In an effort to solve America’s race issues once and for all, Starbucks is offering a discussion guide named “Your Race Relations Reality Check.” The document is featured to the right. This is not a Photoshop. This is real. One of the biggest companies on Earth thought this was A Good Idea.
Starbucks asks how many of your friends are of a different race and how that compares to your parents’ and kids’ racial quotas. They want to know the racial makeup of your neighborhood, workplace and Facebook stream. Have you let people of other races into your home? Have you entered theirs? And why didn’t you keep up with that childhood friend of a different race?
For the past few days, I’ve tried to identify what most bugs me about this Starbucks stunt. I’ve grown accustomed to the hand-wringing of rich white liberals, the smug preachiness of corporations, and the intrusion of politics into everyday life. But this “Reality Check” revealed something deeper.
Let me veer onto a tangent; I’ll get back to the point in a minute. Starting with my first job out of college, I’ve had to mingle at trade shows, launch parties and corporate events where I was ordered to chat up complete strangers. I’m an introvert, so this was almost a fate worse than death. I’m some punk kid and they’re middle-aged bankers and software developers — what on earth am I supposed to talk about?
So I came up with a conversation hack to sidestep my inner wallflower. I needed them to tell me something — anything — we might have in common. It would go like this:
“Where is your office located?”
“So, what’s going on with those Huskers? Could be an interesting year…”
Then I’d shut up and nod for 10 minutes.
In that first job, most of the guests were male and often from rural areas, so I would just mention the name of the nearest college and let them educate me on the sports there. I didn’t know jack about the Huskers but any year is “interesting,” broadly speaking. I liked football, though, so I could interject anodyne observations about the prevent defense or the pros and cons of an NCAA playoff system.
As they talked for 10 minutes, they would invariably drop another point or two we had in common. Maybe they were in the military, or rode a motorcycle, or liked Mexican food — anything to chat about for a few minutes. “Oh, you hate viral gastroenteritis? How weird — so do I!”
Now, whenever I meet someone new I instinctively figure out all the things we have in common. If I’m sitting next to a hyper-political progressive at a dinner party, I find that one issue on which we kinda-sorta agree. I learn that a business vendor once lived in a city I love to visit. The barista at my non-Starbucks coffee place also likes Brazilian music.
So when I have guests to my home, I think immediately of our similarities. They’re the couple from church, not the twice-married Hispanics from Jersey. She’s the cool graphic designer, not the sexually ambiguous Green Party delegate who lives in a yurt outside of Montpelier. He’s the dad at my daughter’s birthday party, not the Muslim who only watches Premier League soccer.
Since I favor commonalities, I can’t even answer the Starbucks questionnaire. I have no idea the races of my parents’ or kids’ friends and even if I did, why would it matter? I suppose I could categorize my friends by ethnicity, but the thought makes my skin crawl. They’re friends, not racial statistics.
This reveals one of my fundamental issues with the progressive mindset: they are obsessed with dividing Americans into discrete, controllable categories. They want to place the transgendered sherpas here and quinoa farmers of color there and keep the woodworkers’ union completely separate from Carpenters’ Local 323. Everyone must focus on what makes them different from their fellow citizens and vote with their assigned group.
This is why gay, minority and female conservatives catch so much flak. They crawled out of their boxes and must be shamed until they crawl back into them.
If Starbucks prefers that I shoehorn it into a category, I’ll go with Gentry Liberals Assuaging White Guilt With A Disastrous Marketing Strategy.