if I’m from another planet.
I’m the only partner of another race in my store. I’m used to that because I was always the only person of color in school. Growing up, I was highly aware that I was different from the other kids. “Different” for most of my life meant inferior. If I’m being truly honest with myself, I still feel I’m less than those around me. That belief comes from years of subtle glares, direct put downs, and a few racial slurs. Though I don’t think about racial issues much, I talk about them even less. So the idea of bringing up this topic with customers terrifies me.
Yet, if my company can take a risk and begin talking about diversity publically, then I can step out of my comfort zone. Starbucks is brave. I will be too. Race Together.
As a barista, I worked first in the inner city in Raleigh, NC, and now at a licensed store at my school in the mountains, Western Carolina University. I haven’t been a victim of racial tensions, but I see how many of my customers are. We have many exchange students from Saudi Arabia. When I ask for their name to write on the cup they tell me to write ‘M’ because they have given up trying to tell people how to spell Mohammed. Probably the most eye opening experience I had was with a gentleman named Hussain. I know his name, because after months of simply writing “M” I encouraged him to open up to me. He said that even though he can tell I am kind, he cannot stand the looks people give him when we call Hussain at the end of the bar. I was ashamed of my fellow students for how judgmental they are being. People are being scared out of their own names because of the racism that blatantly poisons our country.
I hope all the partners know that the kindness that we practice every day at work makes an impact on our customers – especially those who are impacted by racism. I am proud to work for a company that is an equal opportunity employer, who does not discriminate based on race, religion, or sexual preference. We set a new standard for other companies to follow and we should be proud. I know I am.
Watch the video message Howard Schultz shared with Starbucks partners throughout the U.S. last week
The Race Together initiative will be further outlined during Starbucks 2015 Annual Meeting of Shareholders in Seattle on Wednesday.
Photos courtesy Starbucks partners and customers