As Women of Color, What is the Cost of Our Labor?
Lessons from Iris Adriana Castillo
by Kerri Brown
What is the cost of my labor? It’s a question that many of us ask ourselves during at least one month out of the year. The requests to “pick our brains” or “share our experiences” start to come in just before our respective communities’ heritage/history/awareness month. A time that most of us would likely prefer to spend reflecting or celebrating with our communities suddenly becomes what feels like an exposé of our communities’ angst and traumas.
We’re asked to speak, write, listen, promote, and share as if we’re given more hours in the day during “our” months. We often don’t have the time, and (here’s the kicker) those requesting our time say that they don’t have the money. The logic, I assume, is that there is a difference between sharing lived experience and sharing professional experience, and the former is, quite literally, “priceless.” Still, it is exactly in the context of our professions that we are often asked to give our testimony to social inequalities, a testimony that is inevitably based on our lived experiences.
We simply say “no” to these requests and attempt to not let them ruin our day (or month). They are so common that we become too exhausted to organize efforts against them. But what happens when we do organize, when we expose those who make these kinds of requests, and when we ask for support from our communities?
I had the privilege of speaking to Iris Adriana Castillo, Tasting Room Manager at the Rare Barrel + Hello Friend Beer in Berkeley, who did just that. Her story is instructive, showing how these types of requests are rooted in violently enforced hierarchies around labor and compensation.
In February, during San Francisco’s frantic Beer Week, Iris received an email from an employee at Temescal Brewing in Oakland inviting her to speak on a panel for their “Continued Conversations” series focused on diversity and inclusion in the craft beer industry. The panel would have corresponded with the release of a collaboration brew with The Good Hop Bar and Bottle Shop, also located in Oakland.
In response, Iris requested various details about the panel, including its purpose, demographic representation, target audience, and whether or not her participation would be compensated. Iris, whose hometown is Oakland, told me “If I’m going to be in my hometown of Oakland, I want to go to my hometown.” The panel could have been an opportunity for her to share her experiences with her community. “I have a community to respond to. I don’t have a lot of free time so if I’m spending it in a space, it has to be for the direct benefit of my community, even if it’s in the long haul.”
She ended the email explaining her position:
“I will be transparent and say that I don’t usually attend any of these gatherings/panels because they are usually white-led and white-attended. Change in this industry for me isn’t just about the toxic masculinity it’s about the toxic and fragile whiteness as well. As a woman and mama of color in this industry I’m very protective of my time and energy being that a lot of unpaid emotional labor already goes into my work. Asking for me or anyone that looks like me to participate by default will require us to tap into some of our industry trauma otherwise you’re asking us to give shallow and sugar-coated accounts of our experience in this industry and that in itself is problematic. BIPOC have so much wisdom and knowledge to share that is integral to real change, but we have to approached [sic] from spaces of care and mindfulness.”
One of the organizers of the panel responded to Iris’ questions, stating that the panel would be “majority white female-bodied women” (including one of the owners of The Good Hop, who would act as a moderator), and that participation would be unpaid. She added, “I absolutely respect your time and also hear you in the emotional labor that comes with this.”
Iris responded with the following message:
“Conversations around demands for change include paying women and people of color—esp women of color—to ensure we are not doing free labor of any sorts. Asking women of color who are doubly marginalized to do free work shows there is no change. My time is incredibly scarce and valuable. My experiences aren’t only valid they are my expertise and are resources that would be far more valuable to my community and not as a donation to a predominantly white crowd. I will not be participating.”
Both organizers then responded to Iris’ position by saying that in the future, they would hope to be able to pay the panelists, but that at the time they would not be able to. Iris closed the conversation saying that that was “hard to believe,” and that “while the intentions may be good, [to] be mindful of the harm these panels have caused and may cause to people who look like [her].”
The exchange left Iris feeling unsettled. “Basically, what they’re saying is, if we have a woman of color, and a brown woman, and a brown mother, she has to be financially stable. We don’t want the experience of someone like [me] who lives in affordable housing or has to navigate the expenses and costs and logistics of childcare…There’s just no thought about what it would take for me as a mother to disrupt my family’s day to go and do this for free.”
