Grinding with the Boston Intersectional Coffee Collective
Restaurant people live on coffee. We may not be morning people, but you can bet your boots we make a dash for java before clocking in, then refuel frequently throughout the evening.
We always bow to those capable of making a perfect cortado. Like baristas who come sit at our bars after a long day, hungry for a stiff cocktail, bartenders across the city depend on knowledgeable coffee people to get them through shifts.
So it’s interesting that the two worlds don’t often collide, that when we talk about hospitality we rarely pull cafes and coffee shops into the fold, especially when many of the critical issues—lack of diversity, sexual harassment, the need for more opportunities for advancement—look exactly the same in both industries.
The Jagermeister-sponsored Barista/Bartender Throwdown, which took place last week as part of a string of events organized by Boston’s bartending community to raise funds for the local chapter of Futures Without Violence (it’s all part of V-Day, a worldwide campaign in the fight to end violence against women), not only threw one helluva party but facilitated crucial conversations across these local hospitality strongholds.
There was caffeine, there was alcohol, there were cocktails and coffee drinks, and most importantly, there was a coming together of ideas and people. Without the Throwdown, I likely never would have met Kristina Jackson, founder of the Boston Intersectional Coffee Collective (BICC).
Jackson launched the BICC, currently a one-woman show, last fall not only in response to the Black Lives Matter movement but after witnessing the all too often co-opting of BLM meetings and rallies by white Bostonians.
“It was really frustrating and annoying,” Jackson said. “I was going to meetings, going to rallies and protests, and I was finding overwhelmingly that these meetings that were supposed to be centered around people of color were actually mostly white. … So I said this isn’t working, let’s see if I can find a way to connect this to my job.”
She continued: “The restaurant industry, the coffee industry, hospitality in general is inherently, I think, a social industry. People go to cafes to meet other people, to talk and connect, and I said that’s perfect.”
The hospitality industry is also, as I noted in a recent feature about the V-Day events organized by members of Boston’s bartending community, overwhelmingly comprised of people who get shit done. And that’s largely because from a dinner for two, to a cocktail competition, to a wedding reception, to a latte to get your day started, we—servers, bartenders, baristas—are in the business of bringing people together.
Still, while we may be skilled at bridging gaps between between diverse groups of people, we are, as an industry, struggling with issues of diversity and inclusivity. “When I brought my focus to starting conversations within the coffee community, I found the same problems,” Jackson said. “Coffee is a white male industry.”
“I wasn’t finding a social group I could identify with,” she continued. “I was finding people who had similar causes in terms of people wanting to fight violence, fight racism, fight sexism, but I wanted to find people who looked like me, and find people interested in fighting for things that are specific to Black people and Black communities.”
“So I said, ‘Fine. I’ll do something myself.’”
BICC, and Jackson as the face and voice of the organization, has participated in a handful of events focusing on coffee and social change, including the Barista/Bartender throwdown this month. Jackson has organized and participated in panels addressing sexism, racism, and sexual harassment, all as those issues are relevant in her work community. In November she organized an all-women’s latte throwdown (a latte art competition) and raised $600 for Rosie’s Place, Boston’s oldest (and America’s first) all-women’s shelter.
“I really just wanted to talk to people,” she said. “I made a lot of really good connections with people experiencing the same things and who were pissed about them.”
Of course, Boston is notoriously segregated, and before you jump all over me for pointing it out, think about it: When was the last time you heard about a new bar or restaurant opening up in Roxbury? How many friends do you have who use their aversion to crossing the river as an excuse to not meet up at a certain bar?
“I think there is a sort of mentality here that I don’t travel certain places because it’s too far, or too hard, and it’s that mentality that keeps us from coming closer as people, and it’s that way of thinking that allows for such segregation in restaurants and cafes,” Jackson said.
It’s also what keeps the status quo cemented.
“It’s twofold,” Jackson said. “There’s this implicit bias from a customer’s point of view that a certain type of worker who looks a certain way is going to be the most knowledgeable and give you the best type of service, and there’s the bias from the barista’s point of view that a certain type of customer doesn’t know anything about coffee, that a certain type of customer who looks a certain way can’t be sold certain things.
“And those people look like me. And it’s because of my race. It’s double jeopardy, really, it’s because I’m a Black woman. And that’s where intersectionality comes in.”
Intersectionality shouldn’t be hard. At its core, intersectionality aims to present a united front against what hurts members of the group. How can we help each other?
If baristas and bartenders can get together and make incredible drinks as a team, relying on one another’s experience and expertise, think of what we—as a collective hospitality industry, as men and women, Black and white and everything else—could do together as a united, collaborative front against racism and sexism.
“That’s the point of it,” Jackson said, “finding ways to find those connections and say, Yeah, I have these experiences, and as a white woman you have these experiences, and how can we find middle ground and do something positive?”
In other words, it’s not enough to just say, Me too. Sometimes you have to say, Me too, now tell me your story. What can we do together?
“It made me really happy to see restaurant people excited about coffee [at the Barista/Bartender Throwdown],” Jackson said. “I love to see restaurant people come into my shop regularly. I’m a bar regular, and I love being able to be the person who helps you with your day. You help me with mine.”
Shouldn’t we be able to do that for each other off the clock?
People interested in hearing more about and getting involved with BICC can contact Kristina at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the remaining V-Day events, including “an intersectionality-focused event and conversation” at the V-Day performance of Eve Ensler’s A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer on Feb 26, check out digboston.com or find the show on Eventbrite.
Haley is an AAN Award-winning columnist for DigBoston and Mel magazine and has contributed to publications including the Boston Globe and helped found Homicide Watch Boston. She has spearheaded and led several Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism investigations including a landmark multipart series about the racialized history of liquor licensing in Massachusetts, and for three years wrote the column Terms of Service about restaurant industry issues from the perspective of workers.