For the next few months I am celebrating the “Summer of Rum.” I’ve been taking a break from my usual gin martinis and bourbon based drinks to rediscover some classic rum cocktails and enjoy the range of flavours this spirit offers. Accordingly, I’ve been working through a few different rums, making drinks, preparing Instagram posts, many of which include different expressions of the rum brand Plantation.
In the midst of this, I got a call from someone on their team letting me know that there are plans in place for change to the brand due to undertones of racism that the name evokes, especially in the United States. I heard that some bars were even boycotting it. This is a brand with a great reputation, so, naturally, I was surprised.
My first reaction was anger and upset. But not for the right reasons. As a loyal consumer I was sad to see one of my favorite spirits potentially changing. As a friend of the brand and its owner and master blender, Alexandre Gabriel, I felt defensive on its behalf, perceiving it as people making unfair assumptions about intentions or meaning. And then I took a breath and thought about things in a less emotionally reactionary way.
Like a lot of people, I’ve been thinking about race lately. I’ve been talking a lot about it with my partner, specifically about how racism manifests in the US versus France. (He’s French. I’m American. We’re both white.) I just finished reading White Fragility, which helped me reexamine how I view race, racism, etc. So, I spend a lot of time wondering what I can do to make things better, move in a positive direction personally. And I am also wondering about what my responsibilities are outside of just myself.
I haven’t talked about it here because it didn’t really seem to be the right platform. I was afraid of coming across as opportunistic, as if I were just generating content for the clicks and not the cause. I don’t know the perfect solution or the perfect actions to take. But, I do know that keeping the dialogue going is necessary in order to try and find any solutions and positive actions. So, I’m talking about it. I’m keeping the conversation in play.
And that means instead of being bothered by any Plantation brand evolution, I embrace it. I am very proud to be a loyal customer of a spirits house that is proactively changing with the times.
Yesterday’s press release sums up the state of affairs: “As the dialogue on racial equality continues globally, we understand the hurtful connotation the word plantation can evoke to some people, especially in its association with much graver images and dark realities of the past,” said Alexandre Gabriel. “We look to grow in our understanding of these difficult issues and while we don’t currently have all the details of what our brand name evolution will involve, we want to let everyone know that we are working to make fitting changes.”
I think there’s an appropriate message here. Don’t be afraid or hateful of a different packaging, especially when what’s inside is the same. Me? I’ll keep thinking about what kind of positive actions I can take to become more racially awoke while I continue to drink this delicious rum, in whatever way the packaging evolves. And I hope you do, too.