On Monday, The Glow Up’s very smart brotha Damon Young made the proposition that perhaps we should just burn down the remaining plantations in America—you know, those sites of the American holocaust that some seem intent on romanticizing as charming and picturesque—hosting tours, reunions and most often, weddings at these problematic venues.
And celebrities have done their part to promote the trend: in 1999, Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Philippe wed at the Old Wide Awake Plantation in Charleston, S.C. Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds also chose Charleston, hosting their 2012 nuptials at the Boone Hall Plantation. And as recently as October of this year, Justin and Hailey Bieber staged their second wedding at the plantation-turned-luxury resort (you know, because spas and former slave quarters go hand-in-hand) the Montage Palmetto Bluff, an estate once owned by a Confederate leader, also in South Carolina.
While we agree with Damon that the only constructive use for plantations is as an educational tool on the legacy of chattel slavery, we have been slightly encouraged the past few weeks, as an increasing number of media and social media sites have committed to ending the promotion of plantations, thanks to our friends at Color Of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization.
As BuzzFeed News reported earlier this month, the organization began its anti-plantation campaign with a letter to executives at The Knot Worldwide, producer of popular bridal magazine The Knot. The letter read, in part: “The decision to glorify plantations as nostalgic sites of celebration is not an empowering one for the Black women and justice-minded people who use your site.” Pinterest, the social media platform popular among prospective brides and advertisers alike for its vision board-like platform, received a similar letter.
“Plantations are physical reminders of one of the most horrific human rights abuses the world has ever seen,” the letter continued. “The wedding industry routinely denies the violent conditions Black people faced under chattel slavery by promoting plantations as romantic places to marry.”
We won’t even get into what plantations represent when we look at the history of black marriage in America (“jumping the broom,” anyone?), but apparently, many in the industry are listening. Since Color of Change’s campaign launched, Pinterest, Zola, The Knot, Brides.com, and Martha Stewart, all leaders in the wedding industrial complex, have committed to amending their coverage and promotion of plantations as wedding venues. According to a release from Color of Change, the following commitments have thus far been made (quoted verbatim):
- Pinterest agreed to implement enforcement guidelines for ad policies, including adding the following terms to the ads blocklist: “plantation”; “plantations”; “plantation wedding”; “plantation weddings”; “wedding on plantation”; “weddings on plantation.” Under their existing content curation guidelines, Pinterest will add the following terms to their sensitive terms list, which will stop autocompletes, search recommendations, email notifications, and SEO: “plantation(s)”; “plantation wedding(s)”; “wedding(s) on plantation.”
- The Knot Worldwide is updating its guidelines to include a set of strict venue description copy guidelines that prohibit all venues from using words that glorify or romanticize any past history of slavery. Vendors that do not adhere to the guidelines will be removed from their sites. The Knot Worldwide has agreed to no longer feature plantation venues in editorial content, and have removed users’ ability to search for “plantation weddings” within editorial content.
- Zola, after initially stating plantation weddings did not violate the platform’s nondiscrimination policy, is re-evaluating all advertised venues and agreed to not allow vendors to list who are plantations.
- Martha Stewart Weddings has made the decision to no longer feature any editorial content featuring plantations, continue to no longer accept ad revenue from plantation venues, and is making respectful edits of past plantation wedding content.
- Brides.com has removed all plantation related content and has scheduled a meeting with Color Of Change to develop a stronger policy.
As we know, the centuries-long industry of chattel slavery was as much an issue of economics as it was an issue of racism, as the use of racially-based slave labor made much of America’s early growth possible with minimal effort from its slaveholders (the same is true for South America and the Caribbean). It only seems fitting that plantations should not be allowed to continue profiting off of that history as they literally whitewash their brutal legacies with romantic ads and idyllic marketing aimed at starry-eyed lovers.
“Pinterest, Zola, The Knot, Martha Stewart, and Brides have taken a critical first step in acknowledging the offensive practice of romanticizing plantations and engaging in a dialogue with Color Of Change to create long-term change,” read a statement issued by Color Of Change Vice President Arisha Hatch. “Color Of Change’s goal is to create a shift in our culture so that the commodification of these sacred spaces—and the white-washing of our history—is no longer socially acceptable. The wedding industry has made hundreds of millions of dollars in profits promoting plantations as romantic places to marry, and in doing so, has denied the violent conditions Black people faced under chattel slavery.
“While Color Of Change is encouraged by these companies’ commitments to revising their policies, success will be determined by the final guidelines they produce,” Hatch continued. “In order to achieve long-term change, we hope to see each platform approach their vendor, editorial, and advertising policies with an eye toward social responsibility, rather than addressing a public relations crisis.”
Meanwhile, as reported by People, last Saturday, another group put their own spin on the painful legacy of plantations. In a nod to the oft-used phrase “we are our ancestors’ wildest dreams,” a group of 15 medical students from Tulane University, all members of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), posed in their white coats in front of former slave quarters at the Whitney Plantation—now a museum dedicated to educating the public on the history of chattel slavery in Louisiana and the lives of enslaved people. In a subsequent photo, the group proudly holds their fists aloft in the black power tribute.
The photoshoot, intended to illustrate the “connection between America’s past and America’s present,” was the idea of Dr. Russell Ledet, who People reports recently completed his Ph.D. and MBA, and is now working towards his MD. Ledet, who initially visited the Whitney Plantation with his eldest daughter, told the magazine: “My 8-year-old daughter was like, ‘Dad, it means a lot to be a black doctor in America. If you think about where we started…we made it pretty far.’
“[The photo] an illustration of our ancestral resiliency,” he later explained. “We could’ve just failed and said, ‘We don’t have it in us,’ but we’re here. We’re gonna all be MDs and we gonna all be MDs in our brown skin.”
One of the participants, Ledet’s classmate Sydney Labat, also reflected on the experience for People.
“Initially, I didn’t understand what was going on because the emotions rushed through me,” she recalled. “I started to cry thinking about [how] these people who were descendants of had the harshest life and the harshest conditions and wanted nothing but better for themselves and better for their children.”
Though currently only comments of praise can be seen in response to the photos on social media, People reports that the responses to the images have been mixed.
“No matter how you feel about it, it’s a visceral reaction to ‘Here is what our country essentially started with and here’s how far we come,’” said Labat.
“The hope of the image is that people understand we’re trying. No matter what the system was initially set up for, we’re trying to go against that grain,” Ledet explained. “There are still systemic issues that prevent [the] full flourishing of all people in America.”
“I kinda imagined this ancestral conversation where our ancestors looked down on us from heaven and said, ‘Look at our babies, they doing so well. I hope they’re happy, I’m so glad they came to see us,’” he added. “We literally are what no one thought we could ever be.”