“As the aunties would say,” reads an Instagram post from Diaspora Co., “what does your sexuality have to do with selling spices?” The company – which sells beautiful spices while educating consumers about social justice and the lasting impact of colonialism – announced earlier this week that it proudly sees itself as a ‘queer business’ and wanted to explain what that means to the people who work there.
“A queer business is simply a space within the current racist, transphobic, and white supremacist system that allows those who fall outside of the norm to actually come to work as their whole selves,” Eve, a Diaspora Co. staffer, wrote in a company blog post. “Being a part of a queer business for me is being a part of a group of individuals who are consistently open to recognizing their power, privilege, role within the community, and ability to redirect the systems they are a part of. Queerness and business are like oil and water, one is rooted in anti-capitalism while one is capitalism itself. They cannot mix, however they can exist next to each other in the same space.”
Defying norms has always been a part of the Diaspora Co. business plan. The desire for spices was a motivating factor in the European colonization and exploitation of India, Indonesia, and elsewhere around the globe. Even now, not only do narratives around the “exotic” nature of these products continue, but the farmers who actually grow and harvest the product often see little return for their work, while middle-men corporations absorb a larger share of the profits. Four years ago, the company was founded to try a different approach.
“Diaspora Co. was founded in late 2017 to create a radically new, and equitable vision of the spice trade, decolonizing a commodity back into a seasonal crop, and a broken system into an equal exchange,” says a company statement. “Beyond highlighting gorgeous, indigenous spice varieties, it’s also about creating a business for us, by us. Complicating and deepening what “Made in India” means, and how we tell our own stories of freedom, struggle, and diaspora through food.”
The range now includes an array of spices, all sourced from small, multi-generational family farms in India and Sri Lanka that follow organic practices. In addition to jars of chilis, cloves, ginger, and other spices, the company collaborates with other indie, BIPOC-led brands to create sauces, teas, and seasonings.
But even as they pay farmers an average rate of six times higher than other spice brokers and attempt to use their platform for positive change, Diaspora’s staffers acknowledge that, ultimately, they’re still a company functioning within a marketplace. The true long-term vision of their queer business is a more radical societal shift.
“And as we’ve learned from our queer elders, specifically Black queer and trans visionaries and feminists, we know that queerness is rooted in anti-capitalism and beliefs of abundance,” writes Diaspora wholesale manager Namita. “So really, the true sense of being a queer business is holding this dissonance and these conflicts while still doing our best to temporarily work within the systems as we aim to dismantle and abolish them.”