Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Starbucks Did It Wrong, Dylan Got It Right: Only A Pawn in their Game

"'Only A Pawn In Their Game' is one of Dylan's truly great songs, and what puts it over the top... is its unmatched tone." ~ John Hinchey, Like A Complete Unknown

This week Starbucks pulled the plug on its "Race Together" campaign. The coffee company made an attempt to get people talking about a topic we're not always comfortable talking about. But as fast as it appeared, in 12,000 locations across the country, it disappeared.

The company explained the plan like this:
As racially-charged tragedies unfolded in communities across the country, the chairman and ceo of Starbucks didn't remain a silent bystander. Howard Schultz voiced his concerns with partners (employees) in the company's Seattle headquarters and started a discussion about race in America.

What was supposed to happen was that servers would write the words "Race Together" on cups of Starbucks coffee and thereby start a conversation on race. Or something to that effect.

The reactions were quick from all sides, many quite hostile, and some defending the company's courage. Here's a detailed article worth reading that was posted at The Atlantic titled Overcaffeinated Attacks on the Starbucks 'Race Together' Campaign.

One wonders how uncomfortable it made employees feel who had to stand on the front lines for this well intended effort. I liked the subtitle on the article “Let’s talk about race!” – your Starbucks barista that went up on Le-gal-In-sur-rec-tion. "Would you like room for social justice in your coffee?" 

I believe it is good to talk about race, but there's a time and a place for everything and I'm not really sure that anything meaningful will be discussed when you're standing in line waiting to grab a latte before you run to catch a plane.

The Hinchey quote at the beginning of this blog post puts a sharp point on it. The subject is serious, not frivolous. Which is why Dylan's music was not mainstream when he initially appeared on the scene. The Beatles' "She Loves You" and "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" fit like hands into a pair of gloves when they dropped in to our pop culture. This was a world apart from "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll".

Dylan's roots were planted in the classic folk tradition. His aim: to wear the mantle of Woody Guthrie for a new generation, drawing attention to the outcast, the forgotten, the downtrodden, the misfit, the alienated and disenfranchised. Some might describe it as bleak, but I say otherwise. It's a harsh realism. Dylan's grim countenance was a counterweight to the cheery, oblivious lighthearted distractions of the pop culture within which much of America was bathing.

Which is why a Starbucks campaign was destined to fail from the outset. I can only assume that servers there have been trained to be friendly, many even hired for their good cheer. It just seems like an impossible switch for them to now have to discuss such a serious topic on the spur of the moment. It's the wrong note in the wrong key. There's no way it could have worked. Though to Schultz's credit it did get us talking.

Only A Pawn In Their Game

A bullet from the back of a bush took Medgar Evers' blood
A finger fired the trigger to his name
A handle hid out in the dark
A hand set the spark
Two eyes took the aim
Behind a man's brain
But he can't be blamed
He's only a pawn in their game.

A South politician preaches to the poor white man
"You got more than blacks, don't complain
You're better than them, you been born with white skin" they explain
And the Negro's name
Is used it is plain
For the politician's gain
As he rises to fame
And the poor white remains
On the caboose of the train
But it ain't him to blame
He's only a pawn in their game.

The deputy sheriffs, the soldiers, the governors get paid
And the marshals and cops get the same
But the poor white man's used in the hands of them all like a tool
He's taught in his school
From the start by the rule
That the laws are with him
To protect his white skin
To keep up his hate
So he never thinks straight
'Bout the shape that he's in
But it ain't him to blame
He's only a pawn in their game.

From the poverty shacks, he looks from the cracks to the tracks
And the hoof beats pound in his brain
And he's taught how to walk in a pack
Shoot in the back
With his fist in a clinch
To hang and to lynch
To hide 'neath the hood
To kill with no pain
Like a dog on a chain
He ain't got no name
But it ain't him to blame
He's only a pawn in their game.

The day Medgar Evers was buried from the bullet he caught
They lowered him down as a king
But when the shadowy sun sets on the one
That fired the gun
He'll see by his grave
On the stone that remains
Carved next to his name
His epitaph plain:
Only a pawn in their game.

Recorded June 1963
Copyright Bob Dylan

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