The real meaning of plantation tours: American Downton Abbey vs American Horror Story

There's a viral review of a southern plantation tour making the rounds in which a white person complains that the tour was "extremely disappointing" because of the "lecture on how the white people treated slaves" from a tour guide who was "radical about slave treatment."

Michael Twitty is a Black chef and culinary historian who works as a plantation tour interpreter and who wrote The Cooking Gene, billed as "a complex weaving of food history and politics, genealogy and genetics, and … surprising truths about family, identity, and the destiny of the Southern table."

In a superb, heartfelt essay, Twitty explains how his work at a plantation museum is "an act of devotion to my Ancestors" by exploring how the food of enslaved people "contained whole narratives that reached into spirituality, health practices, linguistics, agricultural wisdom and environmental practices."

Twitty recounts the daily round of an interpreter at a plantation museum, and the window it affords into contemporary attitudes towards slavery and genocide, and how he tries to use his position to shed light on "unexamined whiteness" by refusing to participate in the furtherance of the myth of plantations as "American Downton Abbeys."

But because enslavement was so damn fuzzy…we forget that those maudlin moments of blurred lines passed down by sentimental whites were purchased with pain. I tell my audiences that enslavement wasn't always whips and chains; but it was the existential terror that at any moment 3/5ths could give way to its remainder, and unfortunately often did.

Guilt is not where to start. If you go back start with humility. Have some shame that NONE of us are truly taught this. Be like the working class white lady whose family I met in Louisiana who brought her young kids because she "wanted them to know the whole story, the story of American history is Black history." Too bad she ain't going viral. Wherever you are my cousin, I salute you.

Right now we need people to exercise their compassion muscle over their dissatisfaction or disappointment. Right now we need people to see the parallels. Right now we need people to remember the insidious ways history repeats itself. Right now we need to be better humans to each other. Right now we need people to remember the righteous who sacrificed so we could tweet and leave awful online reviews.

Dear Disgruntled White Plantation Visitors, Sit Down. [Michael Twitty/Afroculinaria]

(via Dan Hon)

(Image: Michael Twitty)