Welcome to Unsolicited Advice, the weekly column in which I give advice to people who never asked for it and who don’t even know who I am.
Last week we delved into the uncomfortable world of actor Thomas Middleditch and his not-so-stable open marriage. This week we’re continuing our “marriage” theme with a peek at a plea for help to Slate’s Dear Prudence (definitely go give them some link love for bringing us this amazing post this week. It’s only fair).
A distressed wedding guest wrote in to ask if she/he should be expected to attend her/his dear, close friend’s wedding at a plantation.
Part of my friend’s wedding is taking place on a former plantation in the South. Members of my family were slaves on a plantation not that many generations ago, and the thought of attending the wedding of a white couple there is making me uncomfortable. I love my friend and her fiancée, and I don’t believe there’s any actively bad intent on their part, except maybe thoughtlessness. I don’t want to cause her any pain or make it seem like I’m putting her down, but I’d prefer not to attend the event that’s taking place there. I could still attend all of the other wedding events. What are your thoughts on this? I know that weddings in these types of venues are common, so I’m sure my discomfort is too. Is there a way to bow out of the event with kindness to the couple?
I won’t spoil Prudie’s answer but it’s worth a read…if only to laugh. Click here to read the response.
But this is Unsolicited Advice. It is my unwelcome response that is the primary purpose here, so here goes.
Dear Plantation Patty:
I can sympathize with the initial pang of discomfort at the thought of attending a social event at a plantation venue. I think most of us automatically feel that at the mention of the word ‘plantation’. That’s not weird.
What’s weird is your inability to set aside that discomfort for a few hours of your year and celebrate an amazing event with a couple you claim to love. You say you don’t believe there was any bad intent on their part…it’s troubling that you even mention that out loud. These are the people you love. What would their potential ‘bad intent’ have been in the first place?
“We’re planning a ceremony to celebrate our lifetime commitment in front of God and family, but we’ll only do it if we can simultaneously celebrate slavery and make all of our black friends uncomfortable as hell!”
I doubt that was ever even on the table. Which brings me to another point. You say they don’t have bad intent but describe the move as “thoughtless”. Well, God forbid the bride and groom not be thinking about you and the complexities of American history on the biggest day of their lives. Having planned my own wedding 150 years ago, I can guarantee you that your comfort level is the last thing on their mind. What they do probably have in mind is your presence at an event they want to share with you…because they love you. You’re so focused on the “thoughtlessness” of having a wedding event at a former plantation that you’ve skipped right over the part about how much these people mean to you and how much you mean to them. They’ve invited you to share in a once in a lifetime event – their wedding. They must really care about you.
All you can see is the past.
I say “former” plantation because I’m assuming they no longer use slave labor to run their business. I’m willing to bet they don’t even have crops there anymore. If they are still keeping slaves on that plantation then you should definitely not go. And also call the police.
Listen, Patty…this whole country has an “uncomfortable history” but it doesn’t stop you from walking around over paths once graced by the feet of slaves. It doesn’t keep you from going into buildings built by slaves. It doesn’t keep you from walking in the same parks and open spaces that once saw the horror of civil war and the abuse of Native Americans. Everywhere you walk in this country is “problematic” if you want to use your point of view. People picnic in spots that were once soaked with the blood of young civil war-era soldiers who died horrifically and anonymously.
Times change, people change, societies change.
Plantations have always been a business. They continued to operate long after slavery was abolished and (as you have pointed out) still operate to this day, though under very different circumstances. Remembering what they used to be does not mean we have to eschew what they’ve become.
Your first thought was to run. My first thought was, “Man, look how far we’ve come.” Your ancestors were once enslaved there, and now here you are walking onto that property as a free and (presumably successful) person, a Black person being invited as an important guest at the wedding of your White friends. Where once Black people walked in sadness on those grounds, you now walk in victory. Your ancestors could have only dreamed of belonging there the way that you belong there right now.
America is our home. We built it, fought to enjoy it, spilled blood to get to be where you are this very moment. Why on earth would you take a step backwards from all that hard work by automatically segregating yourself from spaces where you not only belong but absolutely should be?
Because, Patty…this is your country. So enjoy it. If you love your friends, go be with them. There are no slave drivers, no masters, no auction blocks there anymore. Just like the rest of America, that place with the shameful past has progressed to become something quite different.
Look, if you can’t set aside your historical discomfort then at least just deal with it and go. No, your friends weren’t thinking about you when they booked that venue, nor should they be. I once attended a Polish wedding. I was uncomfortable as hell. Have you ever been to one? The ceremony is two hours and then you spend the reception doing their Polish dances, which naturally we knew nothing of. It all just seemed like organized chaos to our inexperienced minds. My husband and I were the only Black people there. Did we feel uncomfortable and out of place. You betcha. Did we ever once ask the bride and groom to why they didn’t think about our comfort level before they planned their wedding? Of course not. You shouldn’t even entertain the notion that they are “thoughtless”. They are getting married. End of story.
Go celebrate with your friends. You say that only a “part” of the event will be there anyway…so why can’t you just spare a few minutes of your own comfort to raise a glass with the people you say you love and then be on your way? This drama is so unnecessary and frankly, narcissistic.
There is no “kind” way to tell your friends you’re choosing your own feelings about a historical property over celebrating with the people you love. They will think you are being selfish…because you are.
Go be a friend. This is what friends do – we celebrate with each other.
If anyone there has slaves you have my permission to peace out.
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