September 04, 2011

Flabbergasted By Coffee


I haven't conducted a good fisking here at Rambling Rhodes in a long, long time. One reason: Nick Coleman is no longer at the Strib, tapping out his mental droolings, so that hanging fruit is no longer there, which is both sad and wonderful all at once. Another reason: comment threads--by the time I read something, there's usually at least a couple dozen comments tacked on at the end that basically say what I would have said, but they do it with terrible grammar and endless misspellings.

Today, however, I break the fisk fast, because the Strib went and ran an opinion piece that is so over-the-top ridiculous, it's almost hard not to believe it was meant as some sort of satire/parody. As with most pieces of literary garbage with only the faintest hint of anything passing as "logic," this piece was written by an idiot. Worse, it was written by an ignorant idiot. Worse still, it was written by an ignorant idiot who would rather get the racist fainting vapors than conduct even a rudimentary Google search to determine why something is named what it's named. But, greatness of greatness? It ran WITHOUT a comment thread, which tells me the Strib ran this knowing it was ripe for the most delicious ridicule since, well. . . since stupidity was invented, I guess.

Anyway, let's begin:

The subtle racism around us (even in a cup of coffee)

The labels we choose can speak volumes -- and even say things we didn't intend.

Article by Hinda Mandell

*sigh* You know just by the title and sub-head that this is going to be a doozy.

What do you do when a favorite coffee shop features various coffee blends with racially tinged names?

Well, first I'd probably pause and wonder if maybe I'm a bit of a drama queen who sees race in everything because of some sort of white guilt I just can't shake. I'm sorry, no I wouldn't, because I'm secure within myself. But, Hinda sure as hell should maybe start doing this kind of introspection, as we'll see.

This is probably not one of life's great questions. But it's one I've been pondering lately.

Could you maybe, you know, get to the point and say "Why?"

I was sitting in this beloved joint in New York recently, with its hipster-hippie ambiance, when I overheard a conversation. I'm convinced that the barista and customer, both white, were oblivious to the racially charged nature of their utterances.

Look, I get it. You're setting up a "race" topic. Don't oversell it.

Asked the customer: "What type of roast is the Jungle Roast?"

The barista, who looked on the younger side of 20, answered: "It's a darker roast."

I sat there flabbergasted. These two women were engaging in a practical conversation -- is the coffee a light or dark brew?

But because of the name of the roast -- and its richer flavor -- they were in fact reinforcing the notion of the jungle and its people as "dark."

Okay. . . I'm going to. . . You know what? I'm just going to let that "logic" sink in a little bit. It's racist, see? This dark coffee. This "Jungle Roast."


Hinda? Dear? Sweetheart? Toots? A little tutelage is in order here:

Coffee beans--those dark little nut-like nodules that go into your precious cup of wake-up juice--are grown. In fact, they are grown on trees, trees that prefer a certain climate, shall we say. These trees are cultivated primarily in equatorial climates, where rainforests often abound, which are often referred to as "jungles."

So, you see, dear Hinda, "Jungle Roast" refers to roasted beans having originated from a jungle. It's almost certainly not a reference to some darkly-tanned Bolivian tribesman with a loin cloth and a spear. I'm just, you know, throwing this out there for your consideration. To reinforce my point--not that it needs it--there are coffee shops around the world with names like "Jungle Cafe" and "Jungle's Edge Coffee" and "Cafe Jungle" and kind of on and on like that. True, there are others:


The names are meant to conjure images of roasting coffee beans from their point of origin, with the heavenly aroma that accompanies that. Patrons don't typically walk into "Jungle Cafe" and expect to be beset upon by yammering throngs of dark-skinned warriors with bones in their noses.


Perhaps you think I'm making too much of a simple exchange.

Ya think?

But consider, too, that while eavesdropping I was sipping on a luscious coffee blend that the shop calls Jamaica Me Crazy. It's seasoned with fresh cinnamon. Maybe that's what they drink in Jamaica? I don't know, since I've never been there.

You don't have to be there!! GOOGLE THAT SHIT!!! It's not racism. It's generally called "geography."

But I do know that if the coffee was labeled Protestants A Plenty, Catholics Be Crazy, Jews be Jivin' or Blacks Be Boppin', there would be an uproar. Of course, Protestants and Catholics, as part of the religious mainstream, do not typically face the brunt of prejudice in the United States.

First off, if Jews develop a decent brand of coffee, and they don't call it "Jews be Jivin'," they would be fools. Secondly, that paragraph was so powerfully stupid, it may have created a stupidity wormhole.

And most know that intolerance against Jews and blacks is not publicly accepted. Blatant bigotry is easy to spot, while covert bigotry -- where an entire group is used to sell coffee -- can be easier to stomach and therefore ignore.

An entire group is used to sell coffee?


An entire group of what? If coffee comes from Jamaica, it's Jamaican coffee--there's not much you can really do about that. I guess I could see Juan Valdez and his donkey as being used to sell coffee, but old Juan doesn't seem all that upset about it.


But then, Juan represents Colombian coffee, so I don't know why I just equated him with Jamaica, except for the fact he's not particularly "dark."

It's been nearly a decade since I learned one of my biggest life lessons. Difference is all about perception.

Especially when you perceive "differences" everywhere you look, as Hinda apparently does. Gosh, some would even say she's perhaps a bit racist or something. Okay, that's not fair. She's certainly ignorant, and logically inept as a kindergartner, and undoubtedly off the charts naive, but I'll stop short of calling her racist.

This lesson came in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, when I was riding a campus commuter bus with a college classmate into Boston. I was retelling a story I heard on the radio. It was about a teenager who had an African-American parent and an Arab-American parent.

And now, he's our President. . . I'm kidding! I'M KIDDING!!

The newscast covered this boy's life in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, since the boy's skin was dark, but not in a "familiar" way. As a result, he was often met with suspicion by people ranging from clerks to security personnel.

Plus, he kept trying to light his shoes on fire, for some reason, which unfairly ramped up the suspicion.

"He must have been interesting-looking," I said.

That's when a fellow student turned around in her seat, faced me and said, "Why? Because he's black?"

Dum, dum, DUMMMMMMM!!!!

I don't remember my response. But I remember feeling knee-jerk defensive, as one typically feels when accused of racism or any other kind of "ism."

Oh, great, now she's channeling Ferris Bueller. By the way, capitalism, is an "ism." You don't typically see someone get the fainting vapors when someone calls them on their capitalist proclivities.

Yet it took me the better part of a decade, until I began studying communication messages for a living, to understand this student's point.

And yet she missed "the point" entirely. Like, she missed it by a universe and a half. In fact, to be perfectly honest, that student didn't even HAVE a point.

The teenager who is half African-American and half Arab-American is "interesting" because he is different -- at least to me, a white person with two white parents who grew up in mostly white neighborhoods.

White guilt! White guilt! White guilt!

I should have known better than to use the descriptive term "interesting," which is really code for "different," especially since I grew up as a Jew in Minnesota.

ARGH! Look, "interesting" isn't "code" for anything. If some guy walks by wearing a pumpkin on his head and an arrow in his ass, he's both different AND interesting.


Anyone else notice this girl is both different and interesting? YOU RACIST!!

One summer in high school, I attended an all-girls' basketball camp. I was the only one under 5 foot 7 inches. And the only non-Christian. One night, a girl who slept on the bunk above mine was complaining about her ex-boyfriend.

What the hell is going on here? So now she's the only one under 5 foot 7 inches? Are we supposed to take that into consideration somehow? Does that further establish her Jewish credentials?

"He's weird," she said. And then, as an afterthought: "He's Jewish."

Maybe she thought he was weird because he kept live falcons in his attic and referred to himself as "The Great Falconey!" THAT was weird, and oh, he was also Jewish. The two were separate issues entirely.

Uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation, I spoke up. "I'm Jewish," I said.

Way to break the silence, Hinda! Short Jewish people have to represent!

My bunkmate then reached out her hand. "Give me five," she said.

Once again, I'm just guessing here, but I suspect the bunkmate may have been being a bit ironic. The short white girl who can't play basketball all that well and has some social awkwardness issues pipes up one night and says "I'm Jewish." The high five may have been a gesture of "way to go on being Jewish. I don't really care, but here's a high five so you don't feel completely bad about going zero for 10 on the free throw line today."

I did. And I never felt like such an idiot, high-fiving a person because I was Jewish and therefore different -- to her.

That would be your interpretation, Hinda, and you're entitled to it, but man you draw some pretty wickedly off-the-mark conclusions, according to my interpretation.

It's this distance of difference that allows the coffee shop to offer its blends without protest. After all, what's the likelihood that someone from Jamaica -- or the jungle -- would walk into this cafe in upstate New York cafe?

A likelihood that's about the same as using the word "cafe" twice in six words? I realize Hinda is white, and short, and Jewish, and from Minnesota, and inexplicably graduated from an Edina high school despite flunking basic geography in this very article, so she can be forgiven for writing yet another borderline racist, certainly elitist, definitely prejudiced paragraph. Honestly though, the chances of someone from Jamaica or from one of the scores of countries across the globe graced with jungles, walking into a particular upstate New York cafe? Actually, pretty good. I'd take that bet.

People tolerate intolerance if it's not directed at them and if it's dished up in a cutesy format.

Or presented in a fairly obvious, though unintentional, way in a certain newspaper article.

I have not been back to that coffee shop for a while. Not out of protest, but because it would force me to confront myself. Do I embarrass the cafe manager by saying something?

Oh please! Please do this! Please say something to the cafe manager. Call him racist! Call "Jungle Roast" racist. The hysterical looks of "Is this girl on drugs or something?" would have to be captured on video and put on YouTube. It would go viral within hours.

Do I become complicit by ordering a medium Jamaica Me Crazy with steamed milk, please?

Yes! You become complicit! You have the racist audacity to dilute the pureness of the Jamaican coffee race with the entropy of your lily white steamed milk! You racist, coffee-swilling abomination!

Deciphering these messages might be the easier part. Figuring out what to do with them afterward is a lot harder.

Deciphering the messages is pretty darned easy when you COMPLETELY don't understand what the hell you're talking about. As for what to do about them afterward? Drink your frickin' coffee and relax. Oh, and maybe catch up on some geography--at the very least Google what you think you know once in awhile. The results may surprise you.

* * *

Hinda Mandell is a 1998 graduate of Edina High School and an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.

That's right, folks. This girl is an ASSISTANT PROFESSOR. Who says there's a higher education bubble? Note to aspiring communication students: Avoid the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, lest you come out of college much, much, MUCH dumber than when you went in.


SIDENOTE: This eye-rollingly stupid article was brought to my attention, via Facebook, by my former blogging colleague, LearnedFoot, who should really get back into blogging, damn it all.

AND ALSO: Yes, I'm aware the last two posts used the word "entropy." My "Word of the Day" toilet paper is really paying off.

Posted by Ryan at September 4, 2011 01:33 PM | TrackBack
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