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Starbucks Is Right To Address Racism, And Conservatives Should Be On Board


After a deeply troubling incident in which two black men were arrested for sitting in a Starbucks, the company has responded by closing all of its stores for one day for diversity training. Most conservatives are rolling their eyes at this virtue-signaling. But I disagree. I fully support Starbucks’ efforts and wish conservatives would join them.

Make no mistake, I fully believe that on May 29, when stores are closed for training, employees will be treated to progressive gobbledygook about privilege and systemic racism, but that’s in large part because conservatives have ceded this ground. Starbucks is responding to an incident that was either racially motivated, or sure seems like it. Regardless of what happened in this specific incident, the company is wise to address the possibility that its managers are engaged in racist practices.

But while I applaud Starbucks’ decision to tackle this issue, I don’t have much hope for its remedy. That’s because anti-racism pedagogy has gone badly off the rails in the last decade, in no small measure because conservatives have disengaged from it. When a company faces the problem of racism and seeks to ameliorate it, their only options come from a handy Left, which foists privilege theory and systemic racism upon CEOs desperate for an answer.

Conservatives Can Give a Better Answer

Generally speaking, conservatives have trepidation in talking about race. This is because any conservative who talks about race is eventually called a racist, and nobody likes being called that. But conservatives should be making a very simple and important argument about racism that they are all too often too cowed to make: It’s irrational. Judging a person on the basis of his or her skin color makes no rational sense, and we should never do it. Full stop.

My concern is that on this day of racial education Starbucks has planned, this vital message won’t be sent. Instead, employees, baristas, partners, or whatever term is of the moment, will be sold a bill of goods about privilege theory and embracing difference that blames the evil of American society rather than one bad actor.

This matters because the bad actor, in this case the Starbucks manager who has been fired and may or may not have violated company policy, acted within a broader cultural scope. This was the Starbucks in Rittenhouse Square, a place where original WASPs laugh at people who think they are WASPs. Removing two black men from those premises obviously sends a racist message and the company is wise to address it.

How Should We Handle This

Teaching anti-racism, not only in our schools but also in our workplaces, is a worthy enterprise. But what should be the basis of anti-racist education? Progressives have made privilege the playing field, but we don’t have to play there. In fact, fighting racism has much more to do with showing that judging any person on the basis of his or her skin color is simply, irrevocably, and absolutely irrational.

On the 29th, Starbucks employees will no doubt be inundated by messages of microaggression and veiled racism, where the maybe the racist isn’t even aware of blah, blah blah, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that too many Americans make the mistake of believing a person’s skin color tells them something about that person.

Demographics are made up of individuals, but individuals aren’t made of demographics. This important lesson should be central to any anti-racism training. Set aside the moral implications of judging a person based on his or her race: rationally, it makes no sense. This is the central argument that anti-racist pedagogy should rally around, but rejects in its ill-advised love affair with privilege theory.

In fact, the privilege theory-based spiel that Starbucks employees will sit through will no doubt double down on the importance of race and identity, instead of minimizing it. It will insist that employees think more, not less, about a patron’s race. This is the wrong answer and a slow ride towards greater disharmony.

The Training They Should Get

On the 29th, what every Starbucks employee should learn is that the color of a person’s skin tells you nothing about him, and should not be the basis of any judgment you make about him. This is what we should be teaching in our schools as well, because it is true. But this isn’t what Starbucks employees will hear or what kids in school will hear, because conservatives have abdicated responsibility on this issue.

As conservatives we can no longer put our heads in the sand, or throw our hands in the air on racial issues. We are badly needed. And we are absent. We need to be there explaining why this happened to these two black men, and how our ideas will stop it from happening.

There is a wonderful Velvet Underground song called “Beginning to See the Light,” in which Lou Reed says, “There are problems in this time, but, woo, none of them are mine, but I’m beginning to see the light.” It’s a playful poke, because all of these problems are all of ours.

Here’s the cold cup of coffee, conservative friends. These black guys were arrested because they were black. The company knows it, the protestors know it, we know it. Do we want to be a part of solving this problem, or do we want to pretend it doesn’t exist? I think the answer is obvious.

Conservatives have an important role to play in the conversation about race in America, and we are failing. Let’s get on it. There is a lot of good we can do. Will people call us racist? Sure, but so what? Our voices are needed, and they need to be loud.