Lessons From #RaceTogether
APRIL 21, 2015
All of which brings me, inevitably, to his latest initiative, on race relations. Last month, Schultz started something he called Starbucks’ Race Together campaign, suggesting that baristas write #RaceTogether on coffee cups, and see where that led. It backfired. “Honest to God, if you start to engage me in a race conversation before I’ve had my morning coffee, it will not end well,” tweeted Gwen Ifill, the co-anchor of “PBS NewsHour.” And that was one of the tamer tweets. Schultz was mocked for, essentially, being a middle-aged white guy who was tackling a subject that was beyond his ken — or that was inappropriate for a corporation.
But I think that, despite the mistakes with Race Together, Schultz’s actions over the past few years have earned him the benefit of the doubt. He is the rare chief executive who is willing to stand for more than quarterly profits, and isn’t that what we want from our corporate chieftains? And whatever mistakes Starbucks made in rolling out its campaign on race, it will learn from them.
So will Schultz, who says he has no intention of turning back. So far, he has held 10 forums for employees to speak their mind on race relations; I watched a tape of a recent one in Atlanta. It was raw, visceral and, at times, deeply moving. …
“I view this effort as being quintessentially Howard,” said Mellody Hobson, the president of Ariel Investments, who sits on the Starbucks board. When I brought up the criticism of Schultz, Hobson, who is African-American, replied, “If he wakes up one day and decides he wants to help improve race relations, what’s wrong with that? He could be doing something else. Or nothing.”
By the way, it’s not mentioned in the op-ed column (because it’s interesting, and we can have interesting facts distracting from The Narrative), but Mellody Hobson is also Mrs. George Lucas. Hobson is on the short list of black women to marry into billions: Sherry Brewer, a black actress, married Edgar Bronfman Jr. in 1979, although Bronfman Sr. never was happy about the marriage.
What I was wondering was how Howard Schultz would respond if he walked into a Starbucks to get his first cup of coffee in the morning and the black barista, not recognizing him as his CEO, started the following conversation about race:
“My boss told us to write #RaceTogether on your cup and to start a conversation about race. You’re Jewish, right? How much do you know about the long history of Jews exploiting blacks economically? You should read up on the Jewish role in the slave trade, the sugar plantations of Brazil, Lehman Brothers starting in Alabama, Judah P. Benjamin in the Confederacy, Disraeli glamorizing imperialism, and Jewish capitalists in South African mining. And don’t get me started on the American pop music business! Have you ever thought about how Jewish privilege contributes to Jews making up a third of the Forbes 400?”