Tomorrow, at long and great last, I will start the Undoing Racism training that’s offered by The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. I have been trying to attend this training for years. So now I will. I’m nervous about it, but I’m also looking forward to it.
And perhaps it’s coming at the exact right moment. After all, starting this week when I order my Grande Chai Latte (2 extra pumps, whole milk, extra hot, with whipped cream), I could be invited into a conversation about race with my barista. No, really. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has launched his Race Together
gimmick, ploy, money-making scheme, social awareness campaign.
I feel a few kinds of ways about this. I live in a city where it might be both easier and harder to have the conversation Schultz seems to want to generate. But I still have doubts about the potential for success. How have baristas — in this city and across the country –been trained to have this conversation? Have all of them gone through the training I’m about to embark on? How is it that Schultz thinks he is the man to start this conversation? I have extreme wariness. This could be an amazing, world-changing thing. It could also be a fail beyond measure. And it could make it that much harder for this much-needed conversation to happen in a real way.
Full disclosure: I have every intention of buying more Starbucks in the next few weeks. (So yes, perhaps Schultz’s work is done?) Because I want to see what happens. I might want to find the little “Race Together” message on my cup, but I’m actually more interested in watching other people respond to that invitation. Good thing we just had a pay-week, eh?
In the mean time, I’ll be headed to this long-awaited training. As I said, I’m nervous about it. I’m not worried about the People’s Institute. I have all faith in their training. I’m worried about who’s going to be there with me. I’ve been to trainings in the past that have had similar goals. They have all been … less. Less than what I wanted, less than what the organizers intended, less. At two such trainings, the only staff who signed up were the staff of color. At the third, it was all the staff of color, and one white woman who didn’t claim whiteness. Not that people of color don’t need these trainings. Of course we do. But the fact that none of my white colleagues* in those old jobs saw the need to be in the conversation said so much to me about them, about my work environments, about the casual, comfortable obliviousness of privilege.
So I’m nervous about tomorrow. I don’t want to walk into that training room and see six black and brown people. This is work for everyone, and I want to see everyone at the table. I want to have this conversation … and maybe I even want to have it with a barista.
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* Or, none of my colleagues who were willing to claim whiteness — I don’t mean to be so snarky about that … but (clearly) I kind of do, too.