Monday, October 24, 2011

Is this tea racist?

Many are starting to say that Bigelow is a racist tea company, but not because thy used to advertise on the Don Imus show. Rather, it is because they continue to use the word "plantation." What I find fascinating is that this word is considered a rather benign and slang term for a large monoculture farm outside of the United States. Language is fluid, with words changing within and among cultures.

I think we have reached or may soon reach the tipping point for this word to be used solely as a racially charged and insensitive word. It reflects greatly the amount of negative name calling and recalcitrant attitudes held by our political class. Our two party system does not lead to conducive and friendly debates on issues but relies on new and harsher name calling.

In the last few weeks Pat Buchanan used the word and so did  sports newscaster Bryant Gumbel. I have traced back the word to the usage by Hillary Clinton back in 2006  to describe the Republican congress, which naturally caused a lot of fuss. Now, I have witnessed liberals decrying the use of this word on tea calling for a boycott of Bigelow.

I am not going to argue that this is wrong. In fact, I would rather avoid the use of the word if it now has a negative connotation. What I am greatly curious about is when this change in meaning occurred. Did this occur quite recently or has this change been a slow process?

Most Americans do not know where there food comes from. They assume it comes from a grocery store and think nothing of the farms. In other countries, a plantation means a large monoculture farm of things like tea or trees. I believe some of the reason this word has a negative meaning is because the few Americans who think about where there food come from think only of farms. Some might even know about the existence of factory farms, which consume most of the food grown in this country to produce cheap meat products.

Since so few Americans are involved in the food industry, their only knowledge of plantations is that of history books. Therefore, this word conjures in many images of slavery and oppression. As Nicque Shaff puts it:

  • "Plantation" calls to mind images of shameful subjugation -- enslavement and cultural exploitation faced by mostly brown people perpetrated by those who thought they had the right. From the Antebellum American South to Colonial India, Kenya and beyond plantations have been pure hell. This product naming may be careless oversight on the part of yet another company, but it's not acceptable.

I am curious about this issue and will update this post as I find more information. If you have a perspective then please post a reply!

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