Founders, Racism, and White Male Cultural Dominance

October 2019

Founders are not sorry. Anyone following the events unfolding around Tracy Evans’ lawsuit against his former employer is aware that, despite the huge amount of attention this case of blatant workplace racism has attracted, no apology has been offered to Mr Evans. There has been no admission of wrongdoing, no attempt to backtrack or make amends, not even an acknowledgement of mishandling the situation, and worst of all, an achingly embarrassing statement by a Founders manager, who said he was “not sure of his [Mr Evans’] lineage” – because denying a person’s race and colour means that they could not possibly have been racist, of course not – ha. But why? Why, in this day and age, are Founders not sorry? Did they crawl out from under some Neanderthal rock, or have they received both implicit and explicit license from within the beer and other creative industries that are dominated by white men?

I am not black, I am not African-American, but I am also not white. While that does not automatically classify me as an ally, my experiences of prejudice based on race, colour, gender, class, and social expectation mean that I am an ally to anyone who has experienced any kind of prejudice. I use POCs (people of colour) below in order to sum up experiences I have had which resonate with what happened at Founders, although obviously being of a different ethnic background and living most of my life in a different country mean that these are not identical. Everyone’s experiences of prejudice are different, but that does not make prejudice less real.

The world I have lived in has always been like this. Every creative industry I’ve worked in or tried to work in has been the same-embarrassing struggles with my name, racially based assumptions that undermine my character and confidence, questions about my experience and competence based on the way I look, prejudiced jokes and asides I’m not supposed to hear.

Why is it that POCs have to form our own organisations/events/symposiums? Why do women? We are not wanted or included in the mainstream and won’t be any real equality until we are sitting at the table on an equal footing with white males, but ultimately the reason we are not there is because they do not want us there.

To me, this is not a beer-specific problem. It relates to every industry which white men feel belongs to them – particularly creative industries. These industries are not seen as falling into the traditional domain of POCs and therefore we are not welcome there. We are not seen as taste-makers, culture-creators. We are seen as the drones, the cogs who do the menial labour, whether we’re cleaning the office or fixing the computer. Culture, be it beer culture, literature or most other cultural arenas, is demarcated as white male territory, and anything that women or POCs or, heaven-forfend, female POCs, create is automatically ‘niche’, with all the connotations and barriers that come with that word. If we infringe into this hallowed space then they see it as fair game to mock us, deride us, question our competency and of course, make fun of our appearance and our culture.

I may be speaking out of turn, but it seems to be primarily white men who are surprised by what has happened at Founders, while POCs and many white women have watched events unfold with a sad sense of familiarity, which does not make us less angry, it just means we have lower expectations from white male-dominated industries, and often white men in general. Why did it take a lawsuit for people to sit up and pay attention to this egregious incidence of blatant workplace racism? Is it because the beer community wants to believe the best of itself or is it because it, like Founders, just doesn’t care? Is there behind-closed-doors eye-rolling among certain groups of white men in the industry? Although I would love to be wrong, my experiences have led me to believe that this is exactly what is happening. Founders have not apologised because they are not sorry. Saying in public that they do not recognise that Tracy Evans is African-American is the equivalent of sticking two fingers up at every non-white person, at the idea that racial discrimination is wrong, and at the idea that they are under any kind of obligation to apologise. They genuinely believe that this is all just going to go away and they will soon be back to ‘business as usual’, that all will be forgotten and forgiven, and sadly – looking back at other breweries who have been flagged for prejudiced behaviour, that will probably be true. The white male consumer, even the one currently pouