Why Aren’t Black Americans More Prominent in the Coffee Industry?

Written by Phyllis Johnson for Roast Magazine

Research shows that Black Americans are less likely than other ethnic groups in the United States to select coffee as a beverage of choice. Yet coffee’s history links major contributions not only to Africa but the diaspora around the globe. Ethiopia is praised as the birthplace of coffee, and for giving us some of the most prized coffees in the world. African enslavement was the original source of labor for coffee’s production in Brazil, the Caribbean and the West Indies, and farmers of African descent continue to play a key role in its production. So how is it that Black Americans are only loosely connected to this long-standing historical continuum in coffee, finding themselves underrepresented as consumers as well as professionals in the coffee industry? And how can we as an industry bridge this gap?

Racism, inequality and the effects of slavery are human diseases that have left crowded rooms filled with little gender or racial diversity. The coffee industry must not shy away from these difficult subjects. These are not sidebar issues to be discussed from time to time by the few diverse individuals who sit outside these rooms, falling onto the ears of the highly empathic to the unconcerned and everywhere in between, yet left without action. These issues are major contributing factors to the state of our industry and society at large.

Shying away from understanding or acting against these difficult realities is like pretending coffee rust disease doesn’t exist — what devastating impact this would have on the livelihood of farmers, local economies and the global coffee world. Similarly, when we continue to ignore and normalize the effects of racism and inequality within the industry, we cannot expect positive outcomes.