This article originally appeared on VICE UK
It's been one hell of a week for slavery nostalgia. The transatlantic slave trade—which made it perfectly legal for slave-owners to sell, beat, or kill their "property"—was a good time for the European countries that profited from free labor, and quite the inspiration for a bar that's due to open in London in September. Bar and restaurant operator The Breakfast Group planned on naming their new upmarket rum bar The Plantation, before they were called out by an activist group.
A petition against the plans said the "grossly offensive" name choice "constitutes a grave offense to the African descent communities in London and elsewhere." It continued: "Plantations were places where people suffered and died, where Africans suffered unimaginable violence and terror at the hands of their slave masters. Imagine, if you can, how African people would feel having to work at this venue, much less eat at it?"
And so, after liaising with "the community," the Breakfast Group doubled back, opting instead to call the venue Burlock, having realized the "negative connotations associated with the original name." But a couple of questions remain: would Londoners have stayed away from a bar based on principle alone? And do people think the original name choice is even that big of a deal? I hit the streets to get the lowdown on when slavery got cute and marketable.
VICE: Would you be up for drinking in a bar named after slave plantations?
Dami: Probably. I don't see any issue with the name, because we're now in the 21st century and I don't think what happened in the past should matter.
What do you make of the choice of name, though?
I don't mind it, as long as it doesn't have a meaning behind it that would affect or upset black people.
A lot of black people were quite hurt by it—does that bother you?
No, I'm just very open-minded and I wouldn't be affected by anything like that.
Do you think it should have been a news story at all?
No, I think it's probably an overreaction, to be honest. As long as the owner doesn't go out saying, "This is why I've done it," for racial reasons, or whatever, then it shouldn't be a massive issue.
How much do you know about the UK's slave trade?
Not very much, to be honest. It's 2016—I don't need to seek that information out, because it's over.
It's a bit of a grey area. What would be the worst name for a bar, in your opinion?
Um, I think "The Freemason" because that's just such a no-go area.
VICE: Would you ever go to a bar called The Plantation?
Elisa: Hmm… no, because of all of the things that were associated with that word in the past. The initial idea just puts me off. I've never heard that word in a positive light.
Interestingly, a Jamaican woman in Bristol ran a restaurant called the Plantation—what do you think of that?
Yeah, I guess that's a better idea, if someone's reclaiming that word and it's more about their history. My feeling is that the Breakfast Group were just taking that word and using it. There's something that makes me feel really uncomfortable about it.
Would you go so far as to boycott it?
I think it's always tough. You tread a fine line with cultural appropriation, between what is right and what isn't. I think I would boycott it until I could see something positive coming out of it, but I think everyone's entitled to their own opinion, and I think it should definitely be spoken about. People have to realize the history and the weight behind words, rather than plucking them out of the sky.
Steve, 22, and Richard, 20
VICE: Do you see anything wrong with calling a rum bar The Plantation?
Steve: No, I'd probably still drink there—it wouldn't really bother me. The name and everything is kind of bad, but I don't think the name represents the kind of place it is.
Richard: Yeah, I feel the same. If they've got 200 different types of rum, I'm a big rum drinker, so while it's a bit dodgy, it's not that bad, and I probably wouldn't be able to resist it.
What would the worst name for a bar be for you?
Steve: Like, The Holocaust. Or The Pedophile, yeah.
Richard: Mine would be Rape Station. That would be the worst.
Loads of news organizations have turned it into a story—do you think it deserves so much coverage?
Steve: I don't, no. I think people are just bringing up stuff from the past that should be remembered—but not in a way like that.
Richard: It is a pretty dodgy name, but in terms of a big deal? I don't think so, no. Not in 2016. Obviously questions should be raised as to why they actually chose the name, though.
How much do you guys know about the UK's history with slavery?
Steve: Quite bad, innit. It was awful, like the whole empire and everything. I'm not going to dig myself a grave, but everything we've done in the past with the Indians and everything—obviously Jamaica, Africa … the slave trade was awful, but it was so long ago.
Richard: No comment on this one.
VICE: Would the name The Plantation stop you from drinking at this new bar?
Louis: No, definitely not. I'm guessing it's got juices and stuff there, which sounds nice.
Mostly rum, I think.
Oh, I don't drink! So I wouldn't go anyway. I'm actually a vegan. I also haven't been to any of the other ones, so I don't really care for it—I don't think they're much good for vegans anyway.
What do you make of the name's connotations?
Well, it sounds like a vegan shop to me, off the bat. But yeah, plantation… the slave connotations don't sound so lovely; can't wait to go there, not! [laughs]
Do you think it should be a big deal?
It's just a name, at the end of the day. It doesn't really matter that much. If it's got a good vibe and good people, good food and good drinks, that's what counts, right?
What do you think the worst name for a bar would be?
Probably something to do with meat, like the Meat Cleaver or The Slaughterhouse.
VICE: Would you have a drink in a bar called The Plantation?
Do the word's connotations to slavery bother you?
Oh, I didn't know it had links to that… that's affected my opinion now, so I guess I wouldn't. With that in mind, I'd definitely boycott it; it hasn't really been thought out well [laughs].
Do you think it should have been made into a big deal, or not so much?
It would obviously be a big deal to those whose lives its affected, like the black community, but maybe the person who was doing the whole name thing didn't really think about it properly and should have thought about it more, because it obviously upset people.
Do you know much about Britain's involvement in the slave trade?
No, I'm quite ignorant, to be honest, because I think it would just upset me if I knew lots about it.
VICE: Does the name The Plantation offend you?
Patterson: I never had much interest in it in the first place, but I wouldn't go there because the word plantation is basically from slavery days with cotton and the whole slavery movement. Using the word now is all about provoking people, so I feel like it's probably a marketing thing.
Can you explain the significance of the name in relation to the British slave trade?
Basically, the way I see it, imperialism—the empire—are why this nation's alive. This country is still living off slave money, so it's all about labeling and the empire. This is why they're in a better situation: they're around 300 years ahead because they got boosted financially by black people.
You're one of the only people I've spoken to who has said they wouldn't go there.
Yeah, a lot of people don't see it as important, but I think people need to check themselves. On the other hand, there's more important shit than this in the world that we need to sort out, you know? This is just a drop in the ocean for brown and black people. We've got to gel, and everyone's got to understand where we're coming from.
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