Starbucks Should Sell Coffee

Reading about some of the employee level problems and criticisms at Starbucks in Morgan’s past article deeply interested me. A someone who rarely visits Starbucks and instead frequents Dunkin’ Donuts at home or at school, I don’t pay a lot of attention to the fancier, upscale rival chain. This entire marketing campaign surprised me because I had not heard of it until recently, and it sounded a little out of hand.

When you really think about it, there is this odd concept of someone simply trying too hard. It is unattractive in multiple senses of the word, sometimes childish, and often times simply a cry for attention. To put it one way it is quite easy to spot someone who is not wealthy enough for nice, designer clothes, from someone trying too hard to look like someone who can’t afford nice, designer clothes in their Urban Outfitters get-up, but I digress. No one wants to look like they are trying too hard because it turns people off from  interacting with you, whether it be the idea that you are just looking for attention or the idea that you’re trying to make a statement in the wrong manner.

A required 40-second conversation? If anyone has ever been in a forced conversation, it could be considered one of Dante’s 7 layers of hell. Now imagine it at 6A.M. as you go to grab your coffee on a monday morning on your way to work, oh and its about race. Writing “Race Together” on customer’s coffee cups? This sounds so forced it is making me physically uncomfortable thinking about these interactions. Starbucks appears to be suffering from trying too hard. Of course it is an effort to better public image, but I can’t help but feel it is hurting it for the customers, as well as the employees. One of my pet-peeves on race issues is, if the company, the board of directors, employees etc. want to overcome racism, then why does it have to be brought up in the first place? It seems counter-intuitive to discuss race if Starbucks already thinks it is past the point of racism. Wouldn’t the ideal race-free world be one where the idea doesn’t need to be discussed, talked about or even mention; one where a person can simply walk into the store buy their coffee and then leave, just as every other customer does, regardless of who they may be?

This view could easily be taken as ignorance of the problem at hand, instead of a well-minded perspective, but is talking for 40 seconds to your Starbucks barista while they make a realtively high priced tiramisu frappucinno actually going to solve any problems? It could easily cause more controversary in those 40 seconds between two individuals than if they were to say nothing but the order they would like and a simple “thank you”. This remids us that well-intentioned ideas can always been harmful, insulting, or result in more problems than solutions even when done for the greater benefit of society. I feel sometimes “doing nothing”, and I quote because actively thinking about the issue could still be happening, is the best course of action. Dunkin’ Donuts is Starbucks’ biggest competitor, and they have not openly discussed, mentioned, or marketed race before. In fact, their “America Runs on Dunkin” campaign which began in 2006 actually positions the company as a coffee shop that is the place for all customers, period. This is the type of behavior I try to describe in the previous paragraph. There is no need to openly bring race up in situations like a coffee transaction if neither the customer nor employee want or feel comfortbale talking about it. Sometimes we aren’t the right people to change the world, or to make a difference. It can be a sad realization, but in the end not everyone can fix the world’s problems. Starbucks does not need to be leading the charge on racial issues from a billion dollar throne. I, for one, will be sitting on the sidelines cheering those in the game on, ready to help when ever I can.

Fun fact: None of the promotional pictures from the Race Together campaign featured hands that were not of a caucasian complexion. They’ve been removed from Starbucks’ website when the campaign was closed but they can still be found with a simple search

Featured Image: One of the promotional pictures from Starbucks for their Race Together campaign. Found on




9 thoughts on “Starbucks Should Sell Coffee

  1. I do find very interesting how you say that the Race Together campaign only had Caucasian complexion hands. This may suggest that Starbucks was just trying to be appear correct in the race discussion. Trying to put on a face that isn’t yours is for the detriment of the company, specially when little details point at your lack of belief.


  2. I like how you point out the irony in the fact that, by trying to spark a 40 second conversation in order to combat racial controversies, they are actually creating even more controversy compared to saying nothing. There is a time and a place for everything. Obviously discussing race is extremely important and it is helpful to create an open platform/ foster an environment for discussion versus ignoring the issue. But that open platform should not be taking place at Starbucks, sparked by a random barista, amidst everyone rushing to try to get to work on time at the crack of dawn.


  3. Well said.

    The idea of trying too hard is interesting, as I feel that it is a dissonance that occurs when we perceive that the values or identity displayed does not match the party in question, so if we feel this cringe-worthy emotion with Starbucks do we feel that it is out of their purview? Race? I mean, kind of – I do kind of see that it is not the best place to address it but I can kind of see the logic behind it as well, that between all of the company’s stakeholders, Racism is a relevant issue and they can leverage their position to flood their consumers with dialogue enough to make people “Get over” the uncomfortability. But I don’t think enough thought was given to the contact point – the barista and the customer, and how if that barista isn’t genuinely behind this idea of “Race isn’t taboo” then the whole thing has the opposite effect and makes race awkward.

    Maybe the idea relied to heavily on top-down management, didn’t on-board the employees the way it needed to. What may have been sincere at the top wasn’t coherent throughout every chain, and insincerity makes everything empty and pointless.


  4. While I do see that Starbucks’ CEO implemented this campaign with good intentions, I agree with you that it makes Starbucks look like it’s “trying too hard.” Race is, has been, and will always be a sensitive issue, so why push it (especially if you’re a coffee chain which has no connection to race at all)? If they really wanted to be advocates for racial equality, I believe that they could have come up with something so much better and effective. In addition, I was also very surprised to hear that all of the promotional photos featured only caucasian hands… It’s pretty clear they hired the wrong guy to come up their campaign


  5. It was so awkward and not thought through, I don’t see it as trying to look good, but the CEO (Howard something) ACTUALLY sincerely, sweetly, trying to do something good.

    I don’t think Starbucks thinks they are “beyond” racism. I don’t think the end point of dealing with race in the USA is its erasure. Not in our lifetimes. Or our children’s.

    The end point is to acknowledge, discuss, and move forward personally and socially.

    And, usually, it doesn’t help white people to talk about race to not-talk-about-race. “White” (I hate the racial terms, it ain’t biological.) So, not with a barrista, but in other places, “white” people, especially well-meaning non-racist ones, have to learn to humbly address how race matters.


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