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What I learned about race at Starbucks and their #RaceTogether Campaign

Good thing Starbucks pulled the plug on Race Together.  Everything I’ve learned about race at Starbucks lands in the SMH column.

For example,  as a mother of two, my morning routine includes two school drop offs. My daughter’s drop off is about 30 minutes earlier than my son’s and to pass the time in between, we typically go to Starbucks. Our routine is simple: a skinny Vanilla latte for me and a kids hot chocolate with skim milk for my son. Then we grab the New York Times and sit and read the headlines, and any stories that catch our interest. On Tuesday, when the Science section appears, we have a particularly good time since my son is such a science kid. He loves it and we love our time at Starbucks.

The whole bonding experience has only been marred by one thing. Well, one repeated thing. And that is the number of completely random people who come up to us and either comment on how ”nice” it is to see me reading the NY Times with my son or how they can’t “believe” I’m there everyday reading the newspaper with my son. Or they comment, after clearly listening to our conversation, on how well my son reads. (Umm, he should read well he’s 10. Not a 3-year old wunderkind).  What I find most interesting about these seemingly complimentary comments is the subtext of shock and awe of these well-meaning white patrons at the sight of black mothers reading the New York Times with their children and the concurrent amazement that our children are strong readers. In reality, plenty of black mothers read newspapers and magazines with their children. In reality, millions of our kids are strong readers–there are whole generations of black parents who have been committed to that. My mom was a firm believer that it was not the school’s job to teach you how to read. That  was, “Mother’s Work,” in her opinion, so all of her children were reading before we started kindergarten. But in this particular, predominantly white Starbucks location, seeing a black mother reading the newspaper with her son, is an activity worthy of breaking all sorts of social protocols and compelling you to disrupt our moment with your need to commend me. I have never felt compelled to comment on a white mother reading a newspaper with her child. Never.

I think it’s admirable that Starbucks wanted to participate in the challenge of improving race relations. To be honest, I personally don’t need to be talking about race before my morning coffee fix. I already had to stop sending pre-coffee emails when others noticed they were particularly “testy” in nature. But I think fixing the race relations problem in America requires more than just casual conversations with people who are mostly too young to have any cultural or historical context of race relations in the country. It requires systemic change–and reversing widely-held stereotypes of who people are and what activities they participate in.

If you can do this Starbucks, I’m all in.

In motherhood,

Kimberly Seals Allers

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