On #RaceTogether And The Struggle To Have The Right Conversations About Race Relations

April 1, 2015  |  

Each morning, I start my day with a cup of coffee. I’ve been doing so since high school and I have yet to kick the habit. Initially a huge Dunkin’ Donuts fan, everything changed when I discovered Starbucks’ vanilla latté.

The usual order is a hot cup paired with a chocolate croissant, toasted please, and then I’m out the door–unless I plan to use the coffee shop as a workspace. It’s simple: get an overpriced coffee and croissant and bounce. But if Starbucks had their way, I would leave with a lot more than that.

You may have heard that the coffee haven attempted to add a layer of complexity to their cups of liquid gold. #RaceTogether – a campaign to encourage open discussions about race – lasted for just one week (ending on March 22) and is said to be in a state of renovation.

“We knew this wasn’t going to be easy — these are very complex conversations that are happening — and that some would be uncomfortable having them,” said Laurel Harper, a spokesperson for Starbucks, in a statement to the Chicago Tribune. “But really our intent was to build awareness and ignite conversations and begin to get comfortable in having conversations about race.”

And while I respect their intentions, I don’t necessarily believe that Starbucks is the proper forum to discuss deeper issues that plague society.

No one wants to be confronted with the harsh realities that discussing race relations brings. So tossing your views on race out there as you order a venti iced passion tango tea during your morning rush is irresponsible.

And while race is the hot topic many are too afraid to touch, it’s being discussed in some form everywhere; from Ava DuVernay’s release of Selma to the actions of the Alcohol Beverage Cops who used excessive force against Martese Johnson at the University of Virginia. We’re very aware of race relations and tension nowadays, but could that be holding us back from the discussions we need to be having?

Following the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and Eric Garner, along with a wealth of new disturbing incidents, there is no escaping the realities of race. There is much to talk about and even more ignorance to deal with, but this isn’t a simple conversation to be had.

We are all scrambling for answers: How can black men still be getting lynched in the South? How can so many police officers get away with murdering black men and boys?

In our scramble, it appears that the discussions and solutions are watered down ones. This is a delicate issue that needs to be handled with care. One that should probably be discussed in a classroom, in the office, or better yet, at home. But a crowded and busy Starbucks? The setting does not offer barely enough time or opportunity to even share an introduction on centuries worth of hate.

We’ve become a community hell-bent on pointing out what is and isn’t racist, but with blinders focusing on one side of the argument versus the entire scope. There are discussions about “forgetting” race and pushing forward with a smile and forgiveness, much like Common tried to encourage in a recent interview, but that ignores the disturbing fact that race relations haven’t progressed much in this nation we live in.

I agree with Starbucks in the idea that there should be more of an effort made to have these conversations; but perhaps sponsoring a panel where a meeting of minds can take place is a better route than getting people to have a painful conversation while waiting in line for cappuccinos.

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