This essay about race and beer is a tough, necessary wake-up call [UPDATED]

Illustration for article titled This essay about race and beer is a tough, necessary wake-up call [UPDATED]
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Update, March 11, 2019: Founders had largely declined to comment on pending litigation until today, when the brewery issued a detailed statement responding to allegations of racial discrimination in the workplace. In part, the statement refutes certain details of the suit. Read it here.


Original post, February 19, 2019: Yesterday, one story dominated my social-media feeds, as it did for anyone else whose Twitter list is mostly comprised of breweries and beer writers. This essay from Beer Kulture, a must-read site “that merges urban culture with beer,” (read: shares black perspectives on beer) confronted the mostly-white beer world head-on, pulling no punches in its indictments. Titled “Selective Outrage: Does Inclusion Include Us?,” the essay takes beer drinkers to task for vocally and publicly taking a stand on issues from misogyny to wage theft in beer, while turning a blind eye to racism within its ranks.

“The craft beer community swears it isn’t racist, but the disparity in the amount of visibility, public concern, and outrage given to issues offending white craft beer drinkers versus those concerning black folks tells a different story,” the essay reads. It cites plenty of public outrage at recent scandals involving Great Lakes Brewing News (who publisher resigned after publishing what was widely derided as a misogynist “parody” article) and Boston brewery Trillium, which faced public backlash after it cut employee wages.


Where, the essay asks, is the outrage at Grand Rapids, Michigan brewery Founders? Founders is facing a lawsuit from a former employee who says he was denied a promotion based on race, was forced to work in a hostile work environment, and was called racial slurs by other employees. Founders denies aspects of the suit but admits employees used racial slurs.

“We hear the majority screaming loudly for issues that affect them, but few are willing to step up and stand on the front lines when it comes to black folks looking to be treated with respect and given equal opportunity, especially if it might come at a cost,” the essay continues.

Whether or not you personally stopped drinking Founders beer after these allegations became public, the essay is a much broader wake-up call to the beer world. As beer drinkers stand against misogyny and homophobia, are we also standing as tall as we could with the black members of the beer community? Are we listening to their perspectives, their narratives? Or are we sticking to the issues that are “ours” to keep ourselves feeling safe and comfortable? If the Beer Kulture essay made you uncomfortable, then you’re exactly who should be reading it.

Kate Bernot is a freelance writer and a certified beer judge. She was previously managing editor at The Takeout.



Essay quote:

In Founders’s response to the claim (which can be found here), they admitted that the two “...” incidents occurred and were reported to HR.

First, I’m annoyed that this is the first I’m seeing of it. I like beer, but don’t really follow the industry closely, I don’t read the trade rags, etc. So I wouldn’t be terribly surprised that I hadn’t heard about it, except that I did hear about the wage cuts, the tequila fraud, etc, just by reading more mainstream media, so it’s considerably annoying that this never rose to that level of exposure.

Second, I do want to know more. What happened after these incidents were reported to HR? Was the report confirmed after investigation? If it was, if the next step was anything but “we fired the asshole(s) in question immediately,” then there’s a serious problem at that company and it *should* be boycotted.

Where I do hesitate is what for want of a better term I’ll call the Starbucks mentality. When that asshole manager at a Starbucks called the cops on two black guys for having the audacity to exist in his coffee shop, there was a big outcry to boycott Starbucks, even though Starbucks Corporate immediately looked into it, and then reacted by firing the asshole in question (ok, “mutually separated,” which we all know means “leave voluntarily or we’ll throw you out”), and shutting down all of its stores to make everyone else in the entire company get re-trained on how not to be assholes.

Boycotting Starbucks was inappropriate. There’s no way to guarantee as a hiring manager that you won’t end up hiring a racist tool. Racist tools, at least the smarter ones, don’t generally wear Klan robes or otherwise behave in such a way as to display their racist tooldom when going to job interviews.

What matters is how you respond when you discover that you have a racist tool working for you. Starbucks responded correctly. Did Founders? I don’t know, and I’d very much like to.