The Federalist: What Is The Point Of A Wedding If You Can't Hold It Where People Were Enslaved?
Back in December, as a result of a campaign from Color of Change, Pinterest and TheKnot announced that they would no longer be promoting slave plantations as elegant wedding venues. It made sense, given that one would have to be an actual monster to want to have a big celebration of their love at a place where people were enslaved. They probably don't promote the Spahn Ranch as a lovely place to get hitched either.
But at least one person was very, very unhappy with this development — Casey Chalk of The Federalist. In an op-ed published today, titled "If People Can't Get Married On Plantations, They Can't Get Married Anywhere," Chalk tried to claim that almost every place in the whole wide world is just as offensive as a slave plantation, so you might as well promote slave plantations as wedding venues.
People can, of course, still get married on slave plantations. Former slave plantations all across the South promote themselves as wedding venues. The only difference now is that these sites will not be helping them to do so. Literally no one is being prevented from saying "I Do" right next to a cabin where human beings were kept and tortured and raped and forced to work for free, if that is their most cherished dream.
If you are wondering if Casey Chalk is one of the people who believes Christian bakers should not be forced to to make wedding cakes for gay people, and supports "conscience laws" allowing medical practitioners to opt out of doing their job if it conflicts with their beliefs about what people should get to do with their own bodies, he sure the hell is! Apparently, it's just fine for bigoted bakers to refuse to "celebrate" same-sex weddings by doing their job, but super evil of Pinterest and The Knot to not want to "celebrate" weddings that glorify slavery.
But let's dig in, shall we?
The organization behind this growing movement, Color of Change, indicts vendors for using words like "breathtaking" to describe plantations. "Black people don't have happy memories of the antebellum period and plantations, where our ancestors were beaten and tortured," said senior campaign director Jade Magnus Ogunnaike. "It's important the reality of what happened in these spaces is present, versus a romanticization of human rights abuses."
Strange — are there actually any African Americans who have memories of the antebellum period, given that it ended 160 years ago? Indeed, I wonder how many black Americans even have a deceased grandparent who could have had a memory of antebellum America.
Yeah, I don't think that is what anyone is literally saying -- but even so: still wrong. Also should it matter? I wasn't alive during the Holocaust and I don't live in Germany and I'm not Jewish, but I'm pretty sure I would find it horrifying if someone chose to get married at Auschwitz.
In its zealous desire to right previous wrongs, this goes too far in the other direction, and in the process, undermines the historical fabric of our nation. It also reflects the vulnerability of American businesses to the whims of leftist protest movements.
Oh, I'm sorry — are we not doing the invisible hand of the free market correctly? And what is the difference between this and the One Million Moms attacking Burger King because some guy in a commercial used a swear word? Is it that people in general tend to be more put off by chattel slavery than they are by someone saying "damn"? Why might that be?
Chalk then explains that plantations are no longer used for slavery and are very pretty, so it's just rude to say it's "not appropriate" to celebrate a momentous occasion there:
The underlying premise of the anti-plantation movement is that Southern plantations cannot be romanticized. Surely, we do not want to pretend these places don't have a violent, racist past. We also don't need to police their repurposing. Many of them, even their detractors must admit, are beautiful, both in reference to their natural surroundings and their architecture. Is it not appropriate to celebrate momentous occasions in beautiful places?
Also, he feels that black people are doing this all wrong and that they should instead embrace celebrating things at plantations:
If such locales have tragic histories, this is all the more reason to reimagine them in ways that both recognize and overcome that past. An example of this occurred in December, when a number of black medical students posed for a photo at a former slave plantation, a site some of them called "holy." Heck, why not celebrate their graduation there? Now, that's poetic justice.
Would this be a thing if these plantations were a site where something terrible happened to white people? Because I don't think it would be. Of course, you can't have a wedding at John Wayne Gacy's house or at the house where Sharon Tate was brutally murdered, because those houses have been torn down. In fact, 10050 Cielo Drive isn't even 10050 Cielo Drive anymore. It's 10066 Cielo Drive.
The mansion where the Heaven's Gate cult members killed themselves was quite lovely, at least from the outside. Would Casey Chalk like to get married there? Does he feel the need to repurpose it in this same way? I'm gonna guess he does not.
