I usually don’t like to talk about my professional life on my blog because it’s not very salacious, but given recent events I have a lot of shit on my mind.
I work in the spirits industry (and, by extension, the hospitality industry). It’s a tight knit community in the Bay Area. With the recent protests and riots, the issue of Black Lives Matter has come to the forefront of the conversations in our community. Given the compounding circumstances of the pandemic, people are more exposed to the message and the urgency of the BLM movement. That’s a good thing! We are now witnessing the biggest civil rights movements in American history.
But this is a rant. There are many reasons why this is a rant. I almost can’t even organize my thoughts intelligently because I’m so angry right now.
I know that today might be the first day that many people have decided that they want to be anti-racist. That’s great for them. However, as someone who has been aware of these issues and been to these protests and participated in activism in the racial justice realm, I am incredibly frustrated. We all know how easy it is for people to post on social media. A lot of people think that they are going above and beyond by going to these protests (although I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of people are going just because they’re lonely and bored, but, hey, I’m a cynic). A lot of people think that going to a protest is what they need to do in order to take a stand against racism and police brutality. I am here to say: that is not enough.
Protests are for young people and the disenfranchised. Protests are how the powerless people express their power. However, I am not powerless, nor are any of my professional peers powerless. Yet when I spent time this week talking to people in my professional realm about anti-racist solutions, no one wanted to do anything. Yeah, I get it, anti-police brutality is the hot topic in anti-racist circles right now. But I don’t have any power over the police or government policy and budgets that relate to the police. Nor do any of my peers. Yes, we might feel powerless to impact the conversation of anti-police brutality outside of concerted efforts to call our elected officials, sign petitions and donate to bail funds. But this movement doesn’t stop at ending police brutality. It begins at ending police brutality.
Fine, sure, if it’s your first day not being racist, this is probably all pretty overwhelming. But, fuck, why am I talking to people who didn’t know that all this was going on? Honestly, I’m shocked that anyone I know or come in contact with didn’t know about this. We live in the Bay Area! We live in California! I remember the Rodney King riots. Oscar Grant was murdered only 11 years ago. Black Lives Matter protests have been happening across the nation for the past decade. Where the fuck were these people? I guess they were at work doing other things, but, fuck. Having conversations with people about BLM has made me wonder – do these people not have any black friends? It’s super awkward to be around people who need to have their white, anti-racist, day one tears acknowledged and validated. That is not the point of all of this! I am way past the point where I can even cater to or indulge those tears. Because it’s your fucking fault if you didn’t know this shit was going on in the world you live in. It’s your fault you didn’t look around you. It’s your fault you haven’t been paying attention. So sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up.
I guess it’s not incredibly wild to fathom that people who haven’t been involved in anti-racism would bilk at my ideas for the spirits and hospitality industry. I’ve been trying to garner support for any of my ideas, which are as follows:
- Kentucky based whiskey companies need to stand in solidarity with protesters fighting for justice for Breonna Taylor and David McAtee. They were murdered in Louisville, a city that is known as the hub of the bourbon trail. Kentucky based whiskey companies need to be held accountable for acting to end racism in their backyard. They need to donate money to bail funds, to Black Lives Matter, or the NAACP. Anything less than a pro-black organization is pandering. I think it would be great for these companies to donate 1% of their 2019 profits to these causes. Brown Forman, the parent company of Jack Daniels and owner of other Kentucky whiskey brands, made $835 million last year. Brown Forman is also the #4 donor to Rand Paul through the course of his career as a senator. As of yesterday, Rand Paul was blocking an anti-lynching bill in the senate. That is unacceptable. Kentucky is a Southern state, and when I visited the distilleries in Kentucky I was shocked by how overwhelmingly white those businesses are. Kentucky based whiskey companies need to take a stand, they need to send a message that they are anti-racist by putting their money where their mouth is. Hopefully their hiring processes will follow suit.
- Reparations. That’s right. I said it. Reparations. As it pertains to the hospitality industry, we need to offer reparations to workers in this industry who are at the most risk of physical harm, who are low wage workers, and who are typically passed over for promotions. This is includes bouncers, dish washers, and fast food workers. And, yes, we need reparations! I believe in reparations for all black Americans, but giving out money is a tricky and overwhelming process, so there is where I’ve decided to start. I see people donating money to help the small businesses that were looted and harmed during the protests. It is tragic that this happened to the small businesses. But what about the workers? What about the people who can’t even open businesses on their own? What about people who have worked at these restaurants for years, currently can’t work because of the shut down, are facing a loss of income when the unemployment bonus dries up, and are kept at the back or in the most dangerous parts of these businesses? Where’s the money for them? Where’s the money acknowledging that their work is valued by the community? Reparations are the only way we can ask for forgiveness from the black community and truly heal.
- A zoom panel that addresses black issues in the industry. An all black panel. Specifically for black workers in the industry. Let’s give them a space to talk about what impacts their work, what they need, and how things should change. I don’t need to see another white-pandering, anti-racist zoom panel that neatly spells out the ABCs of how not to be racist to white people. Elevate black voices. Give them a platform to talk about themselves, not about white people. I can think of 10 people off the top of my head who would have amazing things to say, whose voices I want to hear.
- A mentorship program that matches black workers with distillers, bar owners, bar managers, and brand ambassadors to encourage career growth.
I am putting these ideas out there, and I am super frustrated that within the last week of talking about these things, no one wants to collaborate or use any of these ideas. At one point, someone told me that they don’t want to do this because they’re not sure if it’s what the black community wants. Which flabbergasted me because I know that they weren’t in touch with the black community. Hate to say it, but I was the closest they were going to get to the black community on that call. It’s also ridiculous to think that black people should be seeking out organizations and making demands of them at a time like this. If we want to help the black community but aren’t directly involved with them, then we have to try. We have to have ideas. We have to make bold moves. Yeah, we risk the black community not wanting those resources, but so what? It’s better than doing nothing at all.
This is all to say that allyship is fucking exhausting. Not nearly as exhausting as being a black person in this industry. I just wanted to share with all seven of my readers that while this might feel like a historic moment, behind close doors I as a white passing woman can’t even get my white colleagues to show solidarity. So I’m in a very cynical mood, because we all love to post about ways the make things better. But I have watched people not be accountable all week long. It is making me so fucking angry to see this movement exploited for clout, as usual.
I support black power. For me, Black Lives Matter doesn’t go far enough. I support black people in positions of power in every industry, but especially mine. I have never had a black boss in this industry, and I have had shockingly few black coworkers. I don’t expect any black person to tell me what they need if they don’t want to. The burden is on me to fix this system, and if I get it right, cool. And if I get it wrong, I’ll try harder next time.