I love coffee. But one of the first things that come to mind when I think of coffee is the exoticization and consumption of people of color.
Have you ever noticed when you’re looking at makeup products that each shade darker in the foundation section sounds more and more edible? You go from Ivory and Porcelain to Mocha and Espresso in a heartbeat. And if that only relates one thing to you, it’s that people of color are not the ones naming these products that are supposedly designed for them.
The coffee industry is the same.
Colleen Anunu, director of coffee supply chain at Fair Trade USA, spoke at the Specialty Coffee Expo in Seattle about the industry’s lack of equity, diversity, and inclusion throughout multiple, if not all, supply chains. She discussed how coffee spaces continually exclude people of color and noted that “Coffee, cafes are seen generally as the first wave of gentrification into black or people-of-color communities.”
While younger and more ethnically diverse demographics of individuals are continually growing into the next generation of coffee drinkers, they do not necessarily see themselves reflected in the industry.
If you’re asking yourself, “Why does this matter?” you might want to take a look at the history of coffee.
Coffee beans were first introduced in Brazil, the Caribbean, and the West Indies by enslaved African people who were then forced to work in the fields to produce, prepare, and serve coffee to their oppressors.
Yet, research shows that African Americans are rarely employed in the current industry and are less likely to choose coffee in comparison to other US ethnic groups.
The industry won’t tell you this because it’s bad for marketing. But the industry as a whole is incredibly important for the economic welfare of the US. According to the NCA Economic Impact Report, the coffee industry created 1.7 million jobs with an annual economic output value of $225 billion in 2015.
If you have a headache from all of the statistics I’ve just presented, it’s okay. I do too. It’s a lot to think about. But it’s important to recognize as we move forward in an effort to create and implement racial and ethnic equality within all facets of the global economy.
Progress always starts with knowledge. Change is slow and doesn’t happen overnight.
So the next time you sip on a cup of coffee, just consider where the beans came from and how they ultimately got to you.
By expanding our understandings of the various things we take for granted, we can not only engage more holistically with our surroundings, but we can be a part of the cultural shift that seeks to provide reparations for those who have been wronged.
Enjoy your coffee. And listen to its origin story. Change and justice grow just one day at a time.