Starbucks -- Practice What You Preach

Starbucks’ latest offering, after the recently introduced flat white, is their Race Together initiative. “As racially charged events unfolded across our country, we felt a responsibility to act,” says Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. While the campaign was short lived, dropped soon after initiated, its very premise is still worth exploring.

Undoubtedly, the Starbucks initiative is due to recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, where according to the Starbucks store locator, there are no Starbucks coffee shops. For that matter, there are no Starbucks in Selma, Alabama either, ground zero for the civil rights movements and “racially charged events.”

Why doesn’t Starbucks have coffee shops in these “racially charged” cities? Especially if they have a “responsibility to act.” What about Starbucks itself? Does Howard Schultz and company practice what they preach? Are they racing together? Let’s look at the Starbucks leadership team.

Starbucks has nineteen executives, including Mr. Schultz. Of the 19, only 1, or 5 percent of the leadership team, is African American, far less than the rest of country, where African Americans make up 13 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Three women are Starbucks leaders, or 16 percent of their team, hardly reflective of females making up half the population.

The names and faces on the Starbucks corporate webpage reflect no Hispanic Americans, which comprise 17 percent of the U.S. population. Unless of course there are some George Zimmerman type “White Hispanics” lurking. But there is one Indian American executive. What’s striking is that Starbucks, at the corporate level, is run by a bunch of white guys. 14 of the 19 in fact, almost 75 percent of their executives.

The “Race Together” initiative was introduced by Howard Schultz, along with USA Today Publisher and President Larry Kramer. They wrote their op-ed rolling out the initiative, extolling the need for diversity. “Elevating diversity is the right thing to do, but it is also a necessity,” they wrote.

Mr. Kramer has a similar problem to Mr. Schultz in terms of preaching and practicing. The Gannett Company publishes USA Today. How does the Gannett leadership team look under the lens of diversity? It’s a leadership team of 8. One woman and 7 men. All quite white. How’s that for diversity, Mr. Kramer and Mr. Schultz?

Let’s look at CNN, another organization fond of telling us all how to think and act. CNN columnist John Sutter wrote about the recent University of Oklahoma fraternity video. In his article he quotes a University of Connecticut sociology professor, “The U.S. fraternity and sorority system is a form of American apartheid." Not only fraternities and sororities, but also “the rest of us and our country's racist history.” Painting with a broad brush.

Is CNN practicing what it’s preaching? Time Warner, parent company of CNN, has 7 senior corporate executives. Two women on the team but all white. How’s that for diversity? War on women, anyone?

The CNN writer wants universities to force Greek organizations, “To report their demographics so we can see exactly how segregated this system really is?” Great idea. Why not show us how it’s done by starting with CNN, USA Today, and Starbucks?

Let’s not leave out the New York Times, another schoolmarm preaching tolerance, diversity, and other feelgood virtues. They too have an executive team of nine. One woman, one African American, and seven white guys. The same NY Times that opines about racial disparities in Ferguson and the war on women falls short on practicing what it preaches. Do as I say, not as I do.

Finally, let’s see how the Washington Post, another publication similar to the NY Times, fond of reminding us how bigoted and intolerant we are as a society, fares in terms of diversity. Their leadership team of 14 consists of two women, one Indian American, and 11 white guys. Much like the NY Times, CNN, Gannett, and Starbucks.

The Washington Post is not practicing what it preaches. “Benefiting from white privilege is automatic. Defending white privilege is a choice,” writes one Washington Post contributor. There's no shortage of white privilege among the paper’s leadership team. The elites know better and are happy to remind the rest of us of this.

American society is racist, sexist, and bigoted, according to the smart set at major media outlets, happy to throw the stones of “Race Together” and other initiatives at the rest of us while they themselves live in glass houses.

We are the problem, you see. The self-appointed arbiters of all things race have all the answers. CNN wants to know, “Are certain organizations more integrated than others?”

Is this a question they really want asked and answered? The answers might indeed be interesting. And hypocritical. They remind us, “Racial inequality is not a topic we readily discuss. It's time to start.” How about starting by looking in the mirror?

Brian C Joondeph, MD, MPS, a Denver-based physician and writer. Twitter @retinaldoctor.