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Howard Schultz Says He Doesn’t “See Color” in Response to a Question About Racial Injustice

How canceled can one man be?


Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz speaks at the Annual Meeting of Shareholders

Last night, CNN hosted a live town hall with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. That, by itself, was bizarre. Schultz has no political experience, no support (CNN’s own polling says that only about 4% of Americans would vote for him), and he hasn’t even officially entered the 2020 presidential race. But he’s a billionaire (oh, sorry, Schultz would prefer we use the term “person of means”), so CNN is there to give him extensive coverage and amplify his agenda.

Except he doesn’t seem to have much of an agenda. Most of his stances shared in the town hall were vague, and we learned more about what he wouldn’t say than what he would. He wouldn’t say where he’d set the tax rate for wealthy Americans; he wouldn’t say if he’d share his Starbucks shares if he were elected; he wouldn’t say if he’d drop out of the race if it looked like he was helping Trump win. All he would say, as per usual for him, was everything he thought Democrats were doing wrong.

And then he also said this:

An audience member (and local coffee shop owner) asked Schultz about the incident of racial profiling in a Philadelphia Starbucks last year (while Schultz was serving as the company’s executive chairman) that ended with two black men arrested for nothing more than waiting for their friend before ordering anything.

As a result of the incident going viral and the attendant backlash, all 8,000 Starbucks locations closed for one day for a company-wide racial bias training. What this audience member, Orgena Keener, asked Schultz, is if he felt the training was effective and if he thought the voters would “take their thoughts about this incident to the polls.”

Schultz’s response was absolutely terrible.

He started off well, saying that racial injustice needs to be addressed and also acknowledging what many white people won’t—that we all have unconscious biases that influence our lives and our interactions. He also said that the training is “ongoing” and that they are “doing something that we’ve realized we fell short on and we’re admitting the fact that we have to get better at this.” But the problem of racism goes beyond Starbucks and is “a proxy for the country.”

“It was a terrible moment for the company,” he continued. “It’s not something that we’re gonna forget, and it’s something that we learned a great deal from and we’re still learning about”

And that’s where he should have stopped talking.

Instead, he kept going, saying “And I would just say, as someone who grew up in a very diverse background as a young boy in the projects, I didn’t see color as a young boy and I honestly don’t see color now.”

This was the actual audience reaction CNN cut to:

shultz race audience reaction

Schultz undid everything he just said about wanting to address racial injustice with the ever-feckless “I don’t see color.” The way to address racism is not to pretend race doesn’t exist. Race and racism exist whether Howard Schultz wants to believe it or not, and both need to be acknowledged if there’s any hope of making progress regarding systemic injustice.

Instead, Schultz wants the White House to reflect the “character” and the “morality” of the nation, which is peak I just hire the best people for the job–an attitude that, while when also ignoring issues of racism, tends to lead to a whole lot of white people getting a leg up.

The only question left about Howard Schultz is who the heck are those 4% of Americans that think he’d make a decent president?

(image: JASON REDMOND/AFP/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.