An attempt to spark discussion about US citizens' perception of race by enlisting Starbucks baristas to scribble ‘Race Together’ on coffee cups took a nasty turn after the well-intentioned movement was slammed on social media.
Howard Schultz, Starbucks chief executive, defended the Race Together campaign’s attempt to evoke race relations discourse in the US following the social media backlash.
Schultz told USA Today: “There will be cynics and some in the media who criticise Starbucks, this is not some marketing or PR exercise, this is to do one thing: use our national footprint and scale for good.
“I’m not going to stand here and tell you that Starbucks itself will solve the centuries-old problem of racism in America, we will try to demonstrate a level of respect, leadership and concern.”
Shultz concluded: “The great need for empathy, compassion, understanding, and metaphorically trying to put your feet in someone else’s shoes. We have to ask ourselves, is this the American promise that we were told to believe in?”
As part of the social media backlash, Corey duBrowa, Starbucks senior vice president of global communications on Monday deleted his Twitter profile after his account was flooded with abuse by those enraged by the campaign, according to CNN.
On the deletion of his profile he said: “Last night I felt personally attacked in a cascade of negativity. I got overwhelmed by the volume and tenor of the discussion, and I reacted. Most of all, I was concerned about becoming a distraction from the respectful conversation around Race Together that we have been trying to create.
“To be clear, Race Together isn’t about me, it’s about we, having heard first-hand the number of stories our [employees] I have thought long and hard about the passion, concerns and painful experiences our people across the country have endured, and wanting to make sure they felt supported by their company.
“So no matter how ugly the discussion has been since I shut my account down, I’m reaffirming my belief in the power of meaningful, civil, thoughtful, respectful open conversation - on Twitter and everywhere else - I believe in it personally, and Starbucks believes in it at the core of our company’s values.”
The social media campaign has least sparked race relation debates – even if some of the criticism has been leveraged towards the Starbucks board itself, with Schultz coming under fire for pocketing $21m a year, roughly double what every US Starbucks barista earns annually.
Starbucks CEO Schultz wants us to write political stuff on cups. He pays workers $7.62/hr. So I start here pic.twitter.com/TZa6x3aFiU
— Mike Klonsky (@mikeklonsky) March 18, 2015
Starbucks said it launched the campaign after a company census found that 40 per cent of its staff would be classified as racial minorities in the US.
The company was likely looking to forward the campaign with its newly formed media branch designed to produce long-form documentaries.