She was reminded of her previous experiences in the Bay Area craft beer scene. She told me that in the past, she has refrained from attending events focused on inclusion in the industry because they were often not friendly to women of color and specifically, mothers of color.
“It made me sad that none of these gatherings were conducive or welcoming to mothers [or] nursing mothers…Every time I would ask, they would be like ‘It’s gonna be too loud’ or ‘There would be no place for you to nurse.’ There would be no place for me there.”
She also was critical of how panels focused on inclusion often do not include the voices of craft beer workers outside of management. “Where are the dishwashers? Where are the food runners? Where are the entry-level bartenders or keg washers?…They’re also not feeling seen on these panels.”
Iris told me that following the conversation, she hesitated about sharing her experience on her public, craft beer-focused Instagram page, Somebody’s Brewery Mama. But her family and friends encouraged her to speak about what happened publicly. One of her friends told her that she would be surprised to see how many people related and have felt that it isn’t safe to speak up in similar situations.
She eventually posted a video criticizing being asked to perform unpaid emotional labor as a woman, and particularly as a mother, of color. She continued to write and record what amounted to a lesson on equity in the craft beer industry on her Instagram, posting stories, publications, and highlights that quickly began to gain attention. Messages of support poured in. Brienne Allan (@ratmagnet), who last year spearheaded an industry-wide movement against sexism and racism and has since started the Brave Noise collaboration project, shared Iris’ posts, which led to even more attention. There were, indeed, many people in the industry who had gone through similar experiences.
“It was a bittersweet joy. Joy to find your people that you bond with, but then we’re trauma bonding. We’re bonding over some really terrible stuff we go through. It made me realize that women of color experience this worldwide.”
Then the harassment started. Random Instagram users began to send her threatening messages. “Someone commented ‘That’s why your kids are going to either end up in jail or dead’ …and I was destroyed,” Iris said.
When she noticed the organizers of the panel and the owner of Temescal, Sam Gilbert, viewing her Instagram stories, her frustration grew. Gilbert soon emailed Iris with what she called an “empty apology,” which Iris took a screenshot of and posted to her Instagram stories, and later her highlights. In the posts, she tagged both Gilbert and the brewery.
The harassment reached an extreme when one of the owners of The Good Hop sent the following message to Iris’ employer, the Rare Barrel, without ever having spoken to Iris first:
“Hey there, this is kathryn [sic], one of the owners of TGH. Just wanted to make you guys aware that you have an employee trashing Temescal on their social media, and it’s super ugly and not a good look. It’s causing no small amount of discomfort with the Temescal crew who we’re [sic] just trying to put together a well-intentioned and inclusive event. I know it’s none of our business but we just thought you should be aware of it if you’re not already.”
This was when the violence had hit a peak for Iris. “It was a very clear and deliberate act of racism…It’s a classic tactic of any movement. Where do we go? We go for the jugular; we go for the economics. Because if them speaking out is going to affect putting food on the table, paying the bills, they might shut up.”
The Rare Barrel responded to the message saying that the brewery supported Iris and condemned The Good Hop for participating in organizing the panel, as well as for attempting to reprimand and silence Iris by contacting her employer. As a result, the Rare Barrel told The Good Hop that they would no longer be selling to them. The Good Hop ended up temporarily blocking Iris’ account on Instagram.
When I spoke with Iris a couple of weeks after The Good Hop had sent the message to her employer, she was still shaken by the experience. She told me that she began to fear that someone may threaten or harass her while she was at work, and that her coworkers began to accompany her to and from her car. “Everyone knows everyone, and so there are moments that I don’t feel 100% safe,” Iris told me.
In the craft beer world, the word “community” is often thrown around without acknowledging that “community” means different things for different people. I left my conversation with Iris trying to imagine what the ever-so-coveted (and dare I say, profitable) concept of “community” would look like in the craft beer industry if it actually included the safety and well-being of women, mothers, and families of color.
