— -- The CEO of Starbucks defended the coffee chain's new campaign to address race relations by asking employees to write "Race Together" on the side of customers' cups to start a dialogue with customers.
Howard Schultz told ABC News today that he wasn't surprised by the backlash aimed at the campaign, calling race relations a "highly emotional issue that divides many people across the country."
"I’m not a black person, but I am deeply affected by what’s going on, and so will our general society if the American promise, the American dream, the aspiration of the country is only available to a select few," he said.
Schultz cited police-involved shootings in Ferguson, Missouri, Cleveland, New York, and Madison, Wisconsin as incidents that "probably are not isolated issues."
"This has been going on for quite some time," he said. "The rules of engagement in trying to create change in America is a very difficult thing to do."
The initiative has created quite a stir on social media - so much so that the company's senior vice president of communications temporarily deleted his Twitter account under an avalanche of criticism, saying he felt "personally attacked in a cascade of negativity."
Despite the negative reaction to the campaign, Schultz said it would proceed.
"This is about our conscious and what we believe is right and basically it’s trying to answer the question in the affirmative: how can we use our scale for good?" he said.
ABC News' Jeanette Torres contributed to this story.