A Brazilian-born Australian man has told how he was denied a job as a barista after a cafe owner told him his customers wouldn’t want their ‘coffee made by black people’.
Patrons of the Forbes and Burton café in Darlinghurst, inner city Sydney, were stunned to hear Nilson Dos Santos, an Australian citizen, had been turned down for the job because the owner ‘only wanted locals’.
In incredible scenes, after being told by the cafe owner, who would only give his name as ‘Steven’, that he was not right for the job, Mr Dos Santos, 39, stood up and addressed the other customers at about 1.30pm on Sunday and told them why he had been turned down and asked if they would have a problem being served by a black man.
In a sign of solidarity, many walked out – and a staff member even quit on the spot.
There was also outrage among other customers who took to social media and urged others to boycott the cafe.
Steven, from Shanghai, China, who confirmed he was the owner, admitted to Daily Mail Australia that the fact Mr Dos Santos was black was the reason he didn’t give him the coffee.
What hurt was the way he looked at me: Nilson speaks outLoaded: 0%Progress: 0%0:00PlayCurrent Time0:00/Duration Time2:06Fullscreen
‘There are a lot of white customers at the café and I think the clients here want local people, not African people,’ said Steven, who arrived in Australia from China this year.
‘We need to offer good service at this café and I think the coffee culture is more about white people.’
Mr Dos Santos, who recently became an Australian citizen, has worked as a barista in Sydney for nine years.
‘I have never experienced anything like that in Australia,’ he said.
‘I love it here, I am free here, that’s why I chose to stay. I’ve always felt welcomed and accepted. For me, it was never a problem that I am black until today.
‘I’m looking for a job as a barista so I rang him to organise an interview yesterday (Saturday) after I saw the ad on Gumtree.
‘On the phone, he asked me where I am from and I told him I’m Brazillian.
‘When I came to the café for the interview today, he looked at me and looked surprised. He didn’t like what he saw.
‘We sat down and he said, “but you’re black?”
‘I said “yes” and he told me, “but my customers are white. I don’t think they’d like to have their coffee made by black people. That’s not part of the coffee culture. You’re African”.
‘I said to him, “I’m sorry”. But he said I was not able to do the job because I am black.’
Mr Dos Santos told Daily Mail Australia he was unsure how to react.
‘I thought to myself, what do I do? I wanted to punch him but I thought that if I reacted badly, that wouldn’t be the right thing either.
‘But I thought that if I just left and closed the door, he’ll do that over and over again to everybody else that comes. So I felt I had to do something, to show him that he needs to learn his lessons and that’s not the way to treat people.
‘So I stood in the middle of the café and said “excuse me, I don’t mean to bother everybody but I just asked for a job and he told me that I can’t because I’m black and shouldn’t make coffee for white people”.
‘Even though something awful had happened, all these beautiful people came beside me to give support and comfort me.’
Outraged customers expressed their disgust on social media.
‘I will never be a patron here,’ Luke O’Dowd wrote on Forbes & Burton’s Facebook page.
Wendy Mac wrote: ‘If this is true it is an absolute disgrace and the owner is a hypocrite of the highest order. Outrageous, and I hope that charges are laid under the relevant anti-discrimination legislation.’
Wills William, a regular customer, was disappointed.
‘Always enjoyed coming here – but after today I dearly hope Sydney boycotts this cafe and never comes back. There is no place for such racism in this country,’ he wrote.
Katie Cee also wrote: ‘Oh the irony of this whole situation. But seriously…I’ll be taking my business elsewhere and ensuring my friends do as well…absolutely disgraceful.’
Cafe owner Steven needs to run the business for two years to successfully secure an Australian visa.
‘I didn’t ask any questions because I prefer the barista to be local, not from Italy or other countries. When I choose staff, maybe the waitresses are better with being local, the same with barista (sic). In some people’s opinions African people can’t make good coffee,’ said Steven.
When asked where the barista currently working in the café comes from, Steven said: ‘Japan. My barista come from Japan.’
‘I generally see white people, maybe people from Thailand. They make good coffee,’ said Steven.
‘I don’t have race discrimination. And I am sorry but I was just being honest, in my opinion, I want to hire local people.’
When asked what ‘local’ means, Steven added: ‘Local means to stay here for a long time.’
Later , when asked if he was sorry for any offence caused, he replied: ‘ Yes, yes.’
Steven said that he is a ‘direct person’ who told Mr Dos Santos the truth.
But a customer in the cafe at the time said he was appalled by what he had witnessed.
‘He (Nilson) didn’t get aggressive with the guy, which is what I would have done. But he stayed calm, he made the announcement,’ the customer said.
‘Any average person would have got so angry and rightfully so. But you can tell when speaking with Nilson that he is an incredibly nice guy.
‘The support and love that was there for Nilson was unanimous. Everyone was on his side. There was no on left in the coffee shop afterwards, everybody left. Not one person even just sat their quietly and said nothing. Everyone got up.’
Mr Dos Santos said was touched by the support given to him by the other patrons.
‘I am so lucky that there were beautiful people that showed their hearts and helped me,’ he said.
‘I would have found it so much harder on my own but people were coming up and saying “that’s not what we think, that’s not what people think, that man is wrong”.
‘I was sitting down around the corner and a girl that had been working at the cafe came past and was upset. She said to me “I just quit. I’m so, so sorry. That was so unfair. I could not work for a man like that”.ADVERTISEMENT
‘I wish I could say thank you to her. To stand up to her boss and leave was so brave. I hope she finds a new job soon, she was so lovely to me.’
Talking about his confrontation with Steven, he added: ‘Why did he have to abuse me? Why did he have to make me feel that way?’
‘He didn’t ask questions. Straight away he told me that there was no way I could be a barista. He didn’t want to ask about my experience. He just judged that straight away I am not good enough for him because I am black.
‘I had my own business in Surry Hills for five years. I never had someone say, “I don’t want your coffee because you’re black”.
Mr Dos Santos still loves the country that he now calls home.
‘I have the same love for Australia, I have no regrets. I am proud to be here. I feel sorry for the manager because he is miserable and he has problems.
‘I grew up in the streets when I was little. Me and my mother didn’t have a house to live in. Sometimes we had to go through rubbish to find food so we could survive. She had a problem with drink so she made us ask people for money on the street.
‘I had to leave my mother when I was eight because she gave away my brother for a box of alcohol. I have never seen him again. I don’t know if he’s alive.
‘Over there, people accused you of things because you were black. Australia hasn’t been like that until today.
‘When I came here I felt so free. I knew that this was the place where I wanted to be. Here no one looks at me like I’m different. I thought that time of my life was over and in the past.
‘I am so happy to be an Australian. Since becoming a citizen, I see myself as an Australian. You understand that you have the same rights as anyone else, as well as the same obligations as everyone.ADVERTISEMENT
‘I am very happy and thankful to be here, I think it’s a great country with so many opportunities and beautiful people. I have never felt different here before.
‘We are all human beings. We all deserve to be loved and respected.’