Calling In Starbucks and USA Today


Group Huddle

A few weeks ago at the 16th annual White Privilege Conference, keynote speaker and human rights activist Loretta Ross used a phrase I can’t shake. “We need to stop calling people out,” she urged, “and start calling people in.”

You're wrong!

For those of you unfamiliar with the ‘call out’ culture, it refers to pointing out the flaws or blind spots in another’s thoughts, words, or actions. It’s routine in social justice circles where we offer feedback to one another in an effort to deepen wisdom and broaden perspectives. Holding one another accountable like this is a crucial part of a process intended to shift power dynamics and challenge belief systems built on partial information. Unfortunately, too often it’s done in a way that mostly serves to reaffirm white supremacist power dynamics by showcasing who’s better, in this case the better anti-racist. Far from building connection, it can promote the very one-upmanship dynamics that social justice movements seek to dismantle.

The impulse to use contempt to fuel pride is a seductive one. There’s also a survival instinct in play. There are times when I’ve made myself as small as possible as I’ve witnessed a call-out attack — “Thank God it’s them and not me” being the underlying sentiment. As we frantically vie to survive, to be right and not wrong, to be the empowered and not the disempowered, what gets lost is the reality that we are all imperfect works in progress.

Lions attacking

Sometimes it feels to me like a pack of animals moving in for the kill. Call out culture threatens to act as a barrier-to-entry for those who may care about human rights but feel trepidation about this aspect of social activist culture. Who wants to engage in anything when the stakes are one screw-up-and-your-ass-is-grass?

spinach in teeth

Personally, I feel I’ve been called in far more often than I’ve been called out. Calling in, as I interpret it, is being made aware of the flaws or blind spots in my thinking, language, and/or behavior while also having my humanity acknowledged. It can feel like being pulled aside at a party, “Psssst, you have spinach in your teeth. I thought you’d want to know.” Though humiliation can be the leading emotion, soon gratitude sets in — gratitude that someone took the time to offer me the information I needed to correct myself. I am eternally grateful for the professionalism and humility my colleagues have modeled and offered.

howard schultz

I’m thinking about what calling in might look like in the recent upset over Starbucks and USA Today’s #RaceTogether initiative. The plan had Starbucks’ baristas talking to customers about race and writing #RaceTogether on customer cups while taking orders. The initiative has been called out big-time on social and mainstream media as opportunistic, a really bad idea, and impulsive, among other things. As of this writing,  the plan seems to be on hold, or in flux, I can’t tell which.


Rinku Sen, executive director of Race Forward, wrote an Open Letter to Starbucks and USA Today that I consider a stellar example of calling in. (And, I imagine she’ll get called out for being opportunistic!) I appreciate how she recognizes good intentions and Starbucks’ track record as a socially conscious corporation before speaking to the initiatives’ shortcomings. I notice that she offers context, solutions, and resources. I like that she extends an invitation to partner on Race (ing) Forward Together.

As I researched the #RaceTogether initiative, I watched this video in which Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz describes his inspiration to initiate the campaign. I believe his initial idea sprung from genuine concern. And we need CEOs and people in positions of power and privilege to be called into the racial justice movement because we need their voices, their resources, their wisdom, and their humanity. No one, not even the most powerful, comes out unscathed when living in a system designed to dehumanize.


think positive

The tricky part is, this is the most challenging group to call in. It can feel next to impossible to trust and support a person with privilege and power to reconstruct the very arrangement that has given them privilege and power. There may also be envy in play. Lots of people are concerned about the trajectory American racism is on. Lots of people have ideas about how to re-route that trajectory and dismantle racism. Yet few have the resources to launch a national campaign that instantaneously manifests in every major city and suburb across America.

What I (and countless other racial justice educator activists) would give to sit face-to-face with Mr. Schultz and call him in. How I wish I could confer with him about what could be his greatest legacy.

face to face

Here’s what I’d say, white person to white person.

  • Keep going, it gets easier. Giving up is a privilege afforded only to those who can easily survive without staying in the arena.
  • Be transparent. Being real trumps looking good. If you make a mistake own it. Sooner instead of later matters.
  • Get professional help. Misinformation, power dynamics, and differing degrees of racial trauma can quickly turn a seemingly simple initiative (or conversation) into a tsunami of ramped-up misinformation, power dynamics, and degrees of racial trauma.
  • Use your resources to support and partner with the racial justice infrastructure that already exists. What can you offer that we need? We have lots to offer that you need.
  • Keep a diary of your journey, then share your stumbles and successes in the form of a book, article, or documentary. Modeling your own process will educate and inspire others.
  • Use your diary and data to create a case study for business schools around the world. Most corporate leaders wouldn't dare do what you've done. Show them how to be a resilient, humility-filled risk-taker.
  • Hire a person of color to lead this charge. Nothing says I’m all for equity like a white person playing a supporting – not leading — role.
  • All of the above will transform you into a better businessman, thinker, communicator, and humanitarian. It will restore to you parts of yourself you may not even be aware you’d tucked away.
  • No one alive today invented racism, yet we all have a role to play in its undoing. Thank you for using for your power and privilege to do just that.


journey is reward

Images Found on the Below Sites

Group Huddle

You’re Wrong!

Lions Attacking


Howard Schultz


Think Positive

Face to Face

The Journey




8 thoughts on “Calling In Starbucks and USA Today”

  1. Good to see you at WPC, Debby and thank you for your thoughtful posting about the need to "call in" one another in racial justice and racial healing work. I whole-heartedly support the shared value the WPC presenter and Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) have captured so wee:

    " calling people on, not calling out. Our focus is on working with white people who are already in motion. While in many circles, there can be a culture of shame and blame, we want to bring as many white people into taking action for racial justice as possible."




