A conversation about race

March 1

Dear Diary:

I start my new job as a Starbucks barista tomorrow. I am super-excited!!!!! I just hope I can handle the fast pace!

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Starbucks.Girl.flickrCC.RobertCouse-Baker
"Dear Diary . . ."

March 2

Dear Diary:

Wow! This job is hard! There is a lot to learn! But my supervisor, Xander, is super-nice (and cute, too!). When I accidentally gave a customer an Espresso Macchiato instead of a Cinnamon Dolce Latte, he said I shouldn't worry, because I would be a barista-supreme before long. I hope he asks me out!  ♥♥♥

***

March 5

Dear Diary:

I'm sorry I haven't written in a few days - I have been super-busy at work! Xander told me I shouldn't be so friendly with the customers, and he gave me my first tip out of the cup - one whole dollar! He said there was plenty more where that came from. I made my first Iced Skinny Flavored Latte today, and Xander said it was perfect! I think the customer liked it too! I feel like I am catching on!

***

March 6

Dear Diary:

Bad day. Xander's girlfriend came in. She is super-cute and super-nice. Oh, well.  :-(

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March 10

Dear Diary:

First day out of training. Xander let me do everything today. People sure can be grouchy when they haven’t had their coffee, LOL! I got to work with a couple of other baristas today — Liam and Piper, who were both super-nice! Piper taught me how to make a Caramel Flan Latte, and it looked so good, I had one at lunch! Was exhausted when I got home – barely had the energy to write to you, Dear Diary. But $20 in tips today, YAY! :-)

***

Starbucks.Sign.flickrCC.MarcoPakoeningrat
Your favorite place to talk about race.

March 16

Dear Diary:

Barista meeting today. We had a conference call with some men in Seattle, who told us that we’re supposed to have “a conversation” with customers about race. I said I didn’t even know our customers yet, but Xander poked me with his elbow, and I guess he meant for me to be quiet, so I didn’t say anything else.

After the meeting was over, I was like, “What do I say?” and “How do I know the customer wants to talk about race?” and “What if I make somebody mad?” Piper said, “Don’t worry – everybody wants to talk about race.” I sure hope she’s right!

***

March 17

Dear Diary:

Well, Piper got fired today. She wrote “Race Together” on the cup, just like she was supposed to, and gave it to a customer and said, “Let’s have a conversation about race.” The customer was like, “No, thanks. I just need my cappuccino – I’m late for work.” Piper was like, “Come on, you should want to talk about this. It’s important.” The customer was like, “Some other time when I’m not in such a hurry.” Piper was like, “You should never be in too much of a hurry to talk about race in America.” The customer was like, “Look - if I was going to have a conversation about race, it wouldn’t be with you. How does being a Starbucks barista qualify you to talk about race?” It sort of went down hill from there, with Piper calling the customer a snob, and the customer telling Piper to shut up, and Piper calling the customer a racist. Finally, Xander had to send Piper home. I am sooooo sorry! I hope she can get a job at McDonald’s.

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March 18

Dear Diary:

I heard the corporate communications guy in Seattle had to shut down his Twitter account yesterday. Liam said it was all over the news. He said a lot of people either felt sort of like Piper’s customer did, or they thought the whole campaign was kind of an insult to African-Americans. Anyway, this man got a “cascade of negativity,” and next thing you know, he had to close his account.

I was almost scared to give a “Race Together” cup to my customers today, but Xander had the day off, so Liam and I just gave everybody the cups and smiled and said “Hashtag race together!” with a little clenched fist, and they all smiled at us and said “Hashtag I hear ya!” and took their lattes and left. Xander is back tomorrow. I don’t know if he will let us do that again. :-(

***

Starbucks.Geeks.flickrCC.GlobalX
"#RaceTogether!" they chorused.

March 19

Dear Diary:

Xander told us we had to have at least one “race” conversation today. I was scared. I was like, “How do I pick somebody I can talk to about race?” and “What if they get mad at me?” But it all turned out fine, Dear Diary, because my best friend Cadence just happened to come in at lunch time for a Flat White. I gave her the “Race Together” cup and said, “Let’s have a conversation about race, Cadence.” She was like, “Are you crazy?” And I was like, “Come on, I have to or I’ll be fired.” And so she was like, “OK.” And then I said, “Race is like really important, you know?” And she was like, “I know.” And then I was like, “Can you come in every day so that I can have a conversation with you about race?” And she was like, “OK, if you’ll buy me a Flat White every day.” I wasn’t sure how many Flat Whites this might involve, so I asked Xander how long. He said probably not too long because it didn’t seem to be going too well for the company. So I went back to Cadence and said, “OK.”

***

March 20

Dear Diary:

They brought in a stack of newspapers this morning – I think it’s USA Today – with questions for people to fill in about race. These were called “conversation starters.” So when Cadence came in today, I asked her, “How have your views on race evolved from those of your parents?” She was like, “What?” I was like, “OK. Do you want to go to the mall tonight when I get off work?” And she was like, “I don’t know.”

Later this afternoon, Xander looked kind of down in the dumps. I asked him what was wrong, and he said that Piper brought charges with the equal employment office because Starbucks fired her for having a conversation about race or something. I didn’t know that was against the law, but I guess it is because Xander had to call Seattle and talk to the company lawyers. Just before I left for the day, Liam brought me a piece of paper to sign to join a union. I didn’t really know what that was, but I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, so I signed it.

Next week we have diversity training.

Image credits: All from flickr, Creative Commons license: Starbucks in black and white by Robert Couse-Baker, Starbucks sign by Marco Paköeningrat, Starbucks customers by GlobalX.

Robin Shea has 30 years' experience in employment litigation, including Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (including the Amendments Act). 
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