In a city whose coffee community was somewhat hesitant to respond to the American protest movement, one coffee shop with a personal connection to BLM stepped forward.
BY ELLA MCELROY
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Cover photo courtesy of Ella McElroy
The coffee community in Paris was hesitant to respond to the murder of George Floyd, the wave of protests around the world—including in Paris—and the greater response from the American coffee industry. On Blackout Tuesday, it took many Parisian shops until the end of the day to issue a statement or post a black square on social media in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. The silence and inaction are more a question of culture than of political or social ideology. In the United States, the decision not to acknowledge the movement so powerful it has overshadowed a global pandemic held a different politically oriented context. In France, mixing business and politics is taboo; neutrality is politically correct and financially prudent.
During the beginning of the BLM movement in France, the coffee industry in Paris, which depended so much on its community and customers to survive during the strict quarantine measures, seemed resistant to show the same support to its own community, which includes people of color. That was until Le Peloton Café took a stand.
Painted on the entire surface of their storefront is a mural dedicated to George Floyd, alongside names of American and French victims of racial violence. As many city folks are moving past the Black Lives Matter movement, and as the weather gets sunnier and confinement restrictions ease, Le Peloton Café decided to use their platform to remind Parisians that this is an issue that one cannot simply decide to forget.
I reached out to Le Peloton Café co-owner Paul, a native New Zealander, to talk about the mural and the motivations behind it. Why the mural of George Floyd in Downtown Paris? Why take the risk? Why was Le Peloton so much more interested in talking about this issue?
“Well, my wife (Danielle) is African American,” Paul says. “She’s from Detroit. My wife was obviously feeling very enraged and emotional, and I think I disappointed her by not showing that same emotion. And of course, being a white privileged man, I try to defend myself as to why, and I guess coming from New Zealand it was hard for me to understand. That was hard, because I was wanting to be supportive and didn’t know how to be that support she needed. Then I realized I could do things, one (of) which was listen to her, and secondly putting the artwork up. I knew that was something I could do.”
For many Black and non-Black folks within America, the Black Lives Matter movement is intensely personal. Of course, it would have been different to know that the mural was a conscious political decision to align with the movement in light of other silent coffee shops. In the case of Le Peloton Café, Danielle’s background made this mural not only a political decision, but added a personal connection too.
For Le Peloton, it has been important to show solidarity despite its location in the highly privileged and wealthier 4th arrondissement. “I think it shows people that we are not just a coffee shop,” Paul explains. “During COVID, we had so many people support us as a coffee shop, and it’s now our turn to support causes other than ourselves. It’s got to be bigger than that.”
Just a few days later, Danielle reached out to talk about this issue and share more about how Le Peloton would use their platform to fight for the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I know that in the past we haven’t been political because we wanted people to come into the shop and be in a safe space where we could address all of these issues,” she explains. “I think the thought before was that if we put something on the feed, then that might actually hinder people from even giving us a chance. They might not feel comfortable to ask questions, challenge us, to share their views. But seeing the footage of George Floyd being murdered, I just felt like there was no option. You cannot be silent about something like this.”
The decision to put up the mural, painted by their own artist and barista Hillary Dohoney, intended to take a permanent stance against police brutality, racism, and discrimination.
“I feel like we are now holding the coffee community accountable to really stand by what they say, what they mean when they talk about community. Community is not just privileged people sitting around enjoying their five-Euro lattes and shooting the breeze. Community is empowering people, community is building people up and supporting each other. This is a part of it, it has to be a part of that dialogue and community, and the commitment to elevating other people and not just being on the receiving end of things.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ella McElroy is a recent graduate of Sciences Po, and author of the specialty-coffee blog L’Americano, currently working as a barista for different specialty-coffee shops in Paris.