Last month Steven He, the owner of a cafe in Sydney, Australia reportedly told an applicant for a vacant barista position, an Afro-Brasilian man and Australian citizen named Nilson Dos Stantos, that he couldn’t hire him for the job because “My customers are white. I don’t think they’d like to have their coffee made by black people”
Nilson, at first caught off guard by Steven’s response said he turned to the cafe’s patrons and told them what happened. The customers then decided they were no longer going to frequent the establish and less than a month later it has been reported that Mr. He’s cafe has closed its doors for business. Hurray! After the terrible news we hear all the time it’s good to finally get a win for equality and justice right?
I say not so fast. While Steven He’s responses to Nilson’s “blackness” certaintly were discriminatory, I found it to be a really honest and accurate picture of Australian hiring practices. As an transplant into Australia from the United States, my experience is that with rare exception do I even get served so much as a burger from people of colour. This rings even more true when I think about coffee bar barista’s where the face is commonly a young White or Asian young woman in her late teens to early twenty’s. This is the white face of Australian coffee shops in case no one was paying attention but for many of those who missed it here’s why you did:
At that moment the customers were faced with a crisis. Stay and drink their coffee after Nilson’s revelation or leave in protest. To stay in the bar is equivalent to making a public announcement that you’re “ok with inequality” which in most cases when asked that question most would state “No”. To stay would be poor ethics, it just isn’t the right thing to do is in these “post-racial” times.
The other choice is much more virtuous and it also displays behaviour that the country believes about itself with the added benefit of it being nothing more than a brief respite from that morning edition of the ‘Courier Mail’ before moving on to another coffee shop that has the exact representation and aesthetic that Steven He was saying that his white customers preferred.
The overwhelming white dominance of the Australian marketplace, who is represented to sell the product or to be the face of that product is but part and parcel of white supremacist, capitalist society which also aligns with a cultural racism whose gaze is purely Euro-Centric.
According to author Philomena Essed from her book “Understanding Every Racism”,“In this dimension, blacks and non black people of color in this case, experience and perceive the underlying message that society is culturally tuned to the interests and needs of the white (middle class) group. This is the ideal and practice whereby interests and perspectives of the white group are used, become normalised and are an enduring and inescapable feature of the experiences of blacks”.
This results in normalisation or “white normativity” and in practice, the dominance and application of white norms are marginalizing and repressive elements and inhibits non-whites and in particular those codified as “black” to encounter difficulties, like being able to secure a job. This is the normalised function of Australian society, ingrained in its hiring practices although much more subtly so.
According to research from the “Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics” that centered on a large-scale field experiment to see if there is any labour market discrimination against ethnic minorities in Australia.
The study found that: “Ethnic minority candidates would need to apply for more jobs to receive the same number of invitations to interviews. These differences vary systematically across ethnic groups. To get as many interviews as an Anglo applicant with an Anglo-sounding name, an Indigenous person must submit 35 per cent more applications, a Chinese person must submit 68 per cent more applications, an Italian person must submit 12 per cent more applications, and a Middle Eastern person 64 per cent more applications”
The findings of this survey revealed what Steven He could only articulate by virtue of what he’s seen and observed within the cultural milieu. Australian businesses use discriminatory means of screening potential job applicants putting a face on its labor force that is the “normal abnormality” in the Australia marketplace. Nilson Dos Santos just happened to receive his discrimination face to face, the old fashioned way, which just isn’t done in White Australia anymore.
Yet none of this is surprising because if we really want to check the racial temperature of Australia then all we need do it look to its outspoken leader, Tony Abbott, who while oft maligned in public discourse for being an embarrassment to Australia, represents much of the opinion, whether verbally expressed or as represented in the silent normality of the racist and sexist unequal mechanisms of White Australian society.
Most certainly if we look to the asylum seekers involuntarily incarcerated we can see that racial discrimination exists because one could hardly see Australia allowing white children and families to endure such conditions.
Furthermore, if we look even closer we can see the plight of the Aboriginal, the nation’s original land owners and we can say, that Australia is racist.
But let’s not kid ourselves here. We really don’t even need to look that deeply if we want to see Australian racism. All one need do is look at the person who is the nation’s leader and prime minister because only in a racist country can someone racist be voted to be the leader of it.
Like the former LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling, Steven He broke the first rule of what I’ll term “White Club”: the unique club that is white supremacist patriarchal capitalism and society.
You don’t talk about “White Club” or bring attention to it and thus having broken that rule, Steven He was summarily shut down by the court of public opinion for bringing attention to the very white, racist normalised state of Australian capitalism and its marketplace. What seems like a solution (the closing of his establishment) is as so very often represented in cases like this are but a continuation of what Steven He said existed in the first place. Steven He’s problem was he was too honest, more than the majority of the country is willing to be about race and hiring practices in Australia.
Besides, White Australia didn’t vote him in for that, Tony Abbott has that role and in that regard he’s doing a fine job.