The Knot, WeddingWire, and Pinterest are seeking to limit content on their websites that promotes Southern plantations as a wedding venue. “Weddings should be a symbol of love and unity. Plantations represent none of those things,” declared a Pinterest spokesman, calling the glamorization of these estates a “disrespectful practice.” Pinterest visitors who search for “plantation weddings” or similar terms will now be warned that some results may violate the site’s policies, de facto making plantations the equivalent of pornography.
The organization behind this growing movement, Color of Change, indicts vendors for using words like “breathtaking” to describe plantations. “Black people don’t have happy memories of the antebellum period and plantations, where our ancestors were beaten and tortured,” said senior campaign director Jade Magnus Ogunnaike. “It’s important the reality of what happened in these spaces is present, versus a romanticization of human rights abuses.”
Strange — are there actually any African Americans who have memories of the antebellum period, given that it ended 160 years ago? Indeed, I wonder how many black Americans even have a deceased grandparent who could have had a memory of antebellum America.
This is not to say there isn’t something a bit discomforting about vendors labeling slave cabins on these properties as evoking an “elaborate past,” as if blacks were happy, willing participants in a fanciful world of white gentry as portrayed in “Gone with the Wind.” All the same, targeting Southern wedding venues for bigotry reflects yet another manifestation of a purification of our culture and history.
In its zealous desire to right previous wrongs, this goes too far in the other direction, and in the process, undermines the historical fabric of our nation. It also reflects the vulnerability of American businesses to the whims of leftist protest movements.
Plantations Are Beautiful and No Longer Used for Slavery
The underlying premise of the anti-plantation movement is that Southern plantations cannot be romanticized. Surely, we do not want to pretend these places don’t have a violent, racist past. We also don’t need to police their repurposing. Many of them, even their detractors must admit, are beautiful, both in reference to their natural surroundings and their architecture. Is it not appropriate to celebrate momentous occasions in beautiful places?
If such locales have tragic histories, this is all the more reason to reimagine them in ways that both recognize and overcome that past. An example of this occurred in December, when a number of black medical students posed for a photo at a former slave plantation, a site some of them called “holy.” Heck, why not celebrate their graduation there? Now, that’s poetic justice.
We might also remember that many of the most celebrated and visited historical sites in our country are Southern manors built and worked by slaves: Mount Vernon (itself a wedding venue), Monticello (another wedding venue), and Montpelier (also a wedding venue) among them. Will we need Google to warn us that searching for such places — or even worse, planning a vacation to visit them — are microaggressive acts, as if we are unable to contemplate both the good and bad of such places?
Moreover, blacks, both free and slave, provided the bulk of labor that built the White House, the U.S. Capitol, and other early government buildings. All of these places, despite their histories, are objectively beautiful. Because of the tragedies that transpired therin, they powerfully communicate how far America has come.
It’s also not as if Dixie estates were the only sites where acts of brutality were committed by one group of Americans against another. Violence against blacks and other disenfranchised groups have occurred across our nation’s landscape, many in popular and well-trod locales, North and South, East and West.
Moreover, the entire country was once the land of American Indians, and a good deal of it deceptively or violently taken from them. Catholics in the 19th century suffered violent assaults at the hands of anti-papist mobs on the streets of Boston, Philadelphia, and New York. The only way to avoid offending anyone would be to stop celebrating anything, anywhere, at any time.
Social Justice Warriors Aren’t the History Police
This gets to the broader dilemma with our zeitgeist, which combines woke deconstructionism with a modern version of damnatio memoriae, or “condemnation of memory,” an ancient Roman practice whereby persons vilified by the state were erased from public memory. The modern application of this practice is also redolent of any of those ancient heresies that are uncomfortable with the complicated reality that vice and virtue, spiritual and material, co-exist within the human experience.
Simply by virtue of one’s social justice warrior credentials and alleged victimhood status, these people deputize themselves the cultural police of our history, our language, and now apparently our wedding venues. Their appetites will not be satisfied until all things and persons associated with injustice, real or imagined, are expunged from public experience and memory. William F. Buckley’s popularization of Eric Voegelin’s warning is apt: “Don’t immanentize the eschaton!”
Protest movements that perceive victimization and microaggression under every rock also wreak havoc on our country’s economy. A Pinterest representative, for example, announced that the website is working on de-indexing Google searches for “plantation wedding.” In December, a coalition of Alabama activists protested a “Plantation Christmas” event held at the Belle Mont Mansion near Tuscumbia, Alabama, because it memorialized “white supremacist” celebrations of Christmas. So all the people who work at these historic plantations, regardless of their race, sex, or income, must suffer the economic consequences of what feelings their employer’s history might provoke.
This Generation Isn’t Morally Superior to Others
Nor do the sins of our forefathers nullify their many acts of virtue or the great political and cultural gifts they bestowed upon future generations. Indeed, it is the Christian character of America that has allowed us to recognize and seek to rectify our past errors. How many of the great nations of human history have so actively beat their breasts over their sins, both against their own citizens and the peoples of the world? Only a country with a conscience — in our case informed by the Christian beliefs of our ancestors — would bother to engage in the kinds of self-criticism and atonement visible in American society.
Moreover, are the perpetrators of our historical-cultural cleansing so naive to think their children and grandchildren won’t do the same thing to them, who have fostered and encouraged a paradigm of national seppuku? What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, and one would have to be a clinical narcissist to think future generations won’t find us at fault for any number of things. Chronological snobbery, as C.S. Lewis called our tendency to view our own age as superior to others, is a dark chasm ending in our own destruction.
Yes, it’s true that some historical artifacts across America’s landscape are honored in ways that belittle or demean our fellow countrymen. Plantations used for bourgeois ceremonies with language that obscures or even glorifies the estates’ dark past are one example. Yet self-righteous assaults on these places and the many ways they are used will not bring restorative justice. And in the process, these attacks have unintended economic consequences on working-class Americans.
I’d suggest a far better solution for prospective newlyweds, regardless of race or ethnicity, would be to get married where they should: in a church. Then they could celebrate their wedding reception at a Southern manor and have a hell of a good time. That seems far more justified than puritannical policing of plantations.