Skip to Content

Howard Schultz Doesn’t See Color

Howard Schultz’s possible independent bid for U.S. president has had a rocky start.

At first, the avowed centrist seemed surprised by a wave of concern from anti-Trump voters, fearing he’d split the contest and offer the unpopular incumbent a path to a second term.

And while he’s been willing to articulate a strong dislike for the divisive rhetoric and gamespersonship that characterizes modern politics, his solutions, so far, have been light on details.

Here’s just one of several examples from his town hall last night on CNN.

I think we can have more balanced and more sensibility around this issue while respecting and honoring the second amendment. I have a hard time understanding why people need to carry an AR-15 around the streets where they live. It is hard for me to understand that. I respect the issues of sportsman and hunting and all things that go with gun ownership. Anyone who has a criminal record or mental health problems, there needs to be a lot more jurisdiction on how those people are buying those weapons. We should take a look at this. Now the far right once again does not want to do anything in the issue. The far left wants to do everything possible to remove guns completely. I am in the middle.

But one exchange last night landed with a familiar thud.

“As somebody 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,” he explained. He had been talking about the incident in Philadelphia last April, in which two black Starbucks customers were arrested while waiting for a friend to arrive. A white manager called the police on the men, sparking a boycott and protests nationwide. He described it as “a terrible moment for the company.”

While I recognize that “not seeing color” has long been a go-to phrase for people who want to appear fair and unbiased, it no longer serves its purpose. I’d argue it never did.

And, by the way, it’s also not true. Schultz sees color. It’s been on his leadership plate for a while now.

Schultz, along with Starbucks executives, has made significant attempts to address racial and other inequities, which includes a refugee hiring program and opening new stores and related community development programs in underserved zip codes. (This was after Magic Johnson convinced Schultz to let him created a program introducing Starbucks to black neighborhoods, I should note.)

When the Trump Administration’s executive order banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations took effect, Starbucks offered free legal advice to any worried employee. In 2016, they began hosting voter registration drives specifically in neighborhoods with recent racial incidents – like Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Ferguson, Missouri.

I attended one such event held in a park in Queens, NY, where one long-ago Starbucks employee, Nishon Rivers, told me that Schultz is nothing less than a local hero. “What Howard is doing, is giving the black youth a chance,” she said, trailing after the CEO like a fan.

And credit is due: After the “incident” in Philadelphia, Starbucks leadership took public responsibility and made bias mitigation training a national conversation.

That’s why the enduring “I don’t see color!” and the equally cloying, “there’s only one race, the human race!” are such insidious microaggressions. They sound so noble and yet do so much harm.

When you are unwilling to see a person’s color, you don’t see their fears, their experiences, their needs, their beauty, or how their lives are different from your own. And you don’t see how the unique contours of a racial caste system have affected their communities for generations.

As a result, general prescriptions, like “everyone needs health care,” will fail to address the specific set of circumstances that have led to tragically unequal outcomes. If you don’t see the pregnant black woman facing terrible odds, then neither will her doctor. If you don’t see the Latinx fourth grader being disproportionately singled out for discipline in school, then neither will their teacher. If you don’t see the value in non-white imaginations, then neither will film producers.

That’s why these words matter.

So, while it is disappointing to see Schultz struggle, it’s good that these familiar tropes are being discussed and dismissed. Unfortunately, there’s no middle ground here. “I don’t see color,” as well-meaning as it sounds, has long been a haven for people who want easy, comfortable answers for complex, uncomfortable problems.

And, it can make you miss the blind spots in a system, for example, that allows certain baristas to see black men just fine – as suspects.

 

On Point

Understanding the LOL LeagueI know I covered this yesterday, but it’s worth digging in a little deeper to the story. It’s about a group of mostly men with powerful positions in advertising, journalism and digital media, who turned their Facebook group from a bitchfest to an attack group targeting women, LGBTQ advocates and people of color, lol. For years. In one case, a member of the group made a pornographic photo montage of a feminist writer and circulated it online, reports The New York Times. But a new #MeToo world may mean that their targets will now find peace.“For six years, we asked ourselves if we should speak out, and we didn’t dare at first because we knew that what we wanted to say wouldn’t be understood,” said one target. Several of the men have been suspended from their jobs. Oo la la, lol.New York Times