      • Sure Debby. Below is an email sent to me with lots of good SURJ info and links. 

        Over the last few months, we've heard from hundreds of white folks across the U.S. looking for resources on organizing other white folks for racial justice. We have been writing and compiling resources on starting groups and expanding your group's capacity to engage white people to take action in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and beyond.  

        We are excited to release our new SURJ Chapter and Affiliate Group Organizing Kit. This kit includes background information on SURJ, tips and tools for starting a group in your town, organizing basics, and resources for taking action in solidarity with the Black Lives Matters movement. 

        Please share this toolkit with your friends and fellow organizers on email lists and through social media. We are hoping to write and compile a more extensive organizing toolkit soon, so please share your feedback on what you've found useful and what resources you still need! Email your feedback to us at

        Also, if you haven't had the chance already, check out our list of affiliated groups and local contacts to see if there is a group organizing in your area. If you don't see a group in your town and you want support in starting a group, please let us know by filling out our Start a Chapter or Affiliate Group form. SURJ's basebuilding team is looking forward to connecting and supporting you in starting up a group in your area!

  2. I agree!!! It's time to sit and discuss motives and solutions. When all the "bailouts" to keep companies going were happening and yet the everyday people were losing jobs, homes and sometimes families. I remember discussing it with my brother, and we agreed we wanted to be bailed in!!!! We have be out too long!!!! So, I think it is time to call people to the table and formulate a plan that people go forth together on.


  3. Debbie, I was at the conference and heard Loretta Ross' keynote speech, and then I heard her phrase to call in, not call out, repeated over and over throughout the conference.  Yet, when I heard what Starbucks was doing, I shook my head at the idea of having such a complicated discussion as race-relations warrants in the time it takes to purchase coffee and with barristas who are untrained in how to talk to others about race, and I watched Jon Stewart on the Daily Show making fun of the CEO of Starbucks for these reasons and for the ads promoting #racetogether that featured only white hands grabbing the coffee cups.  Thank you for reminding us to call in, not call out (and for sharing this beautiful idea with others).  I was ready to treat Howard Schultz differently because he is a CEO.  It is so much easier to shake my head at the powerful white man and wish he understood better how his intentions impact others.  I love that you don't pat yourself on the back for your own understanding.  You empathize with his intentions and gently lead him to understand his impact, and how he could have a positive impact in the future.  I hope he sees your writing; I hope you share a link to this writing using his hashtag.  Thank you for calling in.

  4. Very well stated observations and suggestions!  I have been puzzled about how to think about Starbusks recent effort/attempt.  Your thoughts helped me understand.

      'Calling in' makes so much sense!


  5. Dear Debby,

    Hi, there, my so, so very wondrously wonderful white friend and sister who you are so, so very much, Debby!  Wow, wow, wow-what an on point and right on blog post article this is of yours, my dearest and precious white sisterfriend!  I see what you mean about calling out versus calling in, my friend.  I, too, think that it is vitally important and necessary to call in in the very heart and spirit of love, peace, understanding, and forgiveness.  I know from personal experience that it is possible to gently challenge and gently in a firm and assertive manner but by being kind, respectful, considerate, and  compassionate to let you, sister, and other white persons know when they have done something amiss and racist.  I absolutely refuse to humiliate you, dearest and darling white sisterfriend, Debby, and other white persons by calling out in a cruel and a mean manner, and I also absolutely refuse to seek vengeance on white persons for past and current wrongs done to me via racism, heterosexism, homophobia, and ableism as the lesbian black woman who I am who is disabled with multiple disabilities receiving a low, fixed income in my disability benefits  I love you so, sister, and other white persons as our Good God's children and would still be firm and assertive in calling in but definitely not mean and brutal in my feedback. As well, Debby, I would only call in privately and I definitely would not call in in a public way in order to embarass white persons, sister! My white sisterfriend, I mean this with all of my very heart, and with  my very heart, soul, and spirit with all that I have as a human being! 

    Your words to Mr Schulz from one white person to another are the very stroke of genius, sister!!!!!! Debby, these words are quite applicable to the situation and address all of the very needs and concerns involved with this initiative.  Your ideas on the Starbucks' initiative are absolutely priceless and so, so very relevant, Debby.  I just so love when you said in such a sagacious and insightful manner that "we are all imperfect works in progress."  This point is so true sister, and the very key is For Always progress not perfection, Debby!  Debby, you and other white persons can only do your best in your imperfect lifetime's path and journey toward healing and recovery from racism and dealing with white privilege. It is perfectly alright, okay, natural, and normal to be imperfect, and there are degrees of racism. Great white anti-racist allies and activists like you are For Always, Debby, and the others can on a smaller level do, think, and feel racist things but not be as bad or as extreme as someone in the KKK or a neo-Nazi person, precious white sisterfriend. I totally agree with Rinku Sen and her approach to Starbucks and their initiative. It is very, very important to honor and respect the very humanity of white persons as white persons make their way in journeying toward racial justice, healing, recovery, and reconciliation, Debby 

    Sweetly precious and dearest white friend and sister who you are so, so very much, Debby, thank-you so For Always for this so full of wisdom, inspiring, and informative blog post article of yours!  You have for sure For Always given me good food for thought, sister! Please have a very terrifc and thrilling Tuesday, and may all of your days be so, so very especially blessed, Debby, my white friend and sister For Always!!!!!!1

    Peace & Love & Very Warmly & Sincerely For Always with Blessings & Even More Blessings To You For Always, Debby,

    Your Christian lesbian black sisterfriend For Always in solidarity, Sherry Gordon




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