-Audio & Text by Brian Weber
It’s been quite a week in the cocktail world. Our community is in turmoil. People are upset. Nerves are raw. It all started with a Facebook Live video of Ann Tuennerman, Founder and Executive Director of Tales of the Cocktail during Mardi Gras wearing blackface.
It would be easy for me to ignore this topic altogether and avoid any controversy, but I feel that would be a disservice to our Bartender community. In fact, the Tuennerman’s themselves have done everything they can to be transparent.
Ann Tuennerman and her Husband Paul Tuennerman, who was co-owner and chief business officer of Tales, were on waiting to ride on a Float in a Mardi Gras parade. They rode with the Zulu, Social Aid and Pleasure Club, when they went “Live” on Facebook.
The Krewe can invite non-members to ride with them on their float, which is often considered quite an honor. It is not uncommon for non-members to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars for the privilege of riding on a float. This money goes toward the cost of producing the floats and funding the “throws”, which are the things given out from the floats to the parade attendees. We usually think of beads being thrown from the floats, but some Krewes will give away more elaborate items.
Tradition dictates that everyone riding on a float hide their face, usually with a mask, but sometimes with makeup. In fact, it’s the law. The Zulu Krewe, and everyone invited to ride on their floats, wears Blackface instead of a mask.
It is this code that allows me to stand up against oppressive behaviors weather they be institutional, systemic, or individual. This week, while maybe unintentionally, that behavior was exhibited by one of our industry's most powerful leaders, Ann Tuennerman.
I want to be very clear on my stance as to what was posted on her page. The Zulu parade and the celebration of New Orleanian black culture has never been my issue. I understand what Zulu is and the history of the Zulu face painting.
An explanation of WHY you had the Zulu paint on is what should have been the caption.”
You can read the rest of the letter here.
Ann said in her first of 2 pubic apologies:
“Earlier this week, I rode in a Mardi Gras parade with the Zulu organization, in which participants, both people of color and of all races, traditionally wear blackface makeup, and shared photos of myself in costume on social media. I now recognize how deeply offensive this is to many, and I am sincerely sorry. It was a naive and inconsiderate action, the consequences of which have made it clear that I have much to learn. Regardless of anyone’s intentions, we all have to take responsibility for our actions, especially those of us in positions of authority. As an industry leader, I assume full responsibility for my actions, and am ready to listen to all those who I have angered and hurt in the process.”
Ann’s second public statement titled Gratitude from Ann Tuennerman and a Determination to Embrace Change begins: “Through publicly acknowledging the pain Paul and I have caused to many in our industry, we hope to demonstrate our sincerity, transparency and commitment to facing this head on. We've taken ownership of our actions and comments, and they are in no way a representation of our staff or the hundreds of others who work to bring Tales of the Cocktail to life each year.”
Living up to this promise, on Monday 3/6/17, Ann did a live Facebook video interview with Ashtin Berry. Ashtin is a Bartender in New Orleans and happens to also be a female person of color. Ashtin has really taken great steps toward moving this conversation forward in a productive manner.
Ashtin said in a FB post before the interview “Tomorrow will be a step on a long road towards the more inclusive industry we deserve. I encourage everyone to ensure that their engagement does not end tomorrow.”
She goes on to say
“I have sent to Ann that we will be using to provide context and background for our conversations”.
These are 4 links Ashtin sent to Ann:
The video interview was in fact very productive. Ann really took responsibility for her actions and showed an honest desire to do everything she can to keep the conversation moving ahead and advance diversity in our industry.
I encourage you to watch it from start to finish. You can find it on the Bartender Journey Facebook page.
As soon as the story broke I asked the opinion of a Bartender in NOLA.
He said: “Zulu is known for celebrating Black culture, but blackface is just not the way. There’s so many better ways to support that. I haven’t completely formed an opinion, but people are worked up”.
In his resignation note, Paul wrote, “My comment to Ann about blackface prior to the Zulu parade was meant to be a husband’s innocent teasing of his camera-shy wife, not a belittlement of others. In retrospect, the words were insensitive, hurtful and just plain dumb and I feel horrible for the pain they have caused.”
In Ann’s first written apology she wrote:
“My purpose here is not just to apologize publicly; I do not believe an apology excuses anyone of their actions. My purpose here is to acknowledge my ignorance and to open myself up to critique; to take my first step toward becoming someone more capable of listening to those who I have hurt and understanding the ignorance of my own actions.”
Prejudice and discrimination are never fun, whatever form it takes: Racism, sexism, ageism, whatever. Hell, I’m a white man in America, and I’ve even been insulted and pissed off by ads that say “wanted female bartender”. Is that even legal? Or “submit a picture with your resume”. To me its just a non-issue…I mean black, white, male, female, little person, downs syndrome…anyone who is passionate about it can excel at making drinks and being hospitable.
These events have had far reaching effects.
The mainstream media has pickup up on the story - The Washington Post published an article about it.
Another friend from New Orleans tells me there is talk of making the Zulu Krewe change their tradition of wearing blackface…and locals are not happy about changing this 100+ year old tradition.
And then the question of “What’s going to happen at Tales this year”?
Tales is a whole economy unto itself. Brands and attendees come from all over the world. The conference is only financially viable due to the Brand sponsorship. Will any of them be scared off this year? Will attendees decide not to go?
Ann’s talk with Ashtin Berry was a great first step towards healing, and I do believe that she will use her position as an industry leader to follow through and do whatever she can to promote diversity in our industry. Tales actually released a white paper, before all this happened, called Diversity and Barriers to Access in the Bartending Industry.
I believe Ann’s apology to be genuine and she that has a true desire to help people – of all kinds.
There is a story I heard from a Bartender once. This wasn’t in an official press release from Tales or anything like that…it was just Bartenders talking. There was a bar in NOLA that got robbed one night. Even the tip jar was taken. Tales showed up the next day with cash to help out the bar and the bartenders.
We’ll go back to my New Orleans Bartender friend to wrap this up. He said “I think Tales is a great thing and I hope the dust will settle. That being said…maybe the silver lining is the realization that black people as demographic are under represented in the Cocktail World”.
Here’s our weekly toast. Its credited to St. Augustine who lived in the 13th century and is considered the patron saint of brewers, printers, theologians.
Insomuch as love grows in you, so beauty grows. For love is the beauty of the soul.
Bar Institute is hitting the road for a six week tour stopping in 25 cities in the US and Canada in the Spring of 2017. Its the Bar Institute Econo Tour! In each city, they will be hosting a one day Bar Institute session featuring 3-5 classes and a popup event, which will incorporate the information from the classes into service each night. They’ll be asking for only a $5 donation for admission to the classes and the drinks in the evening. All proceeds will benefit charity.
Along the way, they've identified social justice issues that will serve as the centerpiece of the weekly focus for each region. This is so awesome! They will be in a bunch of mid size cities – many of which don’t have cocktail conferences very often, if ever. If you’ve never been to an event like this and the tour is coming near you…I hope you’ll go!
In fact, I’ll make a deal with you. Fill out the form here.
We will randomly choose at least 2 people that fill out the form before April 2, 2017 and send you some swag, provided by Lush Life, the parent company of Bar Institute. This is for USA residents only please.
To win, you’ll have to both fill out that form and upload a picture of yourself at Bar Institute Econo. Put the picture on Instagam with the hashtag #BartenderJourneyBI
See the Bar Institute Econo Tour Dates here.