On Twitter, many said it was opportunistic and inappropriate for a coffee chain to insert itself into such an important issue while others suggested the move trivialised racial tensions by assuming baristas could engage in a meaningful discussion about race during the morning rush.
Communications executive Corey duBrowa even blocked Twitter users before temporarily taking down his account with many users pointing out that the company clearly wasn’t that committed to talking about race.
Some employees have expressed their support for the initiative while acknowledging that it is a little impractical – “Race relations is something we should all be aware of,” a 21-year-old black female worker said, “I’d like to talk about race issues with everyone for hours, but I don’t have time. I have to work! But yeah, if a customer asks me a question, I’ll talk.”
CEO Howard Shultz insisted Starbuck’s intentions were “pure” and said the move was “not a marketing or P.R exercise.”
However, branding consultant Laura Ries said addressing important issues of the day is often a way for companies to make themselves part of the conversation – they just have to make sure it’s appropriate.
“There’s nothing wrong with talking about race relations,” Ries said. “But is it something people naturally associate with Starbucks? It’s not.”