Starbucks is hoping to lead a national conversation about race. According to a video released by founder Howard Schultz, Starbucks baristas are encouraged to scrawl “race together” on coffee cups before placing them in the hands of customers. This hollow bit of moral exhibitionism is supposed to encourage “compassion,” “honesty,” “empathy” and “love.” Does Starbucks sell caffeine-free compassion?
Each and every time we’re hectored to engage in an “honest conversation” about race, it’s a sham. What’s wanted is not honesty, but confession of sin by white people and expressions of pain from blacks and others. Decade after decade, despite vastly diminishing levels of white racism (and the rapid growth of non-white populations), we are told that the old stain of racism continues to poison the lives of minorities. By encouraging that fiction, Starbucks is subtracting from racial understanding.
For what it’s worth, here’s my little contribution to the “honest conversation.”
I spent preschool through third grade in mostly black Newark, N.J. My friends and my enemies were black. There were only three white students in my third-grade class. I remember deciding with one of my black friends that we were all “colored” — some black, some white. We grinned at our brilliance in solving a vexed national question. Little did we anticipate that Starbucks would one day adopt this as a keen insight.
Our next-door neighbors were black, and their two little sons were about the cutest things you can imagine.
By the time I was 9, I had been beaten up on the way to school, nearly had my bicycle stolen out from under me by a much older girl (some punches were thrown), and had been chased through the park by a gang of boys. All of these assailants were black. So was my much-adored second-grade teacher.
I have always thought that my intimate experience of growing up in a mixed neighborhood in my early youth (we moved to a suburb when I was in fourth grade) inoculated me from thinking in stereotypes. Unlike many white people, I told myself, I had lived among blacks and accordingly saw them as individuals — not heroes or villains, and not symbols.
But that’s not complete. Want the truth? Despite my knowledge that blacks are just people — good and bad, interesting and dull, trustworthy and deceptive — I have nevertheless spent my whole life being nicer to blacks than to whites. If a black person makes a joke, I laugh harder than I would for a white person’s joke. I hold open doors a fraction longer for blacks than whites. I’m more likely to use the honorific “sir” with a black store clerk than with a white.
I know a woman who adopted two children, one black and one white. Guess what? White strangers fuss and coo over the black child noticeably more than over the white one.
The same impulse that caused me to spend decades being particularly solicitous toward black people (and I very much doubt I’m the only one) has caused this country to move heaven and earth to try to repair the damage done by slavery, Jim Crow and racism. Our entire system of quotas and set-asides, our trillions of dollars in social programs, our “diversity” industry, our carefully designed entertainment and, yes, the election of Barack Hussein Obama all testify to how badly America yearns to prove its racial bona fides.
But for the race racketeers, the enormous racial recompense machine that is American life is as nothing. When an old-fashioned racist is discovered (of course they still exist), the press gaggle shouts choruses of “I told you so’s.” The exceptions are seized upon as the thinly veiled norm. They ache to believe that black problems, like higher rates of crime, poverty and joblessness, can be laid entirely at white people’s feet. If coffee buyers can only transcend their unloving thoughts, the poor will thrive and peace will descend.
If Schultz truly wanted to alleviate the problems of black Americans — and everyone else, as well — he would do better to highlight the key role played by family structure. Only 2 percent of black children raised by their married parents are poor. Most young men who commit crimes are from fatherless homes. In fact, family structure is a far better predictor of poverty, criminality and a host of other troubles than race. More than 70 percent of black children are from single-parent homes.
Fifty years ago, Daniel Patrick Moynihan tried to have an honest conversation about the black family. He was shouted down.
We haven’t had an honest conversation about race since.
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Mona Charen is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.