A Startling Look at Empathy at One of Asheville’s Wokest Coffee Shops

There’s a popular local coffee chain here in Asheville that I’m sure would like to describe its ethos as socially conscious. I’ve always thought a more apt descriptor of their brand is “performatively woke,” which at first I thought might just be my cynical,  contrarian nature at play, but then a local publication published an expose at what goes on behind the scenes at said shop, and let’s just say that they ain’t as woke as they portray themselves, which I think is emblematic of Asheville as a whole. 

Before I continue, I like Asheville. It’s 100% the most accepting place I’ve ever lived. But Asheville is also extraordinarily self-congratulatory about their inclusiveness, which I think should be more interrogated. Two things could be true at once, you know? I also don’t hate said local coffee chain. It’s not my favorite coffee shop to work at (shoutout to Daymoon, which is also where this cover photo is from, so as not to shame the guilty). Still, I end up there enough and thoroughly enjoy their baked goods—there’s a reason I’m talking about them in vagaries and not calling them out by name! 

Anyway, I was in said coffee shop recently doing some writing before a day trip to Old Fort and Black Moutain with some friends, and simultaneously observing the people around me because if you happen to be a cynical contrarian like myself, this place is prime people watching. Many characters caught my eye, but the one who annoyed me the most was a girl with faded neon pink hair, leopard leggings, and an oversized tee shirt that read “Support Trans Youth.” 

She didn’t annoy because of her hair or leggings. Or her tee shirt. Did the cynical part of me want to think it was performative? Yes, but it’s also a solid cause, especially in today’s political climate where trans high school students, a very small, very vulnerable minority, are being consistently targetted by Republican politicians, Republican pundits, and Tucker Carlson, a man who went to a $69,650 a year boarding school, yet, has convinced too many Americans he’s just a man of the people punching up instead of the consistent punching down he does towards these kids. LGBTQ youth are also overrepresented amongst young people experiencing homelessness, which increases their chances of being the victims of violent crimes (which they’re already statistically victimized by more than their straight counterparts). Ya know what, I thought to myself, performative or not, good for her. I was annoyed because she took up three stools at a long table, one with herself (fine), but an additional two with a backpack and a large purse made out of the same material as your high-school class stoner’s favorite sweatshirts. She wasn’t saving them for anyone, either. We were both there for over an hour, and she remained three stools deep while other patrons milled about trying to find seats during the Sunday morning rush. 

A homeless woman came in right before I left, ordered a glass of water, and then went to use the bathroom. Within seconds of the bathroom door closing, the girl in the “Support Trans Youths” tee shirt got up from her three stools, approached the counter, and said, not-unloudly to the barista, “Umm, there’s a homeless woman in your bathroom right now.” 

It’s all just so rich.

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