Is This ‘SNL’ Sketch Racist?

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SNL’ s coffee sketch

On Saturday’s episode, in the first post-monologue spot, Saturday Night Live aired a commercial parody that’s led to some instant controversy in social media, with some calling the ad racially insensitive.

The bit is a parody of Starbucks’ branded Verismo home coffee machine, and in the sketch’s reality, it allows customers to call out their coffee order, Siri-style, and have the machine make it to order. The SNL version, though, depicts the machines as not working particularly well- and also having the voices of inarticulate, easily-confused, and stereotypically African-American Starbucks employees:

I hadn’t ever heard of Verismo before this sketch, but apparently it’s a real thing. Meanwhile, the sketch is making two points: That the Verismo doesn’t work very well, and that Starbucks locations are staffed by not-very-bright black people. So not only is it offensive, it’s inaccurate- I’ve been going to Starbucks for many years, in many cities, and that’s never been my experience.

This is strange, because I would expect SNL to know better- especially since it’s no Family Guy or Howard Stern Show-  in its nearly 40-year history, the show has mostly managed to avoid racial minefields.



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One Comment

  1. I’m conflicted on this one. Since we moved to Cleveland after 12 years in and around New York City the first job my wife could find was as a Starbucks barista/”shift supervisor,” which she did for six months before recently getting a better job. So, I’m familiar with the reality of how the company treats its lower level employees and am always interested in depictions of the company in popular culture. I watched it with her and I have to admit we generally found the skit pretty funny. The general premise of the skit: making fun of the gulf between the actual Starbucks experience versus the way it’s depicted in the first part of those commercials, is a solid one. And I think the execution was generally pretty good, particularly the details like what a disaster the whole milk and sugar area of the store often is, was pretty good. However, I did find the choice to make both of the incompetent employees obviously African-American with stereotypical “ghetto” accents to be curious at best. I think they could’ve made the same point without the whole thing being so racialized.

    Eric Deamer