This February, during Black History Month, Starbucks is proud to celebrate the unique stories of our Black partners. We honor them and we see them, and we encourage you to see them too. Move past the stereotypes, the assumptions, the misperceptions, the things you think you may know, the skin color. And get to know them as individuals. Learn the breadth and depth of their distinct lives.
At some point, Samantha Haviser-Iddings usually gets the question: “So, what are you?”
She understands. She’s mixed. Not quite white enough to be white. Not quite black enough to be Black.
“I joke that I’ve been able to travel the world and blend in because everyone thinks I’m half a local,” Iddings says.
Iddings, 33, was born and raised in Curaçao, spending 18 years on the southern Caribbean island before moving to Florida to go to college.
Her mother is “Yu di Kursou” – literally, “a child of Curaçao” – an afro-Caribbean educator with deep roots on the island and ancestors from West Africa. Her father, a white archaeologist who has written several books on the African diaspora, is originally from Florida but has spent over half his life in the Caribbean.
“My parents, they were just very distinct people, and sometimes they just literally could not see the world the same way,” Iddings says. “But they both had these really unique strengths. My dad is an accomplished academic and intensely cerebral hippie, so the world I shared with him was rooted in philosophical discourse and sociological observations. My mom’s strength is in her resilience and her devotion to caring for others. Rising from a difficult childhood to start her own daycare and become one of the top school directors in the country, my mom’s world was rooted in entrepreneurial hustle and community.
“I think I got the very best of two very big worlds. At times, I thought it may have been easier if they were more alike, but ultimately it made for a powerful childhood and made me attuned to understanding that people always have context.”
Even the way she communicated with her family was unique. She talked to her dad in English and to her mom in Papiamentu, a local Creole language.
Curaçao itself is a mosaic of cultures. The majority of the population is of African descent; the island was used long ago as a holding ground for enslaved people shipped over from West Africa, a stopover before they came to the Americas.
But many other people there claim ties to Europe (it’s still a Dutch colony), Latin America (it’s only 40 miles from the Venezuelan coast), other Caribbean islands and even the Middle East and Asia. The island has big Roman Catholic, Jewish, Hindu and Muslim populations.
After college, Iddings moved to Washington, D.C. and worked in education. Then, she began work in international development and traveled the world – the Philippines, Indonesia and Botswana. She moved to London to get her master’s degree and traveled some more – Uganda and Kenya. She also spent three months in Colombia, where she learned about the work Starbucks was doing to help small local coffee farmers increase their yields.
She moved to Seattle four years ago, got married and joined Starbucks, where she now works as a senior project manager in store development and is a leader with the Starbucks Black Partner Network.
Iddings sees her cultural and social ambiguity as a strength, and feels like her family and island background help her connect with all sorts of different people. She speaks passionately and confidently about her role as a hub and a drifter between worlds, comfortable deciphering arguments between loved ones fighting in different languages (figuratively and literally) or walking into a rural bar in the U.S. and engaging people in conversations about the definition of the word “mulatto.”
She chooses to see herself as an individual, not belonging to a group or a place, and chooses to see others the same way. It’s hard work, though, she says; stripping away stereotypes, assumptions and bias isn’t easy, and it takes a lot of willpower to resist the urge to judge.
“I think being able to share these stories, as individuals, it just opens us up to all these connection points,” Iddings says. “The more that we can share stories, the more that we can see the kind of richness that different people’s perspectives come from. It makes it so much harder to group everybody, to stereotype, to assume. Especially right now, it almost feels like we’re just kind of bunkering down, and everyone’s really scared to just talk and connect and to ask an awkward question and work through it.
“I belong with individuals,” Iddings says. “You can find a lot of other individuals, and you will have had amazing friendships with people from all kinds of backgrounds because of it.”