The Wine Industry, Violence, Words and Emails…Oh My
Almost a week ago I published a post here entitled, “Is the Wine Industry Racists?” It received a good deal of interest, a number of thoughtful comments, and a number of shares, links, etc. Not surprising.
There were a number of folks that liked my perspective (“racism” may in fact not be the reason African-Americans are underrepresented in the industry and among the applicant pool for wine industry jobs) and a number who thought I was off-base. As it should be.
I also received emails in response. Anonymous emails. I’ve waited a while. I’ve read and re-read and considered these emails before commenting or writing about them. Now I’m ready.
See if you can figure out why the emails came in an anonymous fashion:
“You fucking bigoted racist! You are the problem. You have no idea how your post hurts people of color. How are you an expert on anything, even racism in the wine industry. Do your clients know you are a white supremist?” (SIC)
This is my email letting you know that I’ll never read your blog ever again. I will not enable racists within the wine industry. The very idea that BIPOC are left out of the wine industry for any reason other than racism is the dumbest thing anyone has ever said on this topic. Of course it’s racism and you don’t know better because you are among those leading the charge. Go to hell and get out of wine. (SIC)
Dear Tom: I’m sure you don’t understand what kind of impact this post has on people. Let me explain. You deny racism exists at all. This is exactly the kind of privileged attitude that makes Black men and women unwilling to work in the wine industry. It’s the kind of attitude that makes them feel unsafe by having to stare down people they know hate them. If the wine industry ever expects to have a diverse workforce it must be welcoming. it can’t include people like you who so willingly violate the safety of others.”
All of these letters were anonymous and all of them went further. To paraphrase all three letters, it is racists to examine a question with reason….Tom is racist to examine the question with reason…it is unsafe and borders on violence to examine a question with reason.
Probably the most relevant and most interesting thing about these three anonymous emails is that they were not placed in the comment section of the post and they were all anonymous. There are only two reasons for sending an anonymous email: 1) you are ashamed of what you are saying or 2) you believe being identified as the author of the email will somehow be detrimental for you.
In both the post to which these emails refer and in its comment section of the post, I address the idea that the wine industry must be racist because African-Americans are underrepresented. There is no need to belabor that point and my response. You can read if you like. However, it should be noted that way the wine industry is structured, the way wine gets produced and the way it gets sold is not racist in any way. Moreover, the claim that the wine industry operates within a larger societal system of racism is a claim entirely different and even separate from the claim that the wine industry itself is racists. In order to show that the wine industry is racist you need to finish this sentence in a convincing way: “The Wine Industry is racist because it discriminates against or harms African Americans as a result of its………” Finishing that sentence with “existence within a society-wide system of racism” is not a commentary on how the wine industry is racist, but on how systemic racism within American society overshadows everything. These are two different things.
I guess I should also address this idea that words and ideas can be the same as violence or can impact the “safety” of the reader or others. This is a fantasy conjured in an attempt to dismiss or shut down discussion. The way I know this is because I know I’m not a six-year old with a six-year-old mind. I can’t positively pinpoint the moment I realized it, but I’m sure it’s somewhere in the third or fourth grade that I came to fully understand and embrace the idea that sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.
When one takes to redefining words so far away from their long-accepted meaning in order to make a point, you know the point is unworthy of being considered. If one feels “violated” or “unsafe” for having read the words “it-is-by-no-means-certain-that-racism-and-racists-are-the-primary-reason-African-Americans-are-underrepresented-within-the-industry”, then your problems rise far above feeling unsafe or feeling violated. Words don’t harm. Words don’t violate.
The wine industry has a problem of the under-representation of African Americans within its ranks. To address this issue and to give everyone the opportunity to pursue a career in some element of the wine industry if that is what they desire, we must understand the cause of the underrepresentation. Reflexive and unexamined leaps to unidentified claims of “racism” as the problem, unexamined causal possibilities, bad analysis that embraces the notion that correlation equals causation, and anonymous emails will not get us where we need to be.