Behind the Green Apron: Two Starbucks Partners Reveal How They Found Empowerment through Songs About Black Hair

Throughout February, Starbucks Canada is celebrating Black History Month by sharing the unique stories and experiences of its Black partners (employees) each week on Starbucks Stories.

To kick off the month are two Brampton, Ont. store partners, Zoe Clarke-Singh and Cristyn Gilpin-Payne. As members of Starbucks Canada’s Black Partner Network, they helped Starbucks curate a special playlist in partnership with the Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA) and SAY IT LOUD to celebrate Black culture and Black excellence.

Here, the two partners share what this playlist means to them, their personal connection to music and how songs about Black hair help them feel empowered.

Music had the biggest influence on us while growing up. Music connected us to our Black brothers and sisters. It changed our mood and uplifted us. It told us stories through calypso and taught us to dance through soca.

That’s why working on a dedicated playlist for Black History Month on behalf of Starbucks Canada’s Black Partner Network meant more to us than just having good music to work to. For us, it meant that we could showcase our diversity within the Black community through soca, afrobeat, reggae, mainstream hip-hop, and R&B.

What stuck most with us while curating this playlist were the songs dedicated to empowering Black women. Growing up in Caribbean-Canadian households was challenging for both of us in our youth. We faced many societal challenges, like being forced to choose between embracing our Caribbean roots and being our authentic selves or adjusting our lingo and nuances to please our peers or fit certain environments. This shift in personality (often considered code-switching) caused quite the contention amongst our Black peers, resulting in us being called “whitewashed” for not being culturally connected to our heritage.

But despite this, music always helped us feel rooted in our Afro-Canadian culture, especially empowering songs about Black hair. One of the many things we love about being Black women is our ability to manipulate our hairstyles constantly, as it is an expression of our personalities. We are trend setters, we are artistic, and we are creative. Our drive to constantly break down the barriers placed around us is endless.

Below are two of our favourite songs from the playlist meant to empower Black girls and why they mean so much to us.

Peng Black Girls Remix by ENNY ft. Jorja Smith

This song celebrates what makes Black girls so beautiful. It emphasizes that our physical traits are beautiful no matter what shade of black we are. This is significant because colourism — although a learned behaviour stemming from racism — is very prevalent within the Black community. Many young dark-skinned Black girls are often made to feel less than or inadequate compared to their lighter-skinned peers. The song says, “Never wanna put us in the media,” which references the lack of heavy melanated skin represented in the media.

On the contrary, colourism works both ways within the community. Those with lighter skin often feel like they are not Black enough. These thoughts in a young unnurtured mind could be greatly detrimental and often leads to being ostracized. We’ve personally felt neglected or singled out for having fair skin, but with the help of our family and close friends, we’ve learned to love ourselves.

I Am Not My Hair by India. Arie

“Does the way I wear my hair determine my integrity?” This is one of the questions the song asks. The style of our hair should not be the reason why Black women are ineligible for employment. Our skills and education for the position is what matters. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for us to be overlooked because of our hair and we know many people who have experienced this, both women and men.

“I couldn’t get no job / Cause corporate wouldn't hire no dreadlocks,” the song says. I (Cristyn) rarely see individuals in corporate-level positions with their hair like mine (loc style) due to the negative imagery associated with them. The misconception that our hair is dirty and unkept is untrue. Our creativity flows through our hair. It is our crown and how we style our crown should not determine our worth.

After listening to Starbucks playlist for Black History Month, we hope partners feel connected and deeply rooted to various Black cultures. As well, we hope it makes people feel good and want to dance! Black culture is about celebration and the various musical ways our story is told.

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