Founders. A name associated with good beer to many, triggers thoughts and feelings of disdain for the poor state of race relations, flat out racism, and the resulting lack of outrage and action both in the craft beer community and the nation at large. When one new beer drinker was asked about the brewery, her response was, “Founders? Like the Founding Fathers?” Yes, exactly like the Founding Fathers – white men celebrated by the masses for moving into an area with people of color to provide something desirable for the majority while oppressing black folks.
The craft beer community swears it isn’t racist, but the disparity in the amount of visibility, public concern, and outrage given to issues offending white craft beer drinkers versus those concerning black folks tells a different story. Two recent issues relevant in this context are those of Trillium, regarding employee wages and the use of tequila in beer, and that of Great Lakes Brewing News’ poorly written, misogynistic article published under a title indicating it was about cask ale.
In the case of Trillium, an employee took to Reddit to voice his frustrations about folks being required to reapply for retail jobs at a new location for less base pay due to the addition of tips and the addition of actual liquor to a beer that was advertised as having been aged in tequila barrels. The discussion moved to Twitter where a mob of angry craft beer enthusiasts dragged Trillium through an endless abyss of angry tweets as timely articles and threats of boycotting ensued. Trillium changed its tune within days due to the backlash and agreed to provide employees with better wages.
The more recent Great Lakes Brewing News debacle resulted from an abysmally written article both authored and edited by Bill Metzger – a piece that is nothing more than an endless narrative of a male’s struggles with his “primal self” and how his instincts to “bed every woman” he sees are now limited by the #metoo movement which is referred to as a “dilemma” in the article. Shortly after screenshots of the article made their way to Twitter, an onslaught of rage fell upon both the author and the publication. Petitions circulated. Advertisers pulled out. Articles picking apart the piece and explaining why misogyny is an issue found their way to timelines. There were even breweries speaking out and distancing themselves from the publication. Then came the spineless response claiming it was written for the sake of satire. The Twitter storm raged until the author, who was also a co-owner, resigned from his position. Let’s keep in mind, both this issue and the one with Trillium each transpired over the course of just a few days.
The issues above illustrate how the craft beer community responds to issues when those violated or offended are part of the majority (read white). Us black folks are not afforded this type of support. Let’s take a look at Founders. Mr. Evans, a former employee at the brewery, filed a lawsuit claiming that he was called a “nigger” on multiple occasions, that printers were named “black guy printer” and “white guy printer,” that he was denied a promotion based on race, and that he was subjected to disciplinary action for offenses that his white coworkers also committed without being disciplined.
In Founders’s response to the claim (which can be found here), they admitted that the two “nigger” incidents occurred and were reported to HR. The discussion surrounding this issue doesn’t even begin to rise to the level of outrage associated with Trillium and Great Lakes Brewing News. There is still a large constituency that claims to be unaware of what is going on with Founders, though the issue has meandered along for months. There are plenty of white folks, some of the same ones flaming with rage over the other two incidents, “waiting for all the facts,” “not commenting on an open case,” or [insert other weak and ridiculous excuse to continue drinking CBS here], all after the brewery admitted that a black person was called a nigger during his employment there.
There was no petition for retailers to stop selling Founders products or for publications to stop allowing them to advertise. Conversely, there was an immense amount of white feminism to be seen because of Bill Metzger’s foolishness. Prominent white female voices in both writing and beer stepped up to galvanize the masses in dragging both him and the publication. Timelines were flooded with tweets hour after hour to make sure that the issue was visible. A petition was sent out asking advertisers to pull out, many of which did just that. I, a black woman, was even asked to sign, but where is that support for issues of racial discrimination against black folks? Heads roll when white feminism rages. Offenders of this nation’s darling damsels in distress are promptly led to the stake to be burned, especially when said offender is a black person. This goes back to this country’s ugly beginning. We have examples ranging from Emmett Till to the young men accused by Nikki Yovino and everything in between.
When asked how the situation with Mr. Evans would be rectified, Founders mentioned that a Diversity and Inclusion Director was hired and that “sensitivity” training was being held for employees. Of course, plenty of folks find this to be a “step in the right direction,” but it’s not even close. Hiring a woman of color and instituting training that implies that folks need to be sensitive, as opposed to being respectful is a slap in the face, especially when Founders hasn’t taken any steps to make things right with the PERSON who was wronged in this situation. The approach can’t just be about optics. There is an oppressed human being at the center of it all. Mr. Evans should never have had to file a claim to be recompensed for what he endured, and even worse, Founders has filed to have the claim dismissed. There is little evidence that Founders is interested in doing the right thing here.
Black folks are constantly told that people have to be given room to grow and learn from their mistakes regarding racism. I hate to break it to you folks, but “mistakes” come with consequences, especially for those of us who are black. We have close to zero margin for error in social interactions. Cops and vigilantes alike are judge and jury when they encounter us. To avoid being brutalized or killed, we are told to “obey” and “be respectful” of police officers who profile, harass, and wrongfully accuse us. We are told to change the way we dress and speak to gain employment. We are told to watch our tone to avoid appearing aggressive so that our messages are not lost.
You can miss us with the notion that racist white folks should be afforded the opportunity to “grow” and “learn” consequence-free at our expense. What if Mr. Evans had harassed a white woman at Founders? Would y’all be advocates of him having the opportunity to grow without being dragged, fired, or even arrested? Were white women insisting that Bill Metzger be allowed to learn from his mistakes without losing sponsorship or advertising partners or resigning from the publication? Don’t even get me started about the “room to grow” that Kareem Hunt was denied. White women made it clear that they didn’t think he deserved another chance.
This level of outrage isn’t applied when the issue is racism or the person offended is black. The idea that we should all sit around singing “Kumbaya” because someone hired a black face and instituted “sensitivity” training WITHOUT an apology or restitution is a dub. People are looking for any reason to go back to publicly drinking their Founders products.
These issues go way beyond Founders or anything happening today. White people have a history of whitewashing the sins of this nation against black folks and others. Though the date is debated, chattel slavery of Africans brought to the Americas is said to have begun in 1619. Fast forward to 1787, and the Three-Fifths Compromise was enacted allowing every slave to be counted as three-fifths of a person to determine congressional representation. So beyond being considered property, black folks were also considered to be three-fifths of a person to give their oppressors additional legislative representation. Move ahead to 1861 and there was an entire war about whether or not black people should be held as PROPERTY. Then in 1863, slaves below the Mason-Dixon Line were freed, but only as a punishment to “rebellious states” per the Emancipation Proclamation.
The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified in 1865 prohibiting slavery except as a form of punishment for those duly convicted of a crime (and we still got some issues with that duly convicted part, but I digress). Even if we take these dates at face value, black folks were enslaved in the country for a longer time period than we have been free. Beyond that, most were left with few options for livelihood other than indenturing themselves to their former owners. It wasn’t until 1965 that African Americans were enfranchised via the Voting Rights Act – 100 years between being freed and being enfranchised. This happened during my parent’s lifetime.
Listening to oral history from them, my grandparents, my great-grandparents, and other relatives with whom I’ve had the opportunity to converse during my lifetime gives me a window into the lives and oppression of my ancestors. This could also serve as a mirror for the white folks who lived during that time who took active roles in their oppression or were silently complicit to see the damage they’ve done. The problem is, there’s a lack of acknowledgement of these atrocities – that mirror isn’t being utilized.
We are taught about the Holocaust in detail in schools and admonished never to forget the genocide committed by Nazi Germany against Jewish people, but the United States is quick to gloss over its own despicable past. Textbooks used in schools refer to slaves as laborers as if they had a choice in the matter (miss us with that Kanye-ism). Thomas Jefferson’s rape of Sally Hemings, while she and her children were considered his PROPERTY, is portrayed as some passionate romance. Abraham Lincoln is celebrated as having freed the slaves when slavery continued in those states that sided with the Union – (he also made it clear that he was in favor of segregation and believed white people were superior, but that’s another article).
Black people are often told to stop being divisive as if we were the ones who created this dynamic. Furthermore, the economic and social implications that linger today are a result of being denied opportunities for jobs, housing, and schooling, as well as the lack of restitution offered by those whose generational economic stability is directly resultant from their ancestors having access to human beings as property for use as free labor. Even a white family that didn’t own slaves was allowed to own property and benefitted from low-cost products made and harvested on the backs of black folks.
Know how you feel about Jeff Bezos and the working conditions at Amazon? Imagine that with mutilation, rape, brutality, and murder included, without access to any medical or mental health resources – for over 200 years. All of this was followed by segregation, crack, the war on drugs, housing discrimination, over-policing, and hate crimes, much of which still occurs today. Having never been properly addressed, resentment lingers on both sides. Older, racist, white folks who long for “the good ‘ole days” when blacks knew their place and young, blindly racist, white folks who refuse to acknowledge how they continue to benefit from the system and accuse black people of blaming them for something their ancestors did further inhibit our progress towards inclusion and equality. The craft beer community is nothing more than a microcosm of the nation as a whole.
Folks have a hard time digging deep and confronting their own biases. Many like to believe that they have no part in racial injustice, but that isn’t the case when folks turn a blind eye towards incidents like the one involving Mr. Evans at Founders. We hear the majority screaming loudly for issues that affect them, but few are willing to step up and stand on the front lines when it comes to black folks looking to be treated with respect and given equal opportunity, especially if it might come at a cost. Craft beer can’t be taken seriously when it says inclusion is valued, yet its actions clearly communicate that optics, money, and white comfort are more important than treating those looking to be included with respect and dignity and making progress towards a truly diverse community.
If you’ve made it this far, hopefully, you’ve taken some time to reflect on some of the questions and confront some of your own biases – we all have them. If this was a difficult or emotional read, just imagine what it must have been like to write this piece, let alone live portions of its content. Black folks are trying our hardest to communicate through all the scars and be patient with craft, but our patience wears thin, and lip service from “allies” ain’t it. If you are unwilling to stand on the front lines with us for fear of being vilified through internet backlash, don’t call yourself an ally. Passive agreement doesn’t cut it. Allies go to war together. I’m cut from the same cloth as folks who got hot coffee poured on them so that I might have the opportunity to eat lunch at a restaurant, who were attacked by vicious dogs released by police that so that I might have the opportunity to vote, who gave their lives in the most gruesome ways so that I might have the opportunity to live a life they could only imagine — refusing to speak up for fear of backlash from an emotional internet racist does those who came before me no justice.
The way was paved for me, and there is more paving to be done for those who are coming up next. My brothers and sisters and I are taking up this task. We don’t need cowards for allies. If craft wants to be taken seriously, listen as we give of ourselves, hold racists and oppressors accountable, take action to provide safe places for us to work and commune, and help us carry the weight of confronting and dismantling the systematic racism that permeates the industry and the nation.
- Written by: Toni Canada; Edited by: Christopher Barnes