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By: Holly Kragiopoulos 11 June 2020
It has now been a week since #blackouttuesday. We have been silent since then taking some time to reflect, to ask questions of ourselves, to acknowledge our life experience thus far, to check our privilege. To begin to educate ourselves. To listen with new ears and to see with new eyes. To ensure that we move forward with effect, sensitivity and respect whilst still participating in the conversation.
As white business owners, we have never discussed race as we simply have never had to (bear with us) – the best part about what we get to do at North Star by far is the opportunity to travel and spend time with people from different backgrounds and cultures and we have dedicated much of the past 7 years trying to undo power structures that exist within our industry as best we can, in an effort to bring about more equitable trading relationships with our producing partners. We have done so by seeking out Black owned businesses to trade directly with where possible, divorcing ourselves from the commodity market which works in a manner that can take the humanity out of the transaction. We have invested in initiatives designed to bring about greater gender equity and youth empowerment in rural Black communities. We actively work to do all we can to give the coffee producer greater agency in our trading relationships but we do recognise that the dynamics at play stem directly from colonialism – we are working to better understand what this means for our industry, ourselves as individuals and wider society.
With the events of the past fortnight, what we are coming to realise is that our silence on race specific issues to date has been due to our lack of listening and failure to recognise the depth of inequality and oppression that is still experienced by Black people in our own country and across the world. This realisation has been tough to acknowledge.
Racism in our view is and always has been abhorrent, but if individuals and businesses are not actively stating that, then they are part of the problem in perpetuating the systems/structures and cultures that do cause harm to Black people, Indigenous communities and people of colour. We have to realise that we have swallowed coded subliminal racist ideas since the minute we were born, the proof of which is in the very existence of racism in 2020 – this isn’t consciously our fault but it is our responsibility to do something about it.
Privilege, along with hate, is absolutely a manifestation of racism. No matter your experience in life so far, if you are white, your experiences have not been negatively impacted by the colour of your skin. Reflecting on our own life experiences this past fortnight has helped us to recognise that whilst hate towards Black people is something we have never identified with, privilege is.
Yesterday, we came together as a team to talk about this reality and how we can start to make real, not optical, steps towards deconstructing the white supremacy that has been a constant in our society for hundreds of years. These steps are not being reviewed as a self-improvement strategy for our white workforce to better themselves but are focused on the basic humanity of the issue. The specialty coffee community at large has always needed to work harder at being more inclusive but the reality of how far we must go has regretfully only come to our attention in the last week. We as a company and an industry must become more representative of diversity, making ourselves more accessible to those that are entering the industry as an employee or customer.
This statement has been put together after taking the time to reflect to ensure our response is not knee-jerk or short-sighted. We are committing to long term change, to educating ourselves, to standing up to injustice and to holding ourselves and our colleagues and customers to account.
We are not looking for a pat on the back, we are looking to learn. We are taking responsibility for that education but we appreciate your views, ideas, thoughts and feedback. We invite and welcome criticism. We are not here to defend, we want to listen. And we are ready to hear you.