27 March 2015

Public Relations Fridays: Race Together or Apart?

As many of you may know, last week Starbucks' employees were encouraged to discuss racial tensions and issues with their customers by writing "Race Together" on their cups. There has been a lot of criticism in the media over whether or not this was the correct manner in which to address the current racial disparity in the United States.


From a communication perspective, this could have been a nightmare. You get one renegade customer or employee, and there could have been a public relations crisis. There hasn't been any word on whether or not employees received any sort of training on how to start conversations for them to be productive.

Many journalists believe that this was a shallow attempt at starting the conversation, and that Starbucks could do much more in terms of changing the discussion on race.

Jake Linshi, wrote for Times that Howard Schultz could learn from Chipotle's burrito. Chipotle started to publish great literary quotes on their paper products as part of a Linshi believes that Starbucks made this issue an argument, where you had to take sides, rather than an honest conversation about how racism is actually a problem everywhere.

In a letter to Starbucks Partners from Howard Schultz emphasizing that this campaign was the first step in the "Race Together" initiative. He assures shareholders and partners that they never expected praise, and stressed that this campaign is about “humanity: the promise of the American Dream should be available to every person in this country, not just a select few."  If Starbucks looks at this as a loss, they aren't showing it. 

From a different point of view, Starbucks was brave enough to make a big statement. Was it necessarily done the right way? Maybe not. But is there a right way to discuss race? In the current climate each side is on the defensive, and no one is holding out the olive branch. Racism is inherent in many systems in the United States, and those who say it's not haven't experienced it.

There should be the ability for people to ask frank questions about race. One of the problems is ignorance of racism in our daily lives. People often get defensive when asked about how they experience racism, but instead of getting defensive they should give examples. While it's not fair to have to explain yourself, it can give people a better understanding of white privilege.

As an optimist, there is most definitely a change that can occur here. There is a new generation that is already tackling huge social issues, such as gay marriage and healthcare. What really needs to happen is an honest conversation as to why there are stereotypes and how to change them. Including more diversity training, and programs that help at-risk youth. There are plenty of successful programs that could be expanded to assist youth in keeping off the streets and receiving a secondary education.
Starbucks did not do a very thorough issue analysis on their slogan, and it definitely does not have any sort of power behind it. #RaceTogether is boring and a little confusing. Hopefully the impact will be positive however.

There is a solution to this, and while Starbucks may not have done the best job at trying to find it at least they started.

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