Both Temescal Brewing and The Good Hop seem to pride themselves on their insertion into Oakland’s “community,” which has historically been Black and Brown. But Iris argues that they are “long-distance allies.”
“It’s an insidious racism here [in the Bay Area] because it’s people that have the Black Lives Matters and the pride flag and the Taco Tuesdays…They’re condemning racism and sexism and misogyny on social media, but then they’re complicit in real life. And I think that’s so dangerous.”
“Community” is not the same as advocacy. It’s not the same as donation. It’s not the same as employment. It’s not the same as inclusion. It’s not the same as conversation. It’s not the same as entertainment. I believe that community is, among other things, a group of people that feel they have equal stake in something. For the organizers of the panel, it seems that “community” was, in actuality, an assumed network of overseers with equal stake in maintaining their power as white owners, managers, and directors.
Iris pointed out that it is important for breweries to hold one another accountable, which Rare Barrel promptly did. “They cannot condemn and side-eye all of these injustices and then still sell their beer to bottle shops and still plan collabs with the breweries,” Iris said. But when the Rare Barrel reached out to Sam Gilbert offering mediation and an opportunity for restorative justice, Gilbert stopped replying when Iris began to explain how the situation had harmed her. It seems as though Iris was deliberately pushed out of the “community” at the hands of Temescal’s and The Good Hop’s ownership.
This is particularly important to mention at a moment in craft beer when, although issues of gender inequality are becoming mainstream and mandatory in industry conversations, those conversations are most visibly led by white women. Emphasizing that the violence that she experienced had been at the hands of white women, Iris noted “Yes, I have been a survivor of white male and male aggressors in the industry, but white women have also been my aggressors.”
“…I would love for people like [Brienne] and who have her platform to make it about race. Because it is. It’s not just about gender, and I think that there’s so much power about acknowledging that,” Iris added.
This attempt to maintain power was not only apparent in the backlash against Iris’ posts, but also in The Good Hop’s responses to comments on an Instagram publication about “Black People in Beer” for Black History Month posted shortly after sending the message to Iris’ employer. Referring to Iris’ experience, one commenter asked what the shop was doing for “local biwoc in beer…especially when they speak out against injustices.” The Good Hop replied citing the amount of money they’ve donated to several organizations ($12,000) and mentioned that they have promoted Black- and woman-owned breweries. Later they added:
“*Everyone* behaved poorly in this situation, and as such, *everyone* should take responsibility for their actions, not regurgitate lies from a disgruntled customer and place all the blame on a single entity’s shoulders.”
(I also hope that the irony is not lost on us that, posted shortly before The Good Hop sought to silence Iris for speaking out against unpaid labor in the industry, their first Instagram post for Black History Month was about Peter Hemings, who, enslaved by Thomas Jefferson, became the United States’ first Black brewer.)
We, as people of color, often find ourselves in subordinate positions in the transactional notion of “community” described above because we simply don’t have the same stakes in this society. After all, donees, consumers, and employees do not have the same power as owners and decision-makers.
Community for many people of color is where we grew up, where generations of our families live and have lived for decades, and where we feel we have a responsibility. It’s the places that have raised us. It’s where we’ve weathered storms. It’s the network of people that don’t make us feel threatened or endangered. It’s where we receive care. It’s our refuge.
As soon as she received the request to participate on the panel, Iris looked to her community, which included friends, colleagues, and above all, her family for support. She now feels supported and safe at work because of the steps that Rare Barrel took, including not having her bartend alone due to the threatening messages that she received.
The central role of her family in her life is evident on her Instagram, and she told me that her father, 10-year-old daughter, and partner constantly reminded her of how unjust the situation was. Her daughter called the situation “inappropriate,” “racist,” and “prejudiced.” “Those words hadn’t even come out. I feel like she pulled them out of me almost…I felt a motherly pressure of ‘my kids are watching me’.”
