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Barista Refused Job by Asian Cafe Owner in Sydney becauyse he is Black, but could White Privilege be also somewhat to blame?


Drama erupted in the sleepy gay village of Darlinghurst, Sydney today, with passionately progressive white people everywhere deciding to boycott cafe Forbes & Burton due to the outrageous racism of its owner. Allegedly, the owner refused to hire a dark skinned Brazilian on the basis that his clientele wouldn’t want their coffee made by a black man. 


This is pretty awful (and illegal) behaviour on behalf of the owner. The public voted with their feet and refused to patronise the business , which sat quiet and empty all day, having been attacked with flour bombs over night. He was also accused of racism not just against people of colour, but against people of paleness for having the nerve to assume they wouldn’t like a coloured man to serve them! I mean, let’s be real here, and all jokes aside (sort of but not really): people of whiteness have a long and heavily documented history of accepting the servitude of their more colourful brothers and sisters!! Why would this cafe be an exception!?

Facebook was also unanimous in its condemnation of the owner, and it is likely he will have to sell up in order for the place to regain any semblance of fiscal viability. 

But… I’d kinda like to throw some queer onto this situation. 

There IS another angle that of course has been completely ignored. For some reason people continue to see the world in black and white terms, ignorant of the shadow cast by everything in the universe including themselves and their own attitudes, blind to the fleck of yin in the yang. 

Darlinghurst is the main gay ghetto of Sydney. It’s also bloody expensive to live in. And that makes it majority white #sorryaboutit. I house-sat for a year in the loft of an old terrace directly opposite the cafe in question (back when it was called DOV), and I know the demographics of that part of town: it’s majority monied, white, and spends lots of pink LGBT dollars (minus the L, the B, and T of course). There’s also a fair number of coined up heterosexuals in Darlinghurst as well, though. An Asian Australian owner of a cafe in this area would be acutely aware of this demographic. 

Now here comes the part that will have all the white Australians howling and screeching in self-righteous indignation. Are you ready for it? Here it comes:

A lot of them don’t like their coffee being made by Asians… (Shhhhh!!!! Don’t say it so loud!!!) 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had an Anglo or European Australian tell me how they won’t buy coffee if there’s an Asian behind the machine. Apparently they just don’t know how to make it. It’s a birth defect or something that runs through their entire race. They can do medicine, mathematics, and physics, but not coffee beans. Now, I know being a barista these days is an art form, but it’s not an innate talent. You just have to learn how to do it. Racially essentialist claims that Asian people can’t make coffee are ludicrous, and yet I have heard such a statement from the mouth of a White Australian as recently as last week. 

We also know what white gay men can be like. They can boycott a cafe due to the racism of its owner, whilst happily broadcasting on Grindr the words NO ASIANS - ITS JUST A PREFERENCE. Study after study has shown that gay White Australian males harbour many negative stereotypes about their Asian brothers. 



I realise this particular situation today has nothing to do with sex, but is it really beyond imagining that perhaps the owner of this cafe is hypersensitive to the attitudes of whites in this country? That perhaps he was overly paranoid about employing a person of colour front of house? That he was concerned he would lose business due to the attitudes of so many white people? We live in the land of Clive “Those Chinese Bastards” Palmer, Pauline “In Danger of Being Swamped by Asians” Hanson, and Tony “Stop the Boats” Abbott after all. 

Of course, the proprietor Steven Hu, got it badly wrong. Judging from the response, the good people of Darlinghurst do not care who makes their coffee. Or, specifically, they don’t care if a black, attractive Brazilian man makes it. My point is I don’t blame Mr Hu for being worried about it. We can be as altruistic as we like, but we also need to put food on the table. This is something most business owners would agree with. I’m not excusing him, I just feel I can empathise with his (incorrect) concerns.

There’s something else we are forgetting about, too. White Australians reject people of colour for employment opportunities all the time. They’re just not stupid enough to say it. Although some of them are exactly that stupid. My housemate, who happens to be Malaysian Chinese, recently went for an interview at a local firm and was greeted by the owner of the business with the worlds “oh no not another Ching Chong”. He didn’t say anything, and he refused to complain, but he was shaking in anger, shame, and humiliation for an hour after he came home that day. For every Mr Hu, there are dozens of white Australians behaving in the same manner. 

I don’t for a second defend this man’s behaviour. It was wrong, it was offensive, it was harmful, it was illegal, it was racist. He deserves the negative press. But is it not equally offensive to have a tsunami of indignant white people crucify him and his business without a second thought to the role white racism plays in creating such events in the first place?

The owner should leave. Sell up and go somewhere else. Learn his lesson and move on. Equally, the whites should tone down by several clicks on the dial their indignant outrage, because frankly it’s disingenuous and lacks the understanding one would expect from people who live in such a racist land as ours. To sum it up: yes the owner deserves the negative press, and yes it’s great that people (of all colours) have condemned his racism publicly, but let’s not ignore the very real possibility that his racism is a symptom of Australia’s ongoing privileging of its white inhabitants. 

Really hungry because I’ve just exploded the contents of my stomach out of my body in a really gross way. Can’t eat anything because if I do, I’ll probably just explode that out of my body in a really gross way too. 

Oh, and I get to head out in this pouring rain to show more people my old room in the hopes that one of them gets my picky former housemate’s tick of approval before he bankrupts me. 


It’s probably silly just how upset it made me, but today at work I took a call from a coworker’s mum. Said coworker is currently on leave, on a cruise, and unable to be contacted. His mum was calling to find out if we knew how to get in touch with him because his father died, and she needed a way to let him know. I’m not close with this coworker, and by all accounts it’s not a shock as his father had been unwell for a long time, and they weren’t especially close, but I felt so horrible for him, and I hated that we at work heard about his father’s passing before he did.  

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