Talking the Talk

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.

It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, hosted by the wonderful people over at Two Writing Teachers! Every day this month, hundreds of writers will be posting their stories. Head on over and check out the other slices!

SOL image 2014

* 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.


6 thoughts on “Talking the Talk

  1. There is probably a reason this training is coming at this time for you. Undoubtably if a moment comes you will know and maybe it will be with the barista at Starbucks. There is richness to ponder in your words.


    1. It does seem a fabulous coincidence that the opportunity to take the Undoing Racism training would come right now. I like these little serendiptous alighnments that fall together from time to time. As for baristas, I’ve only had one trip to Starbucks since “Race Together” began, and that was at about 2am this morning during the 24 Hour Project … and that young man was definitely not in the mood to engage anyone about anything, so I didn’t get a note on my cup. Maybe next time!


  2. I want to know more about this institute and their training. I have been to gatherings at various jobs with mixed results. Interesting about Starbucks. Good question about their own training. It does limit the conversation though to those of us who can afford a Starbucks! Can’t wait to hear how both things go for you and I too will be buying more Chai Lattes!


    1. This was a great training. I know it was difficult for some of the participants, But I hope some of it will eventually resonate for them, too. Still waiting on the Starbucks front. Maybe by the end of this 24-hour photo day I’ll have had a race forward conversation!


  3. so strange, we were just having a conversation about this last night. I’m with you though, I’m interested to see how this goes over (if it does at all) at our own Starbucks. I live in a mostly White/Hispanic city, and work in a mostly upperclass-white school. I have heard some of the most ignorant, hateful, idiot things (that I’m sure they learned at home) come out of their mouths. And the thing is, most of our baristas are high school/early college aged kids. I don’t know that they would know what to even begin to talk about. I’m curious if they will even do this at all in our town. Thanks for the post!!


    1. I was thinking about the age of baristas, too! Here, we have a broader range of folks working in Starbucks, and many baristas are full-on adults. But when I’ve been to Starbucks outside of this city, the baristas are all in their teens and early 20s. I just have to wonder how they’re being equipped to handle this marketing ploy initiative.


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