Starbucks encourages baristas to talk race

A Starbucks customer orders at a Chicago area store, Dec. 5, 2012. (Photo by Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)
A Starbucks customer orders at a Chicago area store, Dec. 5, 2012.

Would you like whipped cream with that? How do you feel about the Ferguson protests?

These are the kinds of conversations you could soon be having at your local Starbucks, under a new initiative by CEO Howard Schultz that encourages baristas to initiate conversations about race relations.

Starting this week, baristas are invited to write Race Together on cups – the same phrase published in full-page ads in The New York Times and USA Today this week – to stimulate conversation. This Friday, each copy of USA Today -- a partner in the initiative -- will have an insert on race relations, the first in a series that will also be stocked at Starbucks’ 4,700 stores nationwide, according to the Seattle-based coffee giant.

Schultz rejected the claim that race is sensitive a topic for the company.

“I reject that. I reject that completely, because we can’t leave this for someone else,” Schultz said in a video message posted on the site. “We need a new level of sensitivity and understanding around these issues and perhaps we can again really create an elevate a conversation in our stores that can go well beyond.”

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The initiative follows open forums held in Oakland, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and New York, where Starbucks and its partners joined together to talk about the unrest that bubbled up following the police shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. 

“Some of you may be uncomfortable doing this and if you are, you have no mandate from me to do this, just bow out, you don’t have to do it and if a customer doesn’t want to receive a cup that says 'Race Together,' just give them another beverage or replace their cup,” Schultz added.

In addition to a long history of being a socially and politically conscious corporation, this also isn't the first time Starbucks has used the power of caffeine to take a stand: in 2012 during the government shutdown, they famously wrote "come together" on all cups in the Washington, D.C. area.