Ariel Castro's house wasn't much to write home about, but surely it could be spruced up! Would Casey Chalk want to get married there? After all, all he did was keep some women there against their will and abuse them. No big, right Casey? People should so just get over that!
But yes, as he notes, there are lots of places in America where terrible things happened, specifically to black people:
We might also remember that many of the most celebrated and visited historical sites in our country are Southern manors built and worked by slaves: Mount Vernon (itself a wedding venue), Monticello (another wedding venue), and Montpelier (also a wedding venue) among them. Will we need Google to warn us that searching for such places — or even worse, planning a vacation to visit them — are microaggressive acts, as if we are unable to contemplate both the good and bad of such places?
Moreover, blacks, both free and slave, provided the bulk of labor that built the White House, the U.S. Capitol, and other early government buildings. All of these places, despite their histories, are objectively beautiful. Because of the tragedies that transpired therin (sic), they powerfully communicate how far America has come.
Do they though?
See, the thing about slave plantations is that their only actual significance is that they are slave plantations. That's the difference here, and it's an important one. The reason people want to get married at them isn't just because they're pretty — there are a lot of pretty places out there — it's because of the way that period in Southern history has been romanticized by movies like Gone With The Wind. Because that's what some people think of when they look at these buildings. They don't see the crimes like they would if they were looking at the house where a serial killer lived, and that's the problem.
Chalk then goes on to suggest that unless people have lots of beautiful slave plantation weddings, we will all forget about slavery:
This gets to the broader dilemma with our zeitgeist, which combines woke deconstructionism with a modern version of damnatio memoriae, or "condemnation of memory," an ancient Roman practice whereby persons vilified by the state were erased from public memory. The modern application of this practice is also redolent of any of those ancient heresies that are uncomfortable with the complicated reality that vice and virtue, spiritual and material, co-exist within the human experience.
Simply by virtue of one's social justice warrior credentials and alleged victimhood status, these people deputize themselves the cultural police of our history, our language, and now apparently our wedding venues. Their appetites will not be satisfied until all things and persons associated with injustice, real or imagined, are expunged from public experience and memory. William F. Buckley's popularization of Eric Voegelin's warning is apt: "Don't immanentize the eschaton!"
I'm sorry, but if you need to get married at a plantation to remember that slavery happened, I don't know how to help you.
Chalk's next gambit is that Christianity is actually the reason why we've recognized and rectified our past errors, which is pretty odd considering that Christianity has frequently been the way those "errors" were justified in the first place:
Nor do the sins of our forefathers nullify their many acts of virtue or the great political and cultural gifts they bestowed upon future generations. Indeed, it is the Christian character of America that has allowed us to recognize and seek to rectify our past errors. How many of the great nations of human history have so actively beat their breasts over their sins, both against their own citizens and the peoples of the world? Only a country with a conscience — in our case informed by the Christian beliefs of our ancestors — would bother to engage in the kinds of self-criticism and atonement visible in American society.
And then he warns that — oh my god — in the future, people would probably think our society now was also bad!
Moreover, are the perpetrators of our historical-cultural cleansing so naive to think their children and grandchildren won't do the same thing to them, who have fostered and encouraged a paradigm of national seppuku? What's good for the goose is good for the gander, and one would have to be a clinical narcissist to think future generations won't find us at fault for any number of things. Chronological snobbery, as C.S. Lewis called our tendency to view our own age as superior to others, is a dark chasm ending in our own destruction.
Imagine writing this whole thing and thinking the rest of us would be surprised that people in the future might think we suck?
In closing, Chalk explains his own plan for other people's weddings, in which he also assumes we are all Christians:
I'd suggest a far better solution for prospective newlyweds, regardless of race or ethnicity, would be to get married where they should: in a church. Then they could celebrate their wedding reception at a Southern manor and have a hell of a good time. That seems far more justified than puritannical (sic) policing of plantations.
Again. If people really want to get married on a damn slave plantation, they are free to do so, just like I am free to find that to be an extraordinarily creepy thing to do and TheKnot and Pinterest are free to not promote that bullshit if they don't want to. America!
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. In addition to her work at Wonkette, she also has a biweekly column at Dame. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse