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Starbucks' 'Race Together' Campaign Begins


This week, Starbucks launched a thing that it's calling Race Together. In some stores, baristas have been writing the words race together on that latte cup or that Americano cup. The idea is to encourage us to talk about race. My colleague Karen Grigsby Bates from NPR's Code Switch team has been traversing the Starbucks of Southern California, and she's here now in the studio to tell us about it. Hey, Karen.


MCEVERS: All right, so there has been a lot of reaction on social media to this campaign. Not all of it has been, shall we say, positive. What are people saying?

BATES: Well, some people think it's just a naked marketing ploy, kind of a catalyst for free advertising. And it's certainly gotten the Starbucks name out there. Other people think it was well-intentioned but really poorly executed. And other people are just having great fun with it. Here's Comedy Central's Larry Wilmore.


LARRY WILMORE: Welcome to "The Nightly Show." I'm Larry Wilmore. Question - when you order Starbucks, how do you like it - grande, venti, double shot of awkward conversation?

BATES: (Laughter).

MCEVERS: That's funny, but I do hear there's been some suggested names or maybe renames for Starbucks drinks floating out there in Twitter land.

BATES: Yeah, there are. There's actually a hashtag called #newstarbucksdrinks, and people have been tweeting a whole bunch of facetious suggestions. So they've suggested things like Malcolm X-presso.


BATES: If you're not a coffee drinker, maybe police brew-tality.


BATES: It's endless, and some of them are pretty clever.

MCEVERS: I'm going to read some of these here - wait, wait. One person tweeted some of my best friends are black coffee.


MCEVERS: Oh wait, roast-a Parks. OK, that's pretty good. Latte from a Birmingham jail - that's pretty good. And by any beans necessary - nice.

BATES: For your Malcolm X-presso, yes.


MCEVERS: So we've seen this stuff on the Twitter-sphere now, but tell us about your field research here. I mean, did anybody write anything on your cup when you were in Starbucks?

BATES: Well, Kelly, I've got some cups in front of me, which I'm not supposed to do.

MCEVERS: Right. We're not supposed to have drinks in the studio. But these are empty cups. It's fine.

BATES: These are empty cups - difference. But I want you to see what's written on the cups.

MCEVERS: OK, so I'm not seeing anything.

BATES: It's got my name, but there's no invitation for me to race anywhere with anybody. And baristas don't have to participate in this campaign if they don't feel like it or if they're too busy. I mean, I went to six Starbucks in the course of a couple of days, and everyone behind the counter was very pleasant and very, very busy. So that could've been the reason that there's nothing but my name on my cups.

MCEVERS: I mean, how long is this supposed to go on?

BATES: Well, the time's not specified, but we get a little hint from Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.


HOWARD SCHULTZ: Writing on the cup is a de minimis piece of this issue. And it's not something that's going to last long. It was a catalyst to start this.

BATES: And yesterday, another component rolled out. Starbucks and USA Today partnered to produce this insert called "Race Together." It's got diversity related facts, a quiz on what we think we know about stuff like immigration and economics. And in the back, as you can see, something they call a race relations reality check.

MCEVERS: And Karen, you visited five Starbucks this week. I mean, was anybody talking about this?

BATES: Well, I did find, finally, a couple of people to talk about it. It was amazing how many people were like, what, no. But at the Starbucks on Crenshaw Boulevard, which is sort of the commercial spine of LA's still-mostly-black community, manager Jorge Castillo said that maybe the reason people weren't really talking about Race Together is this.

JORGE CASTILLO: You know, what we - we do have conversations with people all the time, like, even if we are busy.

BATES: So if they're talking about stuff including race, then maybe they just see this as superfluous. One customer working away on his laptop actually went into the hallway to talk to me. Consultant McCall Jones says he thinks Race Together is the Starbucks equivalent of what the Benetton ads used to be in the '90s. So here's what Jones said to me.

MCCALL JONES: Really putting our social and cultural differences in our faces to actually have us look at them and deal with them - and I know that some people are upset by it. I know that some people are uncomfortable with it. But I think that to move the conversation forward, simply avoiding it is not the answer.

MCEVERS: And in some cities, like here in LA, you could not do that, even if you wanted to. Thanks so much, Karen.

BATES: You're welcome, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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