Looks like 2018 was a great year for diversity in film
A new from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative finds that 2018 saw a record number of women and people of color in leading roles since 2007. Of course, “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians” gave diversity a huge boost, but it’s still progress. Forty of 2018’s top 100 highest-grossing movies were led or co-led by women, up from 32 in 2017 and 20 in 2007; A woman of color starred in 11 of those movies, compared with only four in 2007. Among the other stars of the 100 top-earning films, there were five black women, two Latina women, three multiracial women, and one Asian woman. No Middle Eastern or Native women were featured. More work needs to be done behind the cameras, too. Stacy L. Smith of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative warns, “companies must not grow complacent but continue the progress.”
Huffington Post

A fascinating study explores cause and effect of gender diversity and company performance
Three researchers dug into the reasons why some studies show that companies with greater gender diversity outperform their peers and some don’t. It led to some interesting places. One check confirmed that diversity is a determining factor by tracking the performance of companies after they hired women. “Because performance followed hiring, not the other way around, we supported our results that diversity led to better financial returns,” they say. But overall, they discovered, good outcomes happen when the environment has a pre-conceived idea that women can and should be equal contributors. “When countries and industries don’t value women equally, women working in those countries likely don’t feel psychologically safe speaking up in their organizations,” they found. Those companies tend not to outperform.
HBR

Who wants to own a comic book store?
For twenty-five dollars and a killer essay, Carmelo Chimera of Chimera Comics in La Grange, Ill. will give you his store. “This could be a life-changing opportunity for one person,” Chimera told The Chicago Tribune.“But it can also be an inspiration for many others.” The essay must address what makes a comic store great and is designed to make sure real people – and not just his competitors – get a shot. “I’m looking for passion, I’m looking for creativity, and I’m looking for a work ethic. There is a lot of hard work running a small business.” Chimera is also a lawyer on the side, fun fact. The contest runs until February 28, or until he gets 500 essays.
Chicago Tribune

 

On Background

A rare black leopard triggers a conversation about race
Just not in the way you think. National Geographic published astonishing images taken by researcher Dr. Nicholas Pilfold of a black leopard, not seen in 100 years, spotted in a Kenyan wilderness camp last year. The female has melanism, a rare condition that causes the body to produce more pigment than normal. And she is gorgeous. Problem is, another photographer spotted a black leopard first, and Africa Twitter jumped in to correct the record.  “In 2013, @dailynation photographer Phoebe Okall @okallkinya1 shot this picture of a black leopard in Ol Jogi Wildlife Conservancy,” tweeted Boniface Mwangi. He had the receipts. “She was on a news assignment with her basic gear, spotted the cat and shot the pic. 2013. First time in almost 100 years goes to @okallkinya1 then.” Noted. By all means, follow Okall, she’s a terrific photographer.
National Geographic

Remembering the black designers we never knew
Kennedy-philes and people of a certain age remember the photos of Jacqueline Bouvier as a beautiful bride, her taffeta dress a floating confection of romance and promise. Few people remember that the dress’s designer was Ann Lowe, born in 1898 in Alabama and who learned to sew from her grandmother, a former slave. Claude Hector had been tweeting gems from the forgotten annals of black fashion history, and Quartz has rounded out his work with some top-notch reporting. Guess who produced the Playboy Bunny costume?
Quartz

The racism in the food system
If you have an extra six minutes and four seconds today, put on your headphones and enjoy this TED talk by Michael Twitty, the black, gay, Jewish and utterly charming culinary historian who has made it his life’s work to restore the legacy of African and African American food in this country. In “Gastronomy and the social justice reality of food,” Twitty takes on racism in the food system explicitly, citing a 500-year history that has resulted in food deserts, chronic diseases and the tragic loss of cultural awareness. “When you exploit a people for their culinary heritage, take the best from them and leave the rest, that’s culinary appropriation,” he says.
TED

Quote

Only 25% of all IT jobs in the U.S. are held by women today. Yet, technology already plays such an outsized role in our lives, and that’s only growing. It’s imperative for women to be more involved in the creation of the technology that is impacting all of us so directly. We absolutely must take control of our future by learning the language of our future: technology. Without women actively contributing to what’s built, we’ve seen that technology can be coded in a way that includes racial and gender bias.
—Priyanka Chopra