Weddings held on the grounds of former plantations have long been a subject of controversy, sparking debate as to whether these sites can ever be separated from the sins of America’s past. Some venues lean into an antebellum fantasy — “Gone With the Wind” meets modernity at places like Boone Hall Plantation, where a belle can marry her beau and create an Instagrammable moment — while others wear their antebellum association more lightly. Either way, plantations, like Confederate monuments, simply can’t be decontextualized from history. For many, romanticizing these sites is akin to pouring salt into a still-raw wound.
This week, two online platforms took a decisive stand: Pinterest and the Knot Worldwide, which owns the Knot and WeddingWire, announced Wednesday that they would be restricting content and vendors deemed to glamorize former plantations. BuzzFeed News first reported the promised policy changes, which are the result of a campaign by civil rights advocacy group Color of Change. Some tweaks have already gone into effect. Pinterest is taking steps to ensure that plantation venue ads won’t appear in search results for “plantation weddings” or other related terms. The platform will also limit the distribution of plantation venue content and accounts across the site, including in its autocomplete function, search recommendations and email notifications, according to an emailed statement from the company. Going forward, the Knot Worldwide says, via an emailed statement, that it will work with Color of Change to update its content guidelines to ensure that “all couples feel welcomed and accepted on our sites.”
That Pinterest and the Knot Worldwide have taken up this cause is significant. While shifts in language and search terminology may seem superficial, the move sends a message to the millions who flock to these platforms, some of whom may be spurred into looking beyond pretty pictures and contemplating the implications of hosting a wedding on grounds where slave cabins still stand. Being able to daydream about these venues without immediately linking them to painful elements of the past is itself a narrow kind of privilege. As Color of Change interim senior campaign director Jade Magnus Ogunnaike told The Washington Post: “Black people don’t have happy memories of the antebellum period and plantations, where our ancestors were beaten and tortured. It’s important the reality of what happened in these spaces is present, versus a romanticization of human rights abuses.”
By speaking up publicly instead of quietly implementing updates on the back end, Pinterest and the Knot Worldwide are leveraging their power and influence by moving a critical dialogue further into the mainstream. It’s a promising seed that could grow to include more issues within the wedding industry. If tackling the plantation wedding morass is the beginning of a bigger push for change, perhaps the platforms might move on to other injustices — among them, vendors rumored to discriminate against same-sex couples or venues located in areas where overtourism is compromising the local habit.
Of course, those knots may prove more complicated to unwind than clamping down on the plantation wedding trend. Plantations are visually recognizable in a way that, say, an officiant who refuses to marry same sex couples might not be. And as far as environmental concerns go, vetting venues in destinations beset by hordes of tourists is a complicated, potentially Sisyphean task.
But more pertinently, it’s important to remember that Pinterest and the Knot Worldwide are businesses. Consumers shouldn’t let an instance of virtue-signalling confuse the fact that we’re talking about corporations, however progressive in their cultural politics. To wit, a statement from Pinterest this week thanks Color of Change for “bringing attention to this disrespectful practice” regarding plantation weddings. The takeaway? The call for change came from outside the house.
Ultimately, Pinterest and the Knot are marketplaces — and, as in any marketplace, it’s the individual who is responsible for channeling their values into corresponding decisions and behavior. Weddings are notoriously wasteful affairs: WeddingWire’s 2019 Newlywed report revealed that the average wedding in the United States cost just more than $38,000, a figure that includes the engagement ring, ceremony and reception and honeymoon. Data suggests that a 100-120 person wedding produces roughly 400 to 600 pounds of waste. If it matters to couples whether their leftovers are donated to a local food bank or whether plastic champagne flutes are still in a landfill long after death does them part, it’s up to them to coordinate leftover distribution, find biodegradable glasses and be thoughtful (from a sustainability standpoint) about their big day.
And therein lies the actual mission of platforms like Pinterest and the Knot: to connect people with the expertise and services they need to pull off their own dreams. It’s laudable when companies are on the right side of history, but ultimately, the choices are up to us.