Want coffee? You’ll have to talk about racism first

I’ve stopped going to a local (chain) eatery near the World Headquarters of NewsCut because the wait staff wants to have a conversation about how my day is going when I really want him/her to make the sandwich I ordered.

It’s not that I’m not interested in conversing with people; it’s just that it’s obvious the conversation is taking place under orders from the boss to make the joint seem a friendlier place. But sometimes I don’t need friendly; I need some lunch in a hurry so I can get back to the cubicle farm.

Now, Starbucks is going one step further, Fortune Magazine reports. It’s going to make me have conversations that will make me feel uncomfortable, and which neither one of us really wants to have. At least, not there.

Starbucks published a full page ad in the New York Times on Sunday — a stark, black, page with a tiny caption “Shall We Overcome?” in the middle, and the words “RaceTogether” with the company logo, on the bottom right. The ad, along with a similar one on Monday in USA Today, is part of an initiative launched this week by the coffee store chain to stimulate conversation and debate about the race in America by getting employees to engage with customers about the perennially hot button subject.

Beginning on Monday, Starbucks baristas will have the option as they serve customers to hand cups on which they’ve handwritten the words “Race Together” and start a discussion about race. This Friday, each copy of USA Today — which has a daily print circulation of almost 2 million and is a partner of Starbucks in this initiative — will have the first of a series of insert with information about race relations, including a variety of perspectives on race. Starbucks coffee shops will also stock the insert.

Forty percent of Starbucks employees are non-white, the magazine says.

CEO Howard Schulz, who’ll discuss the initiative at a shareholders meeting tomorrow, acknowledges that some arguments could break out.