Iris also posted her father’s reaction to seeing her initial video denouncing requests for unpaid labor and explaining the situation. Her father’s response immediately reminded me of the pain that many of us feel when having to tell our parents about the racism that we experience in our everyday lives, especially when we know that they have worked for us not to have to experience it.
Iris said that her father told her, “As an immigrant, did I not pay my dues that now my children are still experiencing these things?…I paid my taxes, I worked 3 jobs, I’ve been discriminated against at work, I’ve been talked to crazy at work, and I took it every time because I felt like I was paying my dues so that my children wouldn’t have my debt, this racial debt.”
As much as the word “intentions” had been thrown around to justify the organizers’ actions towards Iris, she wondered about The Good Hop’s true intentions. “How do you read my posts, see my children’s photos, hear my father’s voice, hear my voice, and your takeaway was to go to my employer? You never cared about the harm that was done.”
Pay us for our Moral Labor
At this point, organizers of these types of events may be (read: should be) wondering what the cost is for our labor.
Well, we should first consider every sense of the word “cost.” What are the economic and emotional repercussions for women of color? What is the monetary value for companies? How much should we charge monetarily and socially? Who should pay, and when?
From an economic perspective, not paying women of color “costs” them anywhere from $400,000 to over $1,100,000 over the course of a 40-year career compared to white men due to gendered wage gaps. Although women of color make less for doing the same work as both white men and white women, women of color perform more emotional labor, including DEI work, which often goes uncompensated, unsupported, and unacknowledged by companies.
As both urban and suburban areas in the United States become increasingly non-white, businesses cannot survive without including people of color in decision-making roles. In fact, companies with more gender and ethnic diversity tend to have higher profitability than those with less diversity. Businesses, especially those in the service industry, also cannot survive without people who are well-versed in so-called “soft skills” and DEI work, which require a great deal of emotional labor. In other words, this work is and has always been valuable, and the workers who disproportionately provide it should be compensated accordingly.
So, how does this translate into pay? If we want to get technical and specific regarding the example of panel participation, we could simply look towards the average salaries in the craft beer industry. The average hourly pay for craft beer employees in the United States was around $22.59 in 2020. Iris mentioned that to participate on the panel, she would have to spend time and money arranging childcare, plan what she would say on the panel, and account for any transportation costs. A fair compensation would likely be no more than $500, a presumably reasonable amount for an event that would accompany a beer release, and for a bottle shop that claims to have given $12,000 to social causes.
Although it is important to financially compensate what has been described as emotional labor, I’d like to argue that moral labor adds a layer of complexity to our desired compensation package as women of color. A particular kind of moral authority is often placed on us in professional settings, and we are credited with having insight that could potentially transform industries without any acknowledgement of the pain we’ve endured to gain that insight.
Companies assume that we know what is “just” because we’ve been on the other side of injustice, and that part of our role at any given company or organization is to voluntarily correct those injustices. This is both dehumanizing and exhausting. As Iris told me, “People kept saying, it’s just beer. For you! I want it to be just beer for me too. I didn’t join the beer industry to be a social justice warrior, but yet here I am.”
In addition to monetary, the compensation for moral labor is itself moral. If we are sharing our experiences of injustice with you, we want you to work to correct those injustices because ultimately, it will never be the responsibility of marginalized people to do so. We want to see you work to correct those injustices as soon as possible and not wait for the next heritage/history/awareness month or the next tragedy committed against people of color to do so.
It is erroneous to believe that we do moral labor for white people – to teach them, to share with them, or to enlighten them – when in reality we are often doing it for the survival of our communities. Both monetary and moral compensation contribute to that survival.
I’m reminded of something that Iris said: “I’m empowered by my elders, and my ancestors, and my family who literally fled civil wars and came to a country they knew nothing about, with nothing in their pocket, no connections, networking, nothing. No inheritance. We don’t know that, we don’t come from that. And they’re telling me that what I’m doing is right, and that they’re proud of me, and to keep going.”
But also: “I don’t want your praises. I can’t take that to the bank.”
Iris with her two daughters.