At a CNN town hall Tuesday night, Starbucks founder Howard Schultz displayed a troubling ignorance about race.
Schultz, who is mulling a presidential run, was speaking about his company’s response to racial profiling at a Philadelphia store. Last year, Starbucks employees called the police on two black men sitting in the coffee shop. The men, at Starbucks for a business meeting, were arrested for loitering, though the charges were later dropped.
In talking about that incident, Schultz offered a look into his thinking on race. “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,” he said. “And I honestly don’t see color now.”
But to adequately address racial issues, you have to see race.
Research has shown there’s no such thing as being colorblind — and that suggesting otherwise can result in discriminatory policies. “ ‘I don’t see color’ is the staple answer of white people who refuse to understand what racism is,” author Anand Giridharadas tweeted. “When a great many people are being burned, not seeing fire is no virtue.”
The comment was met with quite a bit of pushback online.
Even Starbucks’s own vice chair, Mellody Hobson, has criticized the idea of being colorblind. In a 2014 Ted Talk, Hobson argued that being blind to race can lead to ignoring the challenges people of different races experience.
“In my view, colorblindness is very dangerous because it means we’re ignoring the problem,” she said. “There was a corporate study that said that, instead of avoiding race, the really smart corporations actually deal with it head-on. They actually recognize that embracing diversity means recognizing all races, including the majority one. But I’ll be the first one to tell you, this subject matter can be hard, awkward, uncomfortable. But that’s kind of the point.”
Schultz’s comment on being colorblind will probably appeal to the white suburban voters he’s trying to court. But if the businessman wants to convince voters, particularly voters of color, that he can move the United States past the race-related problems exacerbated by President Trump, he’ll have to show that he’s knowledgeable about the challenges that people of color in the country regularly battle. Without awareness, there is no real confidence that Schultz will be able to solve the problem.