Nothing says ‘I love you’ like a good old fashioned plantation wedding

Update: The curators of the blog where this was originally posted have issued an apology.

Weddings are political. Historically, the role that weddings have played in the consolidation of a national identity has been foundational to how we think about a country, who belongs in that country, who gets to have rights in that country and what their race, class and gender should be. And while some of the more obvious historical exclusions are being pushed against by many eschewing traditional values and having offbeat weddings or gay marriage becoming legal in some (great and awesome) states, the fundamental role that weddings and being married plays into how we think about society has barely shifted, at all.

But this old, but now new, borrowed and quite blue, tradition of having your wedding in the theme of the old South isn’t that far of a departure from what weddings originally represented: a tradition that consolidated the race, gender, religious affinity and assumed ethnic identity of the nation within the family unit. Weddings were a symbolic tradition, a right, upheld by early white settlers and colonizers, but denied to slaves and/or the colonized–and that was a strategic move to deny citizenship rights and basic personhood to the enslaved.

So, how, does one take a tradition that was so clearly created to uphold one type of citizenship at the cost of excluding others become a “new, hot, trend,” in weddings? Apparently, really easily. Inspired by a photography website that showcased a wedding in South Africa called a, “Colonial-Africa Wedding,” (blog post was taken down, but I took a few screen grabs, like the one above) Amanda Hess takes on this rather ill-thought out, offensive and blatantly racist new trend: plantation weddings.

Say what you will about the legacy of slavery, at least it produced some fabulous venues. Like this one, an immaculate Louisiana estate that once enslaved 500 humans. The venue’s website is littered with details you can’t make up: The plantation is still equipped with the quaint antique bells the children of the house rang to summon their slave servants. It still equates enslaved human beings with “the family’s most prized furniture and china.” It still calls itself the “White Castle.” And it still attributes its impressive grounds to its original slaveholding owner and the ”business savvy that fostered his tremendous wealth,” as opposed to, say, human bondage.

That’s so racist it’s almost funny, except that it is completely not funny. Not even a little bit.

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6 Comments

  1. Posted July 15, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Reminds me of the film Bamboozled, where a minstrel show is popularized, regardless of how offensive the cultural tradition. Phrases like “The Alabama Porch Monkeys” aren’t funny, either, regardless of the context.

  2. Posted July 15, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    Although I’m as opposed to romanticizing racism as the next gal, I’m going to have to quibble with this one a bit.
    Whatever the magazine article Amanda read says, using old plantation houses as venues isn’t a new trend. Weddings, for better or worse, are romantic affairs. A lot of people find historic sites to be romantic, and the more ostentatious, the better. Of course, such sites were, without exception, (directed to be) built and owned by outrageously privileged people, usually on the backs of the not-so privileged. But we usually consider such places to have artistic merit and historic worth that renders them valuable, despite their sordid pasts. So if you live in Europe, you might have a wedding at a castle. If you live in New England, you might choose a historic cathedral.

    We don’t have much in the way of castles or cathedrals here in the southeastern US. So if you want a lovely historic building to have your wedding in, and don’t want to drag your loved ones halfway across the country, places that were once occupied by slave owners and slaves is pretty much what you got.

    Sure, a full-scale reenactment of Gone With the Wind would be pretty darn offensive. And if you find period weddings, or the romanticizing of history to be generally atrocious, then I can see why weddings at such venues would be bothersome. But if we’re willing to accept that people can dress up in penguin suits or floofy gowns and get married at historic sites built on land stolen from native Americans, or in cathedrals built by a church that has a centuries-long history of oppressing women, and even now tries to block people’s access to disease prevention and reproductive rights, or in castles where people were tortured and murdered, it seems odd to single out the South as the one place where it’s abominable to make use of whatever pretty historical buildings we have lying around.

  3. Posted July 15, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    That’s a “I’m sorry you’re so offended by our glorifications of colonialism” non-apology. If only you looked at this from the context of a bunch of rich white people on safari surrounded by servile Africans, instead of MALICIOUSLY observing the whitewashing of history. Yeah, we’re not the ones ignorant about context.

    The sincerely gorgeous photography only helped to make one feel queasy.

  4. Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    All legal weddings are a show of privilege and unearned rights.

    This one played at historical oppression, and it was gross, but let’s not be blind to the modern-day oppression(s) that ALL weddings are a celebration of. All weddings are gross displays of privilege and power. Especially in Canada and the United States.

    I am not talking about playacting at historical power dynamics, but about the fact that weddings actual are, in real life, the formalizing of modern oppressive power dynamics.

    • Posted July 16, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      Even weddings of people who are poorer than shit, living on disability, and have half their stuff donated due to activity in the arts community?

      When you say “all” the punch you throw includes us, whom you have no idea how we live and what we support. And most on this site know that I throw back.

      • Posted July 18, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

        Yup, ALL weddings.
        (Legal) weddings are about gaining access to a status with the state that affords you unearned privilege. I am not including people being forced to get married, or things like that that may happen, but are illegal.

        When you say I have “no idea” how you live and what you support, you are right! There may be many areas in which a person does not hold a lot of privilege and is marginalized, but with a wedding they guarantee one area of privilege. It doesn’t mean that all people that get married are the same, it just means that all legal weddings hold one thing in common.

        Just like a person being poor or on disability doesn’t cancel out their white privilege, even if it operates differently for them than for another white person.

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