Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about inclusion and representation.
I was sitting behind the bar at Futuro Coffee, where I pull bar shifts about once a week, flipping through the most recent issue of Barista Magazine. I’m not much for collecting or subscribing to magazines, in general, but I do have a love and appreciation for coffee publications. I enjoy seeing a craft I’m passionate about in print and they’re cool as hell to show off.
As I’m turning the pages, I unconsciously take note of the lack of color throughout. The features, marketing materials and advertisements, and overall photography are of my fairer-skinned peers in coffee. The entire editorial staff, pictured at the front of every magazine, was white. There were only a few photos inside that featured someone with a darker complexion. Those were photos at origin in Central America and somewhere in the northwest region of Africa and a group shot of baristas with one lone homie in the back. My reaction was identical to one of my favorite gifs of 2016.
I started to think: specialty coffee is a niche industry, sure. Aren’t there coffee professionals of color who have thoughts and opinions worth hearing about on a platform as large as Barista Magazine? Aren’t there Black roasters, certified baristas, Q-Graders, educators, green coffee buyers and importers, coffee shop owners, competitors, technicians, and people who have been to origin?
Don’t we have Black coffee professionals who nerd out about water quality, bean density, and technological breakthroughs in coffee equipment? Don’t people from the full array of races and ethnicities also hold those positions? They do. I know some of them. So do you. Where are their voices and why are they not being heard? How come I am not seeing them? Are you hiding them?
I spoke up a bit online and had some back and forth on Twitter about it. I’ve kinda been mulling what folks wrote ever since. For instance, the Barista Magazine blog is run off barista-submitted ideas and I was encouraged to take part. A lot of magazines and websites work this way. Perhaps in their minds, if there aren’t POC journalists, photographers, and coffee peeps on their mast heads, its a function of a dearth POC talent willing to do the work. (chin scratch emoji here)
The point being: if I want to be included, I should just ask for it. I should just speak up. I guess that might make sense. But is that how we want our inclusion to be? A grip of black and brown people begging to be let in?
We are taught in as coffee service professionals to avoid pretension or talking down to guests. Specialty coffee is intimidating and can get too lofty for the average consumer, but we work to make it approachable and comfortable. That’s the job. Instead of putting the onus on the consumer to seek us out for the information they want, we empower them by reaching out and sharing our passion. The goal, our goal, is to include them so that they are inspired by a hopeful newfound appreciation for craft coffee.
We should extend these same ideals to both sides of the bar. This isn’t happening. And if and when it is happening, it seems selective. It feels pandering, it feels like tokenism, it feels off. Somehow.
Specialty coffee culture is still somehow (even though coffee is grown by black and brown people) white-normative culture. It is asking a lot to expect us to feel completely confident and comfortable with speaking up about anything when support from our white peers often isn’t expressed, extended, or seen. If we don’t see ourselves in the blogs, podcasts, or publications, what else can we do besides our jobs just like all of these other people?
A couple folks online suggested the media of our industry has been reaching out and people of color just aren’t answering the call. Bullshit. Some of us, tired of being overlooked, silenced, and often chastised and degraded for our thoughts, can’t help you anymore. You burnt them out. But it’s not dire. It’s not like there were only two black people in coffee. Update your rolodex, find more voices. We’re already speaking up. All you have to do is listen.
PS: to my coffee pros of color, especially my people, what we have to say and what we think matters! It is more than possible for everyone to work together to create a truly inclusive community. If you need a platform to express yourself or want to connect with me and others, please: Hit!Me!Up!
Edited by Ash Ponders.