On Friday morning, MNB and numerous other media outlets reported that despite having been explicit in its support for the Black Lives Matter movement and pledged via social media that it would "stand in solidarity with our Black partners, customers and communities," Starbucks would not allow its employees to wear Black Lives Matter T-shirts, pins, or any other accessory that mentions the movement.
By lunchtime, the company reversed itself.
Not only that, Starbucks announced that it would buy and distribute Black Lives Matter t-shirts to its employees working in company-owned cafes.
“We see you. We hear you. Black Lives Matter. That is a fact and will never change,” the company said Friday. “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.”
The original concerns as expressed by the company were related to what it called "agitators who misconstrue the fundamental principles of the Black Lives Matter movement — and in certain circumstances, intentionally repurpose them to amplify divisiveness.” But a backlash on social media, including some calls for a boycott, moved the company to reverse its policy.
- KC's View:
Score one for Victor Hugo, who, as I noted on Friday, once wrote, "Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come."
On Friday morning, before the reversal was announced, I wrote that I suspected that "it won't be long before Starbucks reverses its position on this - it decided at some point to allow visible tattoos, and it'll allow Black Lives Matter paraphernalia." (So score one for me, too. Though this probably will be the first and only time that Victor Hugo and I are linked.)
While I recognize it can be problematic for retailers to allow political and social commentary by store employees, the original reaction seemed off-brand to me. Starbucks, after all, always has had a progressive bent, and it wasn't all that long ago that the company was encouraging baristas to engage in conversations about race with customers. (Not its best idea, even if well-intentioned.) Plus, Starbucks - which is having as tough time of it because of the pandemic - can ill-afford any sort of boycott and associated bad publicity.
The growing popular support for the Black Lives Matter movement - it has grown enormously over the past month, part of a general shift in public opinion about matters of race and criminal justice - has given a lot of companies license to stake out political positions that just a few months ago might have seemed unthinkable. Though, to be clear, it will be instructive to see of many of these companies' statements and financial contributions are connected to actual changes in diversity policies. I hope so … because it will be the right thing to do, and because these companies may be particularly vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy if their positions are seen as merely performative.
I'll return one more time to another Victor Hugo quote: "He who does not weep does not see."