Civil Rights Organization Race Forward Offers Partnership With Starbucks, ‘USA Today’

March 20, 2015  |  

Race Forward, an organization in pursuit of racial justice and publisher of Colorlines, has offered to partner with Starbucks and USA Today to help with their mercilessly criticized campaign, #RaceTogether.

While Starbucks’ attempt to address the racial divide in this country is admirable (at least in our opinion), the first thing we thought when we saw the information about this program is why they hadn’t partnered with a civil rights groups with more experience on this topic than your average barista. The good people at Race Forward agree.

“Change starts at the top,” said Jyarland Daniels, marketing and communications director at Race Forward. “It’s great that baristas are engaging to some extent, but they need training on systemic racism.”

You can also end up with conversations like this one between  CBS Sunday Morning’s Nancy Giles and Jay Smooth, a DJ and cultural commentator. She proceeds to “tease” him for the way he’s talking about race in a video… until she finds out that he’s actually Black. (Go to the 5:30 minute mark. And listen to Chris Hayes’ prizewinning cackle when Jay drops the bomb.)

The focus, for Race Forward, is on “effective conversations,” seeking to further the discuss rather than just broach the topic to no end. Rinku Sen, the Executive Director of Colorlines wrote an open letter to the two companies, outlining the issues with the campaign and how Race Forward can help. It reads in part:

Effective conversations on race are grounded in the understanding that racial discrimination isn’t just, or even mostly, about what happens among individuals. It is about what happens as a result of systems. For example, if we consider that Ferguson was about an altercation between an unarmed teen and a police officer, we miss the opportunity to consider the entire picture. If, instead, we understand the shooting of Michael Brown as a result of a pattern of racially biased practices by law enforcement and the municipality of Ferguson, then we can identify policies and practices that truly change relations between residents and police.

Daniels adds, “If we have conversations about what this person does, what that person does, we stay in the same place… It’s about what kinds of policies reinforce supremacy.”

As with anything else, tackling that large civil rights issues we still face today takes more than just good intentions. Experienced groups that can speak to the different sides of the issue are better equipped to effect change.

“If I wanted to go into the coffee business [or] newspaper business, it might be a good idea to spend a little bit of time with people who do that,” Daniels says.

Do you think Starbucks should take Race Forward’s offer? It should be noted that the Starbucks program is in its initial stages, so there’s likely more in the works.


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