TL: DR - One of the reasons the inherently entitled within a society systemically oppress parts of its community is that they're scared to compete on an even playing field. We don't tolerate this fuckery because we believe oppressing people is an unsophisticated way to run a society. If you want to know why we hold these ideals, read on.
My name is Lee Safar and I'm the very proud CEO of Elixir Specialty Coffee. I'm writing this blog post to give you some insight into where Elixir Specialty Coffee stands on the subject of race, diversity, equality, and inherent entitlement. These are subjects that became important to me from a very young age and have played an important role in forging my overarching leadership style which includes making hiring decisions, financial management for our business, product development, how best to support value chains, and the direction to take our company.
Because the product rather than myself is the face of the Elixir Specialty Coffee brand, in the past I haven't found it necessary to publish where I, as the CEO, stand on matters involving equality and diversity despite how important this subject is to me. I felt that to have published this information on our website would have appeared to be an act of virtue signaling, a behavior I have a particular disdain for because it advocates for group thinking rather than independent thinking.
While I may have been silent about these matters here on the Elixir Specialty Coffee website, I am very vocal about these issues on our sister brand, The MAP IT FORWARD Podcast - an influential coffee industry podcast focused on open-minded and informed critical thinking on the subjects of professionalism, business ownership, and responsible value chain practices in the global coffee industry.
In my mind, as a leader and as a business, our actions should always speak much louder than our words as a way of demonstrating the integrity of our value statements. But out of respect to this moment in history, and as a gesture of respectful transparency to our current and future customers, it seems appropriate now to make our company perspective public and clear when it comes to race, diversity, equality, and the concept of "inherent entitlement" (what most people refer to as "privilege").
While I welcome the opportunity to be transparent, I'd ask you to indulge me a little to give you some important context that may inform you as to why I have been so impassioned on the subject. I understand that this may infuriate those with a propensity towards cancel culture, virtue signaling, and group thinking but before you rock in the fetal position chanting "check your white fragility", (many people assume incorrectly that I am white) please take a moment to inform yourself by reading ahead. If canceling me and the brand after that seems appropriate, well, you do you boo.
I'm a first-generation Australian born Syrian-Arab woman currently in my mid 40's, living in America. I moved to San Diego, California almost 5 years ago to be a part of building and growing Elixir Specialty Coffee, right before Trump was nominated as the GOP candidate. Despite the high levels of racism and discrimination I had been exposed to in Australia, nothing could have prepared me for what I would encounter living in a "Trump-era" America.
The simple fact that I had the opportunity to follow this trajectory, despite the enormous challenges to do so was in part, because of the oppression of the women that came before me and in turn, my entitlements that resulted.
My mother, an intelligent Syrian Arab woman, went to Australia very young in the '70s to marry my father who was also an immigrant from Syria to Australia. My mother arrived in her new country having no idea how to speak, read, or write English. She worked hard to change that and throughout my life I watched her do many of the things I would later take for granted without understanding at the time the immense challenges that she would need to overcome just to achieve the same milestones that would come much easier to me for a multitude of reasons that had nothing to do with talent or ability.
Not only would she have to fight the challenges of adapting to life in a new country, with a new language and culture but, having left her family behind in Syria, she would also have to fight the inherent shackles of the Arab culture that determined, regardless of her capability, what she was and was not allowed to participate in regarding employment, social engagements or otherwise.
Throughout my life, I watched as the women in my immediate and extended family battled between the constraints of the Arab culture we were born into while also being challenged by the antagonistic racism of the White Australian culture where no matter how much you assimilated, you were never Australian enough if you weren't "white".
Born with the afflictions of curiosity, over empathy, and a sense of entitlement to question all things that didn't make sense, I watched with much confusion as the men in our culture asserted their dominance over what their wives, sisters, and daughters could and could not do because of what our culture and religion (in our case, Catholic) dictated. I would later find that this control often extended into some parts of white culture, although more subtly.
At first, I found the inequality curious and tried playing my part to understand how this systemic oppression (not that I understood it as oppression at the time) was meant to be "the best thing for me". Surely these people who I was conditioned to see as my patriarchal heroes knew what was best for me, right? Not right, because I did not know how to “fall in line”.
As I got older and challenged the mechanisms of control that conspired to keep women feeling like "less", the consequences did not bode well for me. Further, I watched women have to fight and/or manipulate their way to have a chance at achieving a fraction of the brilliance they were capable of. I was often met with the wrath of the Arab patriarchy when I challenged it's legitimacy as I grew into young adulthood and total independence.
I witnessed much of the same in my professional life and became fascinated with the concept of effective leadership. I started examining how, with the right leadership, people could be elevated in their sense of success and self rather than constrained by dominant leadership styles. This led me to explore historic and current-day slavery in different cultures, religious oppression, cancel culture, and governmental oppression. I intended to understand the essence of the people behind these movements in the hope I could access the fear that led to the oppression that resulted. Suffice to say, the learning continues.
As I got older and grew more determined to break away from the system I now clearly disagreed with, I went on a quest to understand how deep the roots of inequality ran in the wider world, particularly when it came to gender and race. As I ventured away from the Arab culture, deeper into other cultures in Australia (including Aboriginal and white Australian cultures) and the wider world, it became apparent that these structures of control were set up everywhere.
Again and again, I would bear witness to the weaponization of "inherent entitlement", or privilege, by people and establishments seeking to aggressively obtain control over a group of people who were different than the historically accepted beneficiaries of success in the wider community.
For example, I noticed that where patriarchal societies exist, the historical benefactors of power are men who would use cultural and religious virtues to oppress women and shame those who challenged established systems by ousting them from society with little to no way of being able to fend for themselves. Other women would witness this and think twice about acting in kind. Fear was a very effective mechanism of control in play.
Another example is where the historical benefactors of power are white people who repress the opportunities of the Black community by refusing to dismantle an oppressive system of police brutality targeted to disproportionately stifle their sense of safety and thus perpetuate a heightened state of ongoing fear which negates the opportunity for individuals and the community to thrive - ergo, systemic oppression.
The more closely I observed (and challenged) the power dynamics at play when I witnessed inequality, the more apparent it became that "inherent entitlement" relied on mitigating the advantages that come with a meritocratic (merit-based) society because the inherently entitled knew that, if forced to compete on merit alone without the crutches of their inherent entitlements, they would be less likely to succeed because of greater competition.
It was then that I realized that repression is a proactive defensive play made by people or groups who are scared to welcome competition on a level playing field based on an awareness that fair competition may eventuate in their demise, or at the very least, them having to share their wealth and/or power because overtime, the more diversity amongst powerful/decision making people in a community, the more equality that evaluates as a result of representation (provided corruption is kept out of the equation).
Further, I observed that oppression is a necessary tactic employed by the entitled to undermine people's consciousness and confidence about their rights and ability to compete.
These explorations and awakenings finally gave me insight into the function and structure of any dominance or power-based society, e.g. patriarchy, white supremacy, oligarchy, and plutocracy. It gave me a clearer path to understanding the basis of my passion for proactive leadership strategies that conspire to the success of stakeholders in the business ecosystem (especially employees) rather than continuing the oppressive systems that stifle success.
Having witnessed the toxicity of oppression first hand, I was determined never to allow those power structures to exist in any projects I would lead. Work should not be indentured servitude. When selecting for the right balance in a business, it should aim for equal parts of friction and creativity with the goal of building success in a defined direction that continues to feed and nurture stakeholders on many levels, far beyond (but not dismissing) financial.
Having said all that, I hope that you'll understand that while at Elixir Specialty Coffee we do hire based on skillset, it is not the predominant selection criteria. When I'm looking to hire someone the main quality I'm looking for is grit, i.e. the passion and perseverance to stick with a long term goal to its successful conclusion. In my experience as a leader, this has naturally and predominantly led to the hiring of people in minority groups that haven’t experienced inherent entitlement. The literature shows that people who have been challenged naturally throughout life and worked through those challenges are more likely to have cultivated grit.
That's not to say it doesn't require an enormous effort of coaching as a leader to bring people into the pulse of what we’re about as a company. As a result of this approach, over the years we've employed people across the entire spectrum of "team human". All different races, genders (including transgender), sexual orientation, and status in society.
Building a small business is HARD work and in my experience, the things you thought were going to be hard aren’t even close to being the things that actually end up being hard. Having structures in your business that perpetuate fear and oppression make for a company that won't stand the test of time in today's rapidly evolving culture. My previously stated afflictions of curiosity and over empathy won't let me get away from a desire to continuously do better by learning and listening to what oppressions and inherent entitlements exist in the community I'm living in or leading.
Witnessing the oppression of the women who came before me who accepted that “this was just how things are done” lit a fire in me. I am disgusted by, and will actively not tolerate, the overt and veiled systems of oppression that have existed for far too long in society.
To make sure our people are empowered with the necessary tools to communicate assertively, we provide all our employees with assertiveness and communications training with a psychologist. When you empower people who have struggled and experienced adversity (usually people from minority groups) with the tools to be assertive, you supercharge the internal confidence of a natural problem solver and introduce them to a form of freedom (one of our company Life Currencies) that permeates throughout their lives and influences the people around them.
While I'm fairly new to the American culture, my so-far 4-year journey into educating myself about Black history has shaken me to my core and furthered my resolve to continue the process to take the discussion beyond my comfort zone. Standing with any community to dissolve the shackles of oppression is not only important but also necessary for anyone looking to evolve as a leader.
In this moment of history, we stand with the Black community to dismantle the inherent entitlement that has systematically kept them from a sense of safety as well as the chance to compete fairly within our societies. Dismantling the oppression of the Black community brings hope to the dismantling of all kinds of oppression. If this concept makes you uncomfortable, I'd love to have a respectful conversation with you on my podcast to explore the idea further. Open-minded discourse, where we listen to each other and consider each other's ideas, is the best chance we have at becoming a unified “Team Human”.