Monday, March 23, 2015

“Race Together.” Well, their heart’s in the right place, and, you know what, their head’s kind of in the right place, too. (Almost…)

By now, you have no doubt read about Starbucks’ “Race Together” initiative, a noble idea intended to get folks talking about an issue that – for all the attention it gets – most of us actually tend to avoid talking about.

Racism has been the elephant on the American table for, oh, a couple of  hundred years. And for all the self-congratulatory headway that’s been made over those years – Look! A black president! – we’re still quite a long way from race-blind anything.

It’s such a tough and complex (not to mention divisive) issue. Frame any conversation on race that’s around the  structural, and you’re playing the race card.  Frame any conversation on race that’s around the cultural, and you’re a KKK-level racist.

What’s a country to do?

Well, part of what Starbucks thought it might do was have tis baristas write “race together” on latte cups in hopes of engaging customers in conversations on race.

Just what the average bleary-eyed caffeine addict wants first thing in the morning, no? Not to mention the bleary-eyed caffeine addicts lined up behind the person engaged in said conversation, who just want their damned vente…

Not to mention that this conversation, which is apparently impossible for the elected and media powers that be to conduct – think of all the flak the president got when he tried to make an empathetic statement about the hypothetical: if he’d had a son, he might have looked like Trayvon Martin – might be a bit tricky for the average barista to conduct in anything other than an awkward manner. Would they all have been given training on how to  introduce sensitive subjects and diffuse difficult reactions? This is a such a heated topic, perhaps best not addressed when someone’s holding a cup of scalding coffee.

And yet…

I laud Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz for trying to take the conversation out of the one-hour-a-year-devoted-to-diversity-in-the-workplace and make it subject matter for the day to day.

Anyway, baristas will no longer be writing “Race Together” on cups. That’s been rescinded as of yesterday. If Shcultz withdrew that program element he did so:

…while laying out additional activities for the coming months. These include employee forums, dialogue with police and community leaders and a commitment to expanding stores to urban communities…Starbucks [had]announced the Race Together initiative March 16 to “stimulate conversation, compassion and action around race in America.” . (Source: Bloomberg)

Well, good for Schultz.

At any rate, I wouldn’t have been part of any of the store-based conversations.

There’s a Starbuck’s less than 10 seconds from my front door, but I never go there.

I don’t drink coffee, and if I did drink coffee, I’m a Dunkin’ Donuts kind of gal. (I do drink DD iced coffee.)

The last time I stepped inside the local Starbucks was shortly after my husband died. I wanted to get rid of  the heavy-duty prescription drugs we had around, and the FDA had a list of what you could flush (I believe morphine was on the list), and instructions for how to get rid of the rest. Which was to embed them in coffee grounds and put out with the trash.

A barista quite kindly gave me a big bag full of coffee grounds.

Anyway, I would be happy to talk about race. Just not in a coffee shop.

Other than a couple of acquaintances, I don’t really know any black folks.

I grew up in a mostly Irish Catholic (i.e., white) neighborhood, and went to mostly all white Catholic schools, up through college. This wasn’t a deliberate plot to avoid the “other”. As they say, it was what it was.

The city I grew up in – Worcester – had a relatively small African-American population, well below the national average.

My career was in high-tech, where the black faces were few and far between.

I live in a pretty-darned lily-white neighborhood.

As they say, it is what it is.

Although I am one of the most white-bread looking people you’re ever going to find – fair skin, lightish hair, blue eyes - I actually thought that I might have some African blood in me.

My father had black hair, hazel eyes, and – unlike my mother – could tan without burning.

I always thought that, since some of his family was from the West of Ireland, there may have been some Moorish blood in there.

Alas, when I got my reading back from, there was no African. (The exciting bit was some probability of a trace of Mongol horde…)

When you get down to that level of granularity, of course, you realize that race is a pretty BS construct.

One that, I hope, we’ll all manage to grow out of someday.

But that won’t happen unless we start admitting that there’s an elephant in the room.

So thanks, Howard Shultz.

And please do consider running for public office.

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