Pinterest and The Knot want to take some of the “romance” and “charm” out of the plantation-as-wedding-venue trend.
Officials with Pinterest and The Knot Worldwide, which owns popular wedding sites The Knot and Wedding Wire, told BuzzFeed this week they are changing their policies to stop promoting wedding venues and content that romanticizes former slave estates.
A spokesperson for Pinterest told HuffPost that the site is de-indexing Google searches for plantation weddings and won’t accept ads from the estates. While people can still search for plantations on the site, an advisory message will pop up that states that some results may violate Pinterest’s policies.
“We’re doing this because everyone deserves to feel welcome and inspired when planning their wedding on Pinterest,” the spokesperson said. “Weddings should be a symbol of love and unity. Plantations represent none of those things.”
The Knot and its sister site WeddingWire are working on new guidelines to ensure wedding vendors don’t use language that glorifies or romanticizes Southern plantation history (“elegant” or “charming,” for instance), according to chief marketing officer Dhanusha Sivajee.
“Plantations will still be able to list themselves as venues on our marketplaces, The Knot and WeddingWire, as long as they comply with the content guidelines,” she told HuffPost. “But our goal is to ensure that the content of all of our vendors on our sites is respectful and considerate to everyone.”
Wedding vendors do not have to pay to be listed on the sites. Rather than taking plantation venues off their sites entirely, The Knot and Wedding Wire decided to focus on the language surrounding them.
“We recognize that even if we remove these venues from our marketplace, they of course still exist and will continue to operate and potentially still market themselves using language that is insensitive to the history of plantations, which doesn’t solve the problem,” Sivajee said.
The guidelines will apply to all venues, so plantations that list themselves as “manors” or “farms” will also have to follow the new rules, she added.
Both decisions were prompted by pressure from Color of Change, a civil rights advocacy group that works to strengthen Black Americans’ political voice. In October, the group wrote letters to Pinterest and The Knot Worldwide asking them to stop all promotion of plantations that had slaves as wedding venues.
“The wedding industry makes hundreds of millions of dollars in profit by promoting plantations as romantic places to marry, and in doing so, routinely denies the violent conditions Black people faced under chattel slavery,” Arisha Hatch, the group’s vice president, told HuffPost via email.
Too many in the wedding industry fail to recognize “plantations as sacred spaces, where the bodies of many Black people’s ancestors are buried in unmarked graves to this day,” Hatch said.
“Instead they use words like ‘charming,’ ‘elegant,’ and ‘sumptuous’ to describe the places where Black people’s ancestors were tortured and stripped of their most fundamental rights,” she added.
The appropriateness of plantation weddings has become an increasingly hot topic. In 2012, Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds were criticized for holding their wedding at Boone Hall, a sprawling South Carolina antebellum-era plantation where preserved slave cabins still stand.
Since then, the trend has been roundly criticized in articles across the internet, but couples continue to book the sites for their big days. In 2016, Southern Celebrations magazine included plantation weddings in its “Top 10 Southern Wedding Trends of the year.”
“It would be a great sign of social responsibility for these platforms to rectify how they feature plantations as wedding venues.”
Meagan Culkin, owner of Magnolia Grove Weddings, a wedding planning company in Raleigh, North Carolina, has noticed the uptick. Five years ago, clients were opting for barn, country club and the occasional beach wedding, she told HuffPost. In recent years, there’s been a “large increase” in brides requesting plantation venues.
“There’s an obvious chain reaction,” she said. “A wedding publication might post a photo of a couple saying their vows on a beautiful front porch of a plantation home and then every bride in the area wants that exact wedding to be her special day, too.”
More often than not, aesthetics trump historical concerns, she said.
“I absolutely think it has more to do with the aesthetics of the beautiful home and architecture than it does with the history associated with the spaces, but I completely respect the argument and see where the social unrest is rooted,” she said. (Culkin said that her company often suggests non-plantation private southern residences ― places that are no less stately, but a lot less problematic.)
HuffPost reached out to a number of former plantations that offer wedding packages, but have yet to hear back.
Color of Change sent similar letters of concern to Martha Stewarts Weddings, Brides magazine and Zola, a female-founded full-service wedding-planning site.
Zola seems to have quietly removed some references to plantations in its blog posts, including one on historic Charleston, South Carolina wedding venues and another on Magnolia Plantation & Gardens.
Change of Color said it will continue to press for change among those prooting wedding sites. “It would be a great sign of social responsibility for all of these platforms to rectify how they feature plantations as wedding venues,” Hatch said.