Pinterest and the Knot Worldwide, two of the country's biggest online wedding-planning platforms, are changing their policies to stop promoting wedding venues and content that romanticize former slave plantations, representatives for the companies exclusively told BuzzFeed News.
The Knot Worldwide, which owns the Knot and WeddingWire, is currently working on new guidelines to ensure wedding vendors on their websites don’t use language that glorifies, celebrates, or romanticizes Southern plantation history, chief marketing officer Dhanusha Sivajee told BuzzFeed News.
Although plantations will still be able to list themselves as venues, Sivajee said the new guidelines are meant to ensure that wedding vendors aren’t referring to a history that includes slavery using language such as “elegant" or “charming."
“We want to make sure we’re serving all our couples and that they don’t feel in any way discriminated against,” she said.
Noting that the new language guidelines would apply to all wedding venues that list on the Knot websites, not just venues that market themselves as plantations, Sivajee added, "You can imagine there could be former plantations that maybe have changed their names to manors or farms."
A Pinterest spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that the company will restrict plantation wedding content on its website, and is working on de-indexing Google searches for plantation weddings on Pinterest. Though users can still search for it, they'll see an advisory that some of that content may violate Pinterest's policies.
"Weddings should be a symbol of love and unity. Plantations represent none of those things," the Pinterest spokesperson wrote in an email. "We are working to limit the distribution of this content and accounts across our platform, and continue to not accept advertisements for them."
The decision comes amid pressure from Color of Change, a civil rights advocacy group, urging the companies to stop promoting plantations that formerly had slaves as wedding venues altogether.
“The decision to glorify plantations as nostalgic sites of celebration is not an empowering one for the Black women and justice-minded people who use your site,” the organization wrote to the Knot Worldwide executives in a letter reviewed by BuzzFeed News. Pinterest also received a similar letter from the group.
“Plantations are physical reminders of one of the most horrific human rights abuses the world has ever seen," the letter said. "The wedding industry routinely denies the violent conditions Black people faced under chattel slavery by promoting plantations as romantic places to marry."
The Knot Worldwide will work with Color of Change to hammer out new guidelines applicable to every vendor on its platform. Sivajee said she expects the new policy to be released in the next few weeks, adding that the company will comb through every vendor and venue to make sure they’re following the guidelines.
The US wedding industry took in some $76 billion in revenue in 2019, according to market research firm IBIS World, and the money venues raked in makes up a large chunk of the pie. The average cost of a wedding today is $30,000, but that number varies depending on area, too. Websites like Pinterest provide ideas for weddings down to the very detail, and platforms like the Knot offer planning tools for couples and connect them with vendors.
Plantation weddings are not new. Since successfully rebranding as romantic venues evoking the nostalgia of antebellum charm, former slave plantations have become popular locations for weddings in the south; actors Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds held their wedding at Boone Hall Plantation, where dozens of black people were enslaved.
Arisha Hatch, the vice president of Color of Change, told BuzzFeed News the organization's campaign is meant to expose “all the different ways that the wedding industry is disrespecting black folks by romanticizing … forced labor camps that brutalized millions of slaves.”
“If we were talking about concentration camps, it would be weird and disrespectful and egregious for folks to be seeking to have their weddings at these locations,” Hatch said. “We’re trying to elevate public awareness around the ways in which corporations can enable such disrespectful behavior.”
Rather than target the plantations that host weddings, Hatch said the Color of Change campaign focused on wedding-planning platforms because they don’t profit directly from these weddings, and therefore may be more motivated to hearing concerns about these plantation venues.
“We understand that these wedding platforms have less of a stake in continuing to promote these sites, versus the plantations themselves,” she said. “While it won’t end the practice entirely, [this campaign] will hopefully begin to shift how the broader public thinks about this sort of celebration.”
Color of Change has sent similar letters about plantation weddings to Zola, Martha Stewarts Weddings, and Brides, as part of the campaign.
Zola, another leading wedding planning platform, removed some references in its blog posts to plantation wedding venues after Color of Change sent the company a letter, according to link archives reviewed by BuzzFeed News. But other references to plantation-themed weddings remain on the website, and Hatch said Color of Change has not heard from Zola.
Emily Forrest, a communications manager for Zola, told BuzzFeed News about the letter: “After reviewing this complaint we determined it did not violate our non-discrimination policy. While we may not always agree with couples on all of their wedding details, we also respect their right to choose where and how they want to get married.”
When asked for clarification about whether the Zola blog posts mentioning plantation weddings were a violation of the company’s nondiscrimination policy, Forrest declined to respond and instead directed BuzzFeed News to the policy on Zola’s website.
A spokesperson for DotDash, Brides' parent company, told BuzzFeed News the company has removed mentions of plantations on its website, and is addressing the letter with Color of Change.
"Content glorifying plantations is not in line with our core values," the spokesperson said. "We have removed these references and are actively working with Color of Change to evolve our guidelines to help ensure all our couples are supported, respected and inspired."
Color of Change did not hear back from Martha Stewart Weddings, Hatch said. The publication did not respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.
After this article was published, Zola spokesperson Emily Forrest told BuzzFeed News on Thursday that the website has removed all plantation venues listed on the website and is "actively evaluating all of the real weddings on Zola that have been photographed at plantation venues."
"We re-evaluated all our venues listed on Zola and determined we will not allow vendors to list who are plantations," Forrest said. "We recognize that this is a painful issue and have been evaluating on an ongoing basis. We appreciate Color of Change for bringing this issue forward, and will work with them and additional organizations to ensure our policies and guidelines are inclusive and make everyone feel welcome."
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