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New Orleans' oldest brewery is changing its name, and people are Mad Online
On Friday, New Orleans’ oldest remaining brewery announced it would change its name after nearly a century of selling beer under the banner of Dixie Brewing Company. People took it really well!
Dixie has been around in one form or another since 1907, and has changed hands several times in the intervening century. Its flagship product is Dixie Beer, an unremarkable “slow-brewed” lager in the Budweiser mode with limited circulation throughout the Southeast.
The label doesn’t currently feature the confederate battle flag or motifs on its labels, but it may have in the past? (Can’t tell if that’s real or doctored.) And of course, it features the brewery’s name in bold green block caps with gold trim.
The origins of the term “Dixie” are murky—some connect it to a French bank note in New Orleans, others to the Mason-Dixon line, still others to a blackface minstrel song that pre-dates the Civil War—but its meaning is comparatively easy to pin down.
As Jeremy Helligar wrote for Variety last week:
“Dixie,” for the record, is the epitome of white America, a celebration of a Southern tradition that is indivisible from Black slaves and those grand plantations where they were forced to toil for free… Regardless of its origin, for many Black people, it conjures a time and a place of bondage. If a “Dixie”-loving Southerner today insist the word merely represents a deep appreciation of their homeland, they’re probably white.
That about sums it up! “Dixie,” like “antebellum,” is a semantic dodge used to romanticize the plantation-era American South without acknowledging the brutal, exploitative, inhumane institution of chattel slavery on which it was built.
Not everyone who uses “Dixie” in a sentence or on a beer label means to erase the suffering of generations of Black people and whitewash the darkest chapter in the country’s dark history. But it’s 2020, intent and impact are different things, and America is getting slightly more willing to redress its racist past. Dixie is a part of it, and… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ that’s simply the deal!
Following in the footsteps of The Chicks (née Dixie), Lady A (formerly Antebellum), and others, Dixie Brewing Company announced Friday that in light of the “critical conversations about racism and systemic social issues that have caused immeasurable pain and oppression of our black and brown communities,” it would get to work finding a new name to “best represent our culture and community.”
Speaking of causing pain and oppression to BIPOC: Dixie Brewing is currently owned by Gayle Benson, the billionaire widow of deceased financier Tom Benson. In 2018, the Bensons were ordered to pay $384,000 to Tom’s Black assistant due to a lawsuit over withheld wages that also included the allegations that wife Gayle slandered, discriminated against, and harassed that assistant by, among other things:
attempting to relegate him to a substandard room with child-size bunk beds and no air conditioning when the Saints were holding training camp at the luxury Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia in 2014.
Jesus! So maybe this is growth from the still-living, still-billionaire Benson, who via her late husband also owns the NFL’s Saints and the NBA’s Pelicans… or maybe it’s just PR.
Either way, the announcement seems downright sensible, especially considering company just opened a brand-new 85,000-square-foot brewery in New Orleans East that it’s hoping will become a tourist attraction.
Beer tourism is pretty fucked these days thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, but if/when we ever get back to normal, “come drink at our gleaming monument to a whitewashed Deep South” would be a pretty tough sell, given, y’know, the absolute reckoning this country has also been going through as it confronts its racist past and present.
The brewery was also designed on produce beer for a broad regional market beyond New Orleans. As the company had begun expanding to other states this spring, wholesalers raised red flags about the name, [general manager Jim] Birch said.
“That was a wake up call,” he said. “We don’t want it to be an impediment for what we can do in the future.”
Times: changing! Dixie Beer: a bad look! It doesn’t take a Big Billionaire Business Brain to realize this. And yet, it does require some brains.
Dixie Brewing Co.’s announcement was met with a refreshingly mature response from the scads of Big Easy Boomers who fondly remember drinking Dixie Beer in their younger years but understood that to become a more just society, America had to divest itself of the cultural ephemera of its unjust past.
Hahaha, just kidding! Distraught whites were absolutely enraged by the news, maligning the brand, Benson, and “PC culture” with deranged posts on Twitter and on Dixie Beer’s Facebook page. Fingers reviewed hundreds of instances of online harrumphing to bring you this representative selection:
I could go on: by Sunday evening, the post about the name change—which hasn’t even happened yet, remember—on Dixie Beer’s Facebook page had racked up over 1,700 comments and over 900 “reactions,” both of which skewed overwhelmingly negative.
Most of the comments are pretty repetitive after you scroll through a few: a lot of people threatening not to buy Dixie Beer anymore, a lot of posts referencing debunked not-racist origin stories for the term “Dixie,” accusations of Stalin-esque erasure of history, and so forth.
But this one in particular cracked your humble Fingers editor right the hell up:
So a man named Cotton walks into a brewery named Dixie… and just like that, nothing was the same.
🎧 Fingers on Brutal South
My friend Paul Bowers runs a newsletter and podcast called Brutal South. It’s really great, and you should subscribe to it; I’m a paying subscriber, myself. Anyway, Paul had me on the Brutal South podcast recently to talk about the boogaloo, White Claw, and much more. If you enjoyed my MEL Magazine story, you’ll enjoy this here pod.