The Corner

Culture

Starbucks Social Justice Only Comes in Venti

Among the many blessings of liberty afforded by these fifty nifty United States of America is the freedom to make business decisions based on an inflated sense of self-righteousness. Thus Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who has over the past few years burnished his progressive credentials by discouraging gun owners from carrying inside his cafés and, in 2013, employing his army of Ph.D.-wielding baristas in an ill-fated hashtag campaign against a government shutdown, is now encouraging employees to write “Race Together” on customers’ cups and to start a discussion about race.

So now your caramel macchiato can come with a double-shot of social justice.

Schultz is a private citizen who is welcome to do whatever he likes with his private company. The problem is not that he’s “speaking out”; it’s that what he is proposing is doomed to be counterproductive.

Start with the emotional problems of talking about race, which Hot Air’s Noah Rothman summarizes aptly:

These employees will be compelled to engage in conversations on an issue on which most people already have preconceptions they regard as founded in righteousness and principle. It is invariably true that these principled beliefs on race will be controversial or even offensive for someone. 

Then there is the problem of specificity. Let’s assume that the average barista who takes up this challenge is neither going to want, nor be able, to discuss any of the particular issues involved in America’s thorny race debate: Anyone want to talk about black incarceration or rates? Fatherlessness in the black community? The Moynihan report?

Anyone? Bueller?

Which means that Schultz is, indeed — even if he does not realize it — “encouraging his employees to fire off pearls of anodyne pabulum like ‘Our hearts are all the same color,’” in Rothman’s felicitous phrase.

That is not outrageous as much as tiresome. What is Schultz’s plan but another instance of the Left’s fetishization of “dialogue” and “conversation,” those pleasant-sounding proposals that inevitably reduce complex issues to catchphrases (and, what is more, the catchphrases of the Left, “dialogue” with progressives tending to be a one-sided affair)? He is merely encouraging further rule-by-cliché: #BringBackOurGirls. #UnitedForUkraine. #RaceTogether. It’s the triumph of slogan over substance.

The awkwardness of the whole arrangement, combined with the apathy one meets at the counter of many Starbucks franchises, suggests that the inconvenience will prove minimal. (We can hope.) But in the meantime, Howard Schultz gets to make some noise. He should not pretend that by doing so he is making change.

Ian Tuttle — Ian Tuttle is the former Thomas L. Rhodes Journalism Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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