The Miseducation of a White Manager by Zael Ogwaro
All I want to do is brew coffee for customers.
All I want to worry about is how my espresso shots are pulling. All I want to focus on is COFFEE. But being a non-binary person of color in Portland, OR makes that nearly impossible. I often find myself feeling I’m in the sunken place. And when I speak out against actions of others, I realize, I just might be.
I’ve realized that marginalization can present itself as a slow progression of inappropriate actions. It doesn’t necessarily have to be one outright act of racism. Sometimes it’s getting asked an inappropriate question during work or company gathering. Sometimes it’s being asked to speak for the black community as a whole. Sometimes it’s being a martyr for someone else's performative activism. This is why many cis white women and men continue living in blissful ignorance. Because they’re slipping under the radar with their microaggressions. They feel “woke” and supportive for asking such questions.
Marginalization within the coffee industry is very prevalent—not acknowledging it would mean disregarding the stories of many people of color and committing to a future of stagnancy. I don’t want coffee to remain the same for years to come. I want to see more people of color in leadership positions. I want these awkward and unprofessional conversations to stop. Shouldn’t we all want that?
I believe this can stop if the majority realizes that difficult conversations regarding race, gender, and sex cannot be a one-sided affair. Learning about your privilege as a white cis woman/man must be a personal quest—not every black person's obligation. It is not our responsibility during a bar shift to talk about Shaun King with you. Black baristas are not here for your indulgence in black culture. You are continually asking for emotional labor from people of color while failing to realize it.
Coffee shops often paint themselves as inclusive, fair, and safe for Black folx. I wish this were true. I wish most coffee shops were truly safe, in all aspects, for us to be employed in. But in order to manage a place of work that meets this criteria you must acknowledge the tendencies within yourself, as a manager, that further perpetuate the tokenization and emotional labor of people of color. In doing this, you will be able to recognize when an unfair action has taken place that was caused either by yourself or others.
If you are in a leadership position and fail to assess everyone's actions, including your own, you’re creating yet another unhealthy environment for Black baristas. You’re establishing a situation where your employees are at risk of being taken advantage of. You’re establishing a power dynamic. We don’t need more unhealthy power dynamics in the world. Framing new tasks given to a barista as a privilege rather than a collaboration between all parties is not conducive to an atmosphere that is supposedly safe and equal. We don’t need more apologies in lieu of pay. We don’t need your occasional “black lives matter” Instagram post. We need you to dismantle a system that continues to benefit you. We need you to stop embracing the system. We need you to stop silencing us. This is what you can actually do to make a change rather than asking me what to say instead of the “N word” during a rap song.
Words by Zael Ogwaro.