Starbucks’ Push Into Race Relations Draws Fire on Social Media

Starbucks Corp.’s effort to improve race relations in the U.S. is off to a rocky start.

The company’s “Race Together” initiative, which encourages its baristas to talk to customers about race, generated a slew of mockery and criticism on Twitter Tuesday. The backlash prompted Corey duBrowa, a communications executive at the Seattle-based company, to delete his Twitter account.

“We knew this wouldn’t be easy, but we feel it’s worth the discomfort,” Linda Mills, a Starbucks spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. She confirmed that duBrowa had deleted his account, but said he would “be back soon.” Chief Executive Officer Howard Schultz is expected to provide more details on the initiative at Starbucks’ annual meeting Wednesday in Seattle.

Starbucks announced the Race Together initiative Monday and said it was designed to “stimulate conversation, compassion and action around race in America.” The company’s leadership team visited with almost 2,000 employees in St. Louis, Seattle, Oakland, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York over the past three months to discuss racial issues.

Starbucks started by asking its baristas in those cities to write “Race Together” on customers’ cups, and is expanding the program across the U.S. this week. In a video posted on the Starbucks website, Schultz said he was advised at one forum “not to touch” racial issues because it was inappropriate for a company to tackle the problem.

“I reject that completely,” Schultz said. “We can’t leave this for someone else.”

This is not the first time Starbucks has tried to address a controversial national issue. In December 2012, Starbucks baristas in the Washington, D.C. area wrote “Come Together’’ on customers’ cups as Congress tried to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff.

“We had a great result when I asked you once before to write something on a cup,” Schultz said.