Tracy Lee Curtis

Starbucks quiets the coffee talk

Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz launched a campaign encouraging baristas to write “Race Together” on the cups to strike up conversations about racial issues with customers.
Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz launched a campaign encouraging baristas to write “Race Together” on the cups to strike up conversations about racial issues with customers. GETTY

Sometimes the world just spins too fast for me. A major story can literally come and go before I even had a chance to process it. And this time that story was Starbucks and it’s botched “Race Together” campaign.

If you missed it like me, here’s what happened … days ago Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz launched a campaign encouraging baristas to write “Race Together” on the cups to strike up conversations about racial issues with customers. Critics accused the company of using racial tension to sell coffee, and this week the campaign’s over.

But I was clueless to it. So when I was handed my grande latte with this directive on it, I just thought they’d misspelled my name. It was 7 a.m. and I didn’t have my glasses, so I thought my coffee said Rachel something.

They tell me it’s “Race Together.” And while I want to ask the barista about it, everybody knows you don’t ask those people anything. Because 100 percent of the time they are trying to remember how to make an Iced Half-Caf Venti 4-Pump Sugar-Free Dolce Soy Skinny Latte. DON’T bother them.

So I ask a patron and they say it’s Howard Schultz’s idea. And I’m thinking, why in the world is the guy who created the Peanuts cartoon writing slogans for Starbucks? And didn’t he die? I don’t even get what it means, he was much better at drawing cartoons.

Then I’m told it’s a campaign to bring people together. And I’m like, that’s brilliant! Because we’re all racing around in this crazy world. And even though we move quickly in different directions, we come together in the early hours, to a common place, before zipping back out into life. What a great way to remind us that we are not alone.

I think the slogan’s vague, I would have gone with “We’re all in this together.” Take the word “race” out of it. It’s way too broad and assuming and everybody views it completely differently. I mean, some people are seriously rushing, while others are merely a bit hurried.

But then I see the news – and first of all, Howard Schultz it turns out, is the Starbucks guy – Charles Schulz is the Peanuts guy – an easy mistake when you haven’t had your coffee yet. And the “Race Together” part was to spark a dialogue with the barista.

And when does the barista have time to chat? Somewhere between “good morning, make I take your order, and room for cream?” – while she tries to spell your name, check the boxes, scribble the flavor, write Howard’s slogan, all while making correct change? Charles had nothing on this guy, Howard’s NUTS.

But at least now I know. Sorry I missed it all. I still like my idea better.

Although “We’re all in this together” probably wouldn’t fit on the cup.

Curtis: tcurtis@charlotteobserver.com

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