Does anybody remember way back in 2015 when Starbucks launched the “Race Together” initiative, which recommended that their employees invite customers—and particularly customers of color—to discuss race relations in America? Remember when they resurrected the idea in 2018 after the chain coffee shop made headlines when a manager had two black men arrested while they waited for a friend?
Well, fast forward two years and suddenly the company appears to be a bit squeamish over the idea of letting its baristas wear t-shirts, pins or any attire that bears the words “Black Lives Matter.”
BuzzFeed News reports that—in the same month that Starbucks pledged to “stand in solidarity with our Black partners, customers and communities,” amid nationwide protests against systemic racism and police violence, senior managers were barring employees wearing anything that explicitly shows that they “stand in solidarity.”
According to an internal bulletin obtained by BuzzFeed News, store managers had been contacting senior leadership on behalf of employees who wanted to wear BLM-related attire as protests continued to sweep major cities and small towns across the country.
In response, management, according to the memo from last week, argued that wearing clothing and accessories highlighting Black Lives Matter could be misunderstood and potentially incite violence. The bulletin pointed employees to a video, which has now been removed, in which its VP of inclusion and diversity explained that “agitators who misconstrue the fundamental principles” of the movement and could use them to “amplify divisiveness.”
A spokesperson for Starbucks told BuzzFeed they were dedicated to fighting “systemic racism,” but that their dress code was necessary in order “to create a safe and welcoming” environment for customers and staff.
“We respect all of our partners’ opinions and beliefs, and encourage them to bring their whole selves to work while adhering to our dress code policy,” the spokesperson said.
So who ordered the Short, Tall, Grande or Venti order of bullshit? (I had to Google those drink sizes. I uh... I’ve never been inside of a Starbucks before.)
Expecting people to believe that a company can post its support for black lives mattering to social media for millions and even billions to see, create a Black Partner Network logo, and task employees with inviting customers to discuss race—all while denying them the right to wear a “Black Lives Matter” shirt because that is the thing that might make your white patrons uncomfortable—is a pretty hard sell.
Starbucks employees told BuzzFeed they weren’t buying it either.
Many employees were not satisfied. For some employees, the statements feel “performative,” “shallow,” and “hypocritical.” A barista on the east coast told BuzzFeed News that on the ground, the company is still working to preserve its image with customers to not disrupt sales.
“We have a police detail outside of the store most days anyway. Let’s just call him over if a customer is offended by someone’s BLM pin,” the employee said. “There’s something deeper here. [Starbucks CEO] Kevin Johnson talks a big talk on Twitter, but he’s still the head of a multibillion-dollar company that has to keep up with its image. God forbid if employees tarnish that pristine global image.”
Another worker in Colorado agreed that the decision was made to “not cause conflict with customers” and did not agree with the company’s explanation that Black Lives Matter should be defined as political.
Anyway, the company ended up reversing their ban on “Black Lives Matter” attire after
black folks dragged they asses all up and down the internet for this bullshit they had done some soul searching.
According to CNN, Starbucks announced Friday that employees will be allowed to wear BLM clothes and pins “until new branded shirts are delivered to 200,000 employees that include the phrase.”
“This movement is a catalyst for change, and right now, it’s telling us a lot of things need to be addressed so we can make space to heal,” Starbucks wrote in a letter to employees announcing the new T-shirt design, which can be viewed below.