If you’ve ever spent time around people blessed with a particular combination of self-absorbtion and privilege, this story, from Indy Week, about a Duke administrator getting two campus baristas fired for daring to listen to rap music while on the job won’t really shock you. It will make you mad as hell, though.
The story, which Indy Week pieced together through interviews with the two former baristas and a recorded conversation between them and an HR rep, goes like this: Duke vice president of student affairs Larry Moneta walked into Joe Van Gogh, a local coffee shop with a Duke campus location, to order his customary tea and vegan muffin. While waiting in line, he was horrified to hear Young Dolph’s “Get Paid” playing over the store’s sound system.
He immediately told employee who was ringing up his order, Britni Brown, a black woman, that he found the song to be offensive. She says she apologized and shut the song off before offering to give Moneta his items free of charge. Moneta insisted that she charge him, and another barista who was there, Kevin Simmons, recalled the scene getting testy:
While Brown was working the register, Kevin Simmons, the other barista on duty, was busy making drinks. Simmons had worked there for three months and was up for his ninety-day review the next week. While pulling shots of espresso, he noticed a man who was upset with Brown.
“Harassing is definitely the word I would use,” Simmons says. “He was verbally harassing her.”
Simmons did not hear what Moneta or Brown said specifically, but he noticed Brown hastily turning off the music and apologizing profusely. Shortly afterward, Moneta left the shop.
Let’s stop here and acknowledge that many people in the world may find it unpleasant to listen a Young Dolph song while trying to get tea and a muffin. That’s fine! Maybe Young Dolph isn’t your thing. Getting annoyed at being exposed to music you don’t like doesn’t really make you a bad person. Asking for the music to be stopped on your behalf may make you a self-centered person, perhaps a bit of a dick, but whatever. If you’re comfortable making that kind of minor scene in a public place, knock yourself out.
What makes Moneta a truly miserable fucking piece of shit is not that he objected to the music of Young Dolph, but that he found the minor inconvenience of being exposed to a few bars of a vulgar rap song so unacceptable that he went and tattled on Simmons and Brown to the school’s director of dining services and got them fired. That’s what Joe Van Gogh’s HR rep told the two former baristas when she axed them:
On Monday morning, Brown and Simmons were called into Joe Van Gogh’s Hillsborough office and asked to resign. The INDY obtained an audio recording of that meeting.
At that meeting, Amanda Wiley from Joe Van Gogh’s human resources department told them that they could no longer work at Joe Van Gogh.
“We had gotten a call from Robert Coffey of Duke saying that the VP of the university had come into the shop and that there was vulgar music playing,” Wiley said, according to the recording. “Joe Van Gogh is contracted by Duke University, so we essentially work for them. And they can shut us down at any point.”
Wiley cleared her throat. “Duke University has instructed us to terminate the employees that were working that day,” she said.
Look, man. Life is essentially a series of inconveniences. Everywhere you go there are things that annoy you and piss you off and sometimes you wish that you could just punish someone for allowing such things to happen to you. Last night I couldn’t fall asleep because someone had left a dog outside somewhere near my window and it wouldn’t stop bark bark bark barking. I was mad! Somewhere in the worst part of my brain I thought something like, “I’d like to put that dog in the trash!” But I didn’t, because that would have been both impractical and cruel, and eventually I fell asleep.
This world becomes more livable not through the elimination of inconveniences, but through our ability to deal with those inconveniences with some amount of grace. What separates ghouls like Moneta from the rest of us is not the fact that we never get steamed about a slight or annoyance, but that we don’t move through the world believing that everything should function according to our needs. We’re all occasionally guilty of believing the world revolves around us, but what Moneta did when he left that coffee shop is insist that’s the way it should be. Someone had exposed him to a few minutes of displeasure, and the world wouldn’t be set right until they were punished for it.
This is not a small thing! It’s a vicious way to live, and it’s how life gets harder for everyone else who is not as empowered. People whom Moneta has no sympathy for when they find themselves offended by less trivial injustices in the world. Even worse, he can get away with acting this way without ever having to take responsibility for his own actions. Here’s how Moneta explained himself to the Duke Chronicle:
“The employees who chose to play the song in a business establishment on the Duke campus made a poor decision which was conveyed to the JVG management,” Moneta wrote “How they responded to the employees’ behavior was solely at their discretion.”
Here’s a man telling you that nothing should ever be allowed to upset him, and that nothing is ever his fault. He can fuck off.
Update (3:43 p.m. ET): A group of student protestors marched into Moneta’s office and made him listen to “Get Paid.” Please enjoy this delightfully awkward video: