I guess we’ll all just continue to have our coffee with a side of no eye contact. And thank God, because I wasn’t about to have a “conversation about race” (whatever that is) with a 19-year-old barista in 90 seconds while I wait for it to be brewed.
Of all the criticisms leveled at Starbucks, and their infinitely douchey CEO Howard Schultz, regarding the disastrous rollout of their already aborted #racetogether initiative—and there have been many—surprisingly few have actually pointed out how cynical it was. For those who rely solely on Hard Truths for their news and were not in the know, Starbucks tried to get people to talk about race relations in this country with the staff at their local coffee shop by instructing employees to write “Race Together” on the side of cups.
Let’s just get this obvious bit of reality out of the way first: there is no such thing as a “difficult conversation about race relations in this country.” This phrase has been bandied about by every sentient being seated in front of a TV camera for the last decade, but nobody seems to know what that would actually entail, or is ready to actually have it. We’re too infatuated with point-scoring to have a serious “conversation.” I love that word choice; as if we’re really going to shoot the breeze about 400 years of institutionalized racism like it’s the Sacramento Kings bench rotation.
Would a difficult conversation about race be one where one person insists that people shouldn’t be judged on the basis of their skin color and the other person shouts “check your privilege” at them? Or would it be one where one person points out the overwhelming disparity of millions of minorities locked up for “crimes” that white people commit, too, but hardly ever go to jail for, while the other person insists one race is just more prone to crime? Because in nearly every conversation about race, at least one person is actively being racist—we don’t always agree which person that is, but we’re damn sure not going to let the conversation continue without scoring those points.
As a society, we’ve elevated racial prejudice to the same level as violent crime, so there’s no way to “tolerate” an opposing viewpoint. Can you have a conversation with a thief standing in your living room holding your TV without calling 911? Actually that’s not a perfect analogy, because you don’t call the cops on a burglar so they’ll come to your house and pat you on the back for your enlightened opinions. But if Facebook, Twitter, or any TV show on any channel ever is the measure, the only reason to have a conversation about race is so people know you’re “one of the good guys.”
By Sidney Reilly