A recent conversation with a woman at Starbucks reminds me of the laughter, the joy and, indeed, the hope that can be experienced when we are caught by surprise.
Over the past couple weeks, much of the mainstream media and bloggersphere had been abuzz with frenzied commentary to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz's efforts to encourage baristas to discuss the issue of race with customers.
Iced Teas are double-strength in pitcher and watered down for your final recipe. Ask for "no water" for a much stronger (and, in my opinion, more effective) flavor.
If Schultz had been willing to turn his critical lens on Starbucks first, as a microcosm of the national situation, he could have blunted the backlash - a reaction that will only serve to scare off other companies from addressing the intractable social issues which effect their employees and customers.
However well-intentioned, the conversations about race didn't work out at Starbucks. But that doesn't mean that informal connections in public spaces can't take us to a more vibrant and diverse America. I see the potential every Tuesday night when I hang out at the public library.
We are conspicuous. And almost every question we encounter from strangers stems from our racial differences: Are they all yours? Are you babysitting? What country are they from?
Maybe random conversations about race can't be meaningful. Maybe we can't expect relative strangers in a busy coffee shop to connect over the subject. But I tire of all the reasons we can't make progress on this issue. People don't want to talk about race, period, not with strangers, not with friends, not over dinner. It's as if we won't acknowledge it.
Despite my inbuilt cynicism, I can see that these campaigns have had a material impact on causes. And when you consider that brands don't have to do this, and could just spend the money on traditional marketing, I am really inspired.
We must make this country a nation of equal protection under the law with equal opportunity for everyone. If we truly would like to be post-racial one day, we cannot continue to live in denial, or turn a blind eye towards reality, or remain complacent today. It's as simple as that.
I applaud Schultz for wanting to be socially conscious but that shouldn't include potentially forcing me to engage in a conversation of Starbucks' choosing. By doing so, the company is limiting my freedom of choice to discuss race when I want to, where I want to, and with whom I want to.
Starbucks has long been a leader in mobile payments and the mobile-app space. Adding delivery options to their roster is an exciting advancement and highlights the changes that are currently taking place in delivery services as a whole.
Imagine getting the double take from someone wondering if my wife is the spouse or the nanny. Yes, people have asked her. On the bus. In the park. "Oh, are you the nanny?"
Starbucks' ill-conceived campaign seems to exemplify the kind of ignorance that makes racism such a difficult thing to confront and contest. The bottom line is that while we absolutely need multiracial dialogue about race and collective action against racism, we do not need an uninformed, non-consensual, conversation.
Will they linger longer to chat about their opinions about race, grab their coffee and leave, or go to the coffee shop down the block? That is a consumer choice.
Moving past crippling mistrust and misidentification of the guilty requires recognition of the ways that dominant representations of racial difference legitimise and normalise habitual discrimination, phenomena that everybody ought to be welcome to oppose.
While we applaud Starbucks for their effort to engage a topic that many seek to avoid, and while their efforts seem well-intentioned, we, as a national racial justice organization, with a name similar to the hashtag used in the campaign feel compelled to say: as a nation, we need more.