By PATRICK HUNTER
I don’t know what was in the mind of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz when he told his baristas that they can write “Race Together” on coffee mugs and probably engage in conversations with bleary-eyed coffee drinkers about race. I will assume that his intentions were well meaning. After all, one of the most overused statements about race in the United States is that the country needs to have a serious conversation about race. So, Mr. Schultz says: “Okay, let’s get the conversation started.”
Just whom did Schultz consult about the worthiness of this campaign is uncertain, assuming he did run it by someone. Perhaps he has a couple of Black people in his office who felt obliged to give a positive response: “You go get ’em, boss. Great idea.” Or, he may have called the local chapter of the NAACP. Whatever the response, or with whomever there was consultation, Schultz ran with the idea. The campaign was shut down last weekend.
White people just can’t seem to get it. Racism, and especially the kind of racism that Black people have been experiencing, and still do – and, to be fair, not only from White people alone, but other racialized people – is not something akin to stripping the wrapper off a candy bar. It goes deeper, to the core, and it hurts like hell. Do not mistake the smile to mean it doesn’t matter, or that there is no more pain.
Over the weekend, March 21, was the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It was so designated many years ago by the United Nations to coincide with the anniversary of the Sharpeville massacre that took place a few years before in South Africa. That massacre was based on race.
A couple of weeks ago, the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery march and devastation that occurred on the Edmund Pettus Bridge was marked. That was based on race.
The litany of race-based action against Black people, not to mention the worst of all – slavery – is so embedded in our psyche that it would take a miracle of a profound kind to reverse its effect. In other words, for me there is no point in talking about “the elimination of racism and racial discrimination”.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s non-violent approach to confronting racism and racial discrimination was laudable, but it has not come close to eliminating racism. Yes, it has eliminated some barriers but many remain, and the core feeling of White supremacy and White privilege still remains.
Nelson Mandela’s “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” accomplished a confession of how racism dictated the conditions experienced by a people. His leadership of South Africa opened some doors, but many still remain closed.
The election of Barack Obama as President of the United States was lauded the world over. Some went as far as to see this as signaling the “post-racial” society. That “achievement” appears to have given greater license to people to be more outspoken about their racial attitudes than was previously tolerated.
No, Mr. Schultz, “hashtag race together” just doesn’t cut it. Nor does: “Why can’t we get along”, as voiced by Rodney King after being savagely beaten by several Los Angeles police officers who, in the first instance, were acquitted of wrongdoing.
Oh, and Mr. Schultz, take great pains to read the Department of Justice’s report on the Ferguson situation. That may offer some clues, if you can spot them, as why your campaign may just be a bit trivial.
I am one of those people who, in spite of all the signs to the contrary, expect the government – any government – to be a leader in race relations, even though, time and again, they have disappointed my expectations. Not only do I expect governments to ensure that their staff delivers services bias-free, but I also expect them to ensure that racism and racial discrimination is truly zero-tolerant in their workplaces.
We have seen, as I always try to remind readers, the number of reports commissioned by governments on the state of being of Black people in this country, this province and this city with limited or no action taken to address their recommendations.
Then one listens to people like Ted Cruz, who just announced his candidacy for president of the United States and whose opening pitch to voters does not even pay respect to the bubbling racial tensions in the United States or, for that matter, the history of racial inequality in that country.
So, Mr. Schultz, while I will give some credit for your good intentions, I am sorry but “hashtag race together” was an ill-conceived campaign. You might have tried something like: “hashtag glad you have a job”, or most appropriately, “hashtag hope you have a great day”.
Email: email@example.com / Twitter: @pghntr