Outraged By Coffee Shop Owner’s Racism, Aussies Respond With, Well, Racism


First they took our jobs, and now they’ve taken our racism too.

That might have been the thinking of some of those who joined an angry horde rushing to denounce a Sydney café owner after it was revealed he refused to hire a potential employee because of the colour of their skin.

‘Steven’, owner of the Forbes & Burton coffee shop in Sydney, was inundated with complaints after admitting to the Daily Mail he refused to hire Brazilian born Australian Nilson Dos Santos because he was black.

And boy were people pissed when they found out.

Since the story broke, thousands of comments have lit up Forbes & Burton’s Facebook page, with people from around the world queuing up to have a dig at Steven who, given the sheer volume of racism produced in Australia every year, must feel a little unlucky to have ended up as the poster boy for vilification when so many other willing candidates have missed out.

“It’s encouraging to see so many people express solidarity with Mr Dos Santos, Human Rights Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane said in a tweet. “We do not accept racism.”

Australians showing solidarity after a man was blatantly discriminated against – so far so good.

But if you thought this was going to be a redemptive story of a nation sensibly protesting the racism of one business owner – who is now being investigated by the Australian Human Rights Commission – and rallying round the flag of diversity and respect, you would be sadly mistaken.

How best to communicate to this café owner that his refusal to hire a hire a black barista was wrong, Australia asked itself? With a steaming hot serving of fresh racism, of course.

As the Daily Mail slyly noted in its report, Steven is himself a relatively recent immigrant, hailing from Shanghai.

It should have been a minor footnote but for some of those joining the throng of angry voices, it became the incident’s key detail.

Here’s a small (and unpleasant) taste of the messages some were inspired to leave the Forbes & Burton café.

Go back to where you came from, the new catchcry of Australian anti-racism, apparently.

Ellam was positively polite compared to others.

For her part, Jazi Rodas blamed Australian racism on, wait for it, immigrants.

Thankfully Olivier Lapont was around to remind the crowd that just maaayyybbeee there were a few white Australians guilty of the same crime.

The irony wasn’t lost on Josh Shim.

Not everyone left racist messages, but the frequency was disturbing. Reading through them, it was easy to feel the Oliviers of the world were drowned out by the Katerinas.

How dare you come here and tell us how to do racism, we’ve been practicing it since 1788, thank you very much.

On an interesting side note, the now beleaguered ‘Steven’ made the argument to the Daily Mail that his racism was not his own, but inspired by the anticipation his customers were racist, and would not want to be served by a black man. “Customers don’t like their coffee to be made by black people,” he is quoted as saying.

While doing nothing to absolve his unsettlingly frank act of discrimination, the comments left on the café’s Facebook page do seem to suggest Steven’s assumptions about his mostly white clientele may have been closer to the mark than anyone has been so far willing to admit.

There are substantial observations that can be made about this incident, perhaps most notably the evidence of white Australia’s cognitive dissonance when it comes to using the ‘r’ word, and the way racism as a discourse can become a stick with which to beat the groups who suffer its cruellest impacts.

But if you’d prefer not to wade into those troubling waters, we encourage you to sit back for a minute and reflect on how awfully confusing this entire incident must be for poor Andrew Bolt.

Yes, it is indeed a confusing time for us whiteys.

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Max Chalmers is a former New Matilda journalist and editorial staff member. His main areas of interest are asylum seekers, higher education and politics.