Moving Forward on the Question of Race and the Wine Industry
Stacy Brisco never disappoints. The most recent reminder of this writer’s well-honed chops is an article she wrote for the Wine Industry’s Beverage Industry Enthusiast entitled, “The Wine Industry Pledged Improve Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity. Has anything changed?” One thing that Stacy demonstrated in this review of the wine industry’s DEI efforts is how talking and writing about the issue has changed.
As I read through the article I noticed that there was no mention of the wine industry being “systemically racist” or “inherently racist”, two claims that were commonplace not too long ago and located in numerous articles about the wine industry’s response to the events of 2020.
In fact, Brisco’s article described the numerous ways by which minorities have been supported, have developed networks within, and found success within the wine industry over the past 18 months. It’s an uplifting article that focuses the reader on how success happens.
Both in her writing and in the comments from the subjects of her interview for the article, the terms “systemic racism” and “inherent racism” are absent. This is important not because it suggests that examples of racism have been excised from the industry, but rather that the unsupported indictments of the wine industry may no longer be muddying the waters when questions of representation in the industry are concerned.
The Causes of Underrepresentation
The problem with previous charges of systemic racism in the wine industry is that they were leveled with little to no evidence. Moreover, when accusers were pressed, the primary evidence that the American wine industry is systemically racist amounted to observations that many minority groups were underrepresented at various levels and parts of the industry. Underrepresentation is of course no evidence of racism at all.
The proper response to the observation of underrepresentation of one group or another is to ask why. Were blacks regularly denied job offers due to racist hiring practices? Did Hispanics apply for wine industry jobs in numbers far less than their percentage of the population? Do wineries generally receive applications from people located in the region where the winery is located and does the population in these regions include an over or under-representation of minorities compared to the population at large? Do some underrepresented minority groups tend to have less interaction with wine leading to them choosing other, more familiar industries into which to apply for work? The point is that until an investigation is undertaken to explain why one group or another is underrepresented in one or more parts of the wine industry it is simply impossible to assign systemic racism as the reason for that underrepresentation. More importantly, such investigations would provide insight into how to more effectively recruit underrepresented groups into the industry. It is notable that no such investigations have been undertaken as far as anyone knows.
Despite my not agreeing with all the claims and assertions in Brisco’s current article, there is no denying that the efforts being made to assure the wine industry is welcoming to underrepresented minorities are both working and inspiring. It is a great example of how collaboration moves an issue forward.