If you’re a person of color, you know what I’m talking about. You walk into a new coffee shop and your senses are overwhelmed with whiteness and you get the glare from the Karens. The white hipster barista lines herself up between you and the bathrooms, ready to tell you non-customers aren’t welcome.
If you have a white coffee drinking friend, he or she may have even let you in on the old coffee joke white coffee drinkers share when PoC aren’t around: “there are three things that are necessary in order to make a cup of coffee, and they are: first, a black man to roast the coffee; second, a yellow man to grind it; and third, a white man to drink it.”
Well, I’m here to validate your lived experience; coffee is in fact horribly racist, and there’s data to back it up.
Every facet of the coffee industry, in fact, is rooted in racism. From the moment the whites viciously stole coffee from Black and Brown People to the present-day Karen sipping her morning cup of white supremacy, whites have been able to drink the fruits of our labor and our culture with impunity.
There’s nothing more important to Black folks than learning more about their rich history and embracing the unequalled creativity and genius of their Blackness. It’s only recently that historians have begun to recognize the achievements of Black people: from building the pyramids, to composing classical symphonies, to creating the day to day life fuel of the white supremacist capitalist system– wait, what!?
“The history of coffee is both fascinating and tragic,” writes Phyllis Johnson, founder of BD Imports, in Strong Black Coffee: Why Aren’t African-Americans More Prominent in the Coffee Industry? “Working through this unpleasant history is necessary for everyone involved in coffee. For some, this history is a source of empowerment; for others, it is a source of anger, hurt and shame. Unfortunately, for many this history is unknown. It’s important that we understand and acknowledge this history.”
It’s a well-known fact that whites would be eating bland food, like plain bread and gruel, if it weren’t for their theft of culinary secrets from people of color, and especially Black folks. That’s precisely why when the whites found out about coffee, it became one of the reasons they decided to victimize and appropriate Black civilization wholesale.
“The first coffees exported to North America and Europe were harvested by slaves,” Johnson wrote. “Later, enslaved Africans prepared and served coffees for their slave owners, when they were not laboring in the fields.”
Coffee first came to North America and Europe between 1650 and 1700. But coffee was an important, almost religious, part of Black culture going as far back as the 1400s in Ethiopia. After the whites got the first sip of the Black delicacy, they brutally enslaved people of color to keep up with demand, turning a ritualistic drink into another consumer product in the colonial capitalist machine.