Race Together to Where . . . Exactly?

So the coffee company Starbucks got a little media bump last week.

Good for them.

I may have spent my career working for the competition, and I may have spent more than my fair share of column inches teasing them about the ridiculousness of some of their beverage concoctions, but in truth, I've always had a certain soft spot for any company that produces a quality product and treats their employees with a more than an acceptable level of respect.

The reason they got that little bump is because they rolled out a a weird little program to write "Race Together" on their cups.

Howard Shultz (CEO) thought that it would be cool to create an opportunity to address race relations with some of his 2 million daily customers. I don't know what that means. I don't think anyone knows what that means. But you gotta admit . . . it's perfect.

It's so elegant.

It's undeniably the best way to say something along the lines of "I want you to know . . . that I know . . . that there are problems . . . and I want you to know . . . that I know . . . that we should do something about them . . . but I want you to know . . . that I know . . . that it's important not to offend anyone . . . or spend any money . . . or we could talk about the weather . . . which is fine too."

Let's race together.


Now, obviously it's gotten some eye-brow raising commentary.

Cause . . . again . . . nobody knows what it means.

And it seems a little silly to be doing something that may have an impact on the speed of service.

And it seems a little crazy to expect a twenty year old barista to engage customers about racism.

It's hard enough to get them to engage about coffee.

Trust me.

But to understand it more, you have to understand Howie, and his conception of what a Starbucks is. See, he didn't want to create a place that just sells coffee. No . . . he was already doing that. The modern Starbucks shop was designed to recreate the social gathering spot of 17th century european coffee houses.

It's not about the coffee, it's about the community.

That's why there are comfortable seats and board games on the tables.

And free wifi.

And if you know anything about european history, which I can't expect you to, but hear me out, the european coffee house was the gathering hole for revolution. All the changes in social reform, science, invention, art . . . had their humble beginnings with a few guys (and maybe some girls) over a hot cup of reconstituted french roast.

(Fun Fact: Most people drank beer from morning to night back then because it was safer than water. They actually needed vente sugar free pumpkin spice lattes to clear their heads.)

Anyway, with that perspective "Race Together" makes a bit more sense.

Howie wants you to know . . . that he knows . . . that there are problems . . . and he wants you to know . . . that he knows . . . that he could be doing something about those problems . . . but he wants you to know that he knows . . . he has to do something that doesn't offend anyone . . . or cost anything.

Wink, wink.

Now . . . I'm a gonna be honest here . . . race relations is not something I am particularly qualified or even really comfortable talking about. It's certainly not something you want me satirizing.

But I'm a huge fan of revolution.

And I'm gonna drop a big circuitous bomb that may require a few conceptual leaps . . . but don't worry . . . I'll type slowly.

First, again I know nothing about race relations, but I do know that if there is anything that has proven to at least help level the playing field . . . it's income.

If we're gonna talk about stuff we might as well admit that money talks real good.

And what is the only sure fire path to a higher income?


The greatest historical era of economical growth and income equality was in post-WWII America. Guess what that was fueled by? MmmmHmmm. The G.I. bill.

With me so far?

But education is expensive and getting more so by the second. (oh, boy is it.)

But is it?


What if I said that within my lifetime (and hopefully before my son turns 18) that accredited higher education will be virtually free online for almost any degree you can think of?

Crazy nonsense . . . you say?

Well . . . actually it's already happening. And I'm not talking about the online colleges we have now. That's still very expensive and it gets more expensive the longer you stretch our your courses. I'm talking about the pilot programs where you could take a course from Yale or Harvard and receive a certificate of completion.

And because it doesn't cost any more to have 10,000 enrolled than it does to have 10 enrolled, the economy of scale is is in the favor of the tired huddled masses. They offer a whole bunch of courses for free.

That's right.

For free.

The process exists. You could go online right now and sign up for a Physics class from MIT. The information is out there. There just needs to be more. And someone has to put it all together.

We're still in the youthful days of this idea, but it's gonna happen eventually if not soon. All it would take is a little administrative push by, lets say, a 50 billion dollar company.

One like . . . let's say Starbucks.

What if, using this method, Starbucks offered a free (or nearly free) college education to all of it's employees?

Yeah, there would be a huge set of start-up costs, growing pains, etc. But it's a one time cost and imagine the future savings in retention, not to mention an entire generation of managers with business degrees, IT professionals with hands on experience, graphic designers in marketing, trainers with teaching credentials, all groomed in house. You would have the most amazing workforce that ever existed and any company that wished to be even remotely competitive would have to follow suit.

Except Walmart. They might actually collapse if their teams learned some basic math.

There are 200,000 Starbucks employees, most of whom are kids right out of high school that don't have a clear future in mind nor the resources to do much about it. You get a company like McDonalds to jump on the band wagon and you might create a future middle class ten times the size of what it is now and double that what it was in 1955.

Six or seven years behind the espresso bar, and you're ready to Take the Bar.

Cause, despite what you think, we do need more lawyers too.

The system obviously wouldn't be perfect. Not everyone is cut out for higher learning and it wouldn't address the bigger 21st century deficits in health care and sustainable infrastructure, but it's nowhere near as expensive or as crazy as lets say offering benefits to part time workers (which Starbucks already does).

And yeah . . . it's not without considerable flaws.

But maybe they are flaws worth considering.

Surely couldn't hurt to talk about it.

I mean . . . I like the idea of racing together . . . but it wouldn't hurt to have an idea of where we're going and what we can accomplish when we get there.

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