Starbucks’ #RaceTogether

1017px-Starbucks_Corporation_Logo_2011.svgAs usual, both leftists and conservatives proved their bankruptcy, this time in attacking Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s encouraging new campaign.

On the left, the reaction was predictable. Leftists say they want a conversation about race. But they don’t—not really. What they want are more controls, dictates and unearned guilt trips against capitalism, business and the individual based on race. The hatred heaped by the left upon this particular business, one of the most successful examples of capitalism in history, was an anti-capitalist diatribe against Starbucks, unleashed on social media and, of course, personally attacking private executives. The leftists’ objections to Starbucks’ partnership with a newspaper to foster discussion of thoughts about race, “Race Together” (#RaceTogether on Twitter) ranged from an assault on Starbucks for employing too many white people, itself an example of racism, to a generally dismissive approach to taking ideas seriously if the idea originates with a big business.

Today’s conservatives agree with leftists, as they so often, without realizing it, do, because they share the New Left’s hatred of taking ideas seriously and they share the New Left’s approach to acquiring knowledge: faith over reason. Conservatives, as I observed in this post years ago when I wrote about the pro-capitalist origins of the individualistic Tea Party movement when it was being hijacked, do not seek real, radical change from welfare state cronyism to capitalism and individual rights. Conservatives are not, as Ayn Rand spent most of her career pointing out, radicals for capitalism; they seek to conserve the status quo based on altruism and collectivism—the roots of racism, as Rand argued—and some modified form of government control. To the extent conservatives support capitalism, as some still claim to do with varying degrees of credibility, they are mixed because they also seek to dictate or control free speech, sex, trade, abortion and drugs. Conservatives, like leftists, oppose egoism, pure capitalism and individual rights.

Like today’s college-bred New Left descendants, today’s church-bred New Right descendants embrace today’s bankrupt, cynical culture with enthusiasm. Don’t take my word for it. Read their posts, forwarded e-mails and Tweets, joking about racial comments, insults and attacking an American company for trying to profit from fostering an exchange of ideas for the sake, in the words of Starbucks’ CEO, of a better company and country. Conservatives, and their Christian libertarian brethren, demonstrate the same disdain for capitalism in practice that leftists do, only conservatives pretend that they actively support the company’s right to choose its practices.

But they do not—not really. In practice, they defend any religious CEO, quarterback, cable TV celebrity or chicken food chain for making controversial actions or comments, and sometimes they have a point. But when a lone businessman seeks to start a voluntary discussion about a controversial topic, those who cry that they never get a fair hearing on controversial topics attack the forum and they do so with the same derision as the left. It’s a point radio host Rush Limbaugh has often made; conservatives try so hard to live through others, i.e., leftists, that they act like them. They don’t know how to take yes for an answer. It’s as though they haven’t got the strength of their convictions and they’d rather argue than use reason and persuade. Just because Mr. Schultz, who is clearly biased to the left, didn’t frame the issue exactly right—his comments are loaded with self-hating prejudice against whites—conservatives rant, crack racial jokes and ridicule and reject voluntarily talking politics in a cafe predicated on profit by social gathering.

This is the pioneering, entrepreneurial spirit of the Starbucks effort. Social, even intellectual, discourse in gatherings is central to the Starbucks business proposition. Not only does Starbucks stand to lose and go out of business if Americans remain divided, Starbucks stands to gain and prosper if Americans become united. Howard Schultz, as two business writers know and recently observed (see reference links), knows that voluntarily talking politics in a cafe predicated on profit by social gathering is precisely what America needs.

Starbucks, with 4,700 U.S. stores, published a full page ad in Sunday’s New York Times asking: “Shall We Overcome?” with the words “RaceTogether” and the company’s mermaid logo. The question is intended to stimulate conversation and debate about issues of race in America by encouraging employees to talk with customers after writing, and only of their own volition, the words “Race Together” on a coffee cup. Today’s edition of the company’s partner in the campaign, USA Today, will have the first of a series of inserts with a variety of perspectives on race relations. Starbucks says its baristas are under no obligation to generate debate—in my experience this week, no one did—and, according to Starbucks, the goal is simply to activate an exchange of ideas.

This might not be desirable, in demand or in a company’s interest in a purely laissez-faire capitalist economy, yet in today’s divisive, government-controlled society, made worse by a divisive president and me-too political parties, isn’t one more likely to find an honest exchange among traders in a coffee shop than on a college campus (remember when Brandeis disinvited an infidel?) or a political arena?

Is it possible that Starbucks is the perfect place to start?

Imagine people talking, listening and learning, becoming informed, and making better cases and arguments. The founders did this in pubs when they sought to create America, which ended up being debated and founded in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall.

Debates about ideas are good for a business built on gathering—especially in an environment in which speech is stifled by political correctness, speech codes, disunity, mass government surveillance of private lives and censorship. Conservatives often complain about not having a forum in which to make their points and they incessantly gripe about mainstream media. Leftists often complain about the need to enfranchise and converse and they incessantly gripe about businesses for the smallest grievances. Both should find the good in Starbucks’ campaign and unite in support of Starbucks’ call for voluntary discussion of a controversial topic free from government coercion. Another more toxic type, the nihilist, festers in this blank, death-based culture. See the links for an example.

If Americans are not fully free to have rational arguments in halls of government, academia and the media, and apparently and increasingly Americans are suppressed and restricted, let Americans chat over coffee—and at least leave Starbucks alone to sponsor, prosper and profit from it. I think the initiative has the potential to advance a radical American future free from those who want to control people’s lives for God and tradition and from those who want to control people’s lives for the race, tribe or collective. Conservatives and leftists have been propping up the same false dichotomies and continuous loop of Clintons, Bushes and asinine wars, policies and schemes for decades. America needs better ideas and new forums for free expression. Let us embrace this new effort by Starbucks—or any other American business that dares to speak up when Americans desperately ought to speak up—and let’s get to the business of saving America by encouraging Americans to speak up in pursuit of reason.


Reference links

“Why Race Together” by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and USA Today Publisher Larry Kramer, Starbucks Collection 

“Starbucks CEO has a terrible idea to fix race relations”, by Alexandra Petri, Washington Post

“Starbucks ‘Race Together’ Initiative Is Brilliant”, by David B. Yoffie and Michael A. Cusumano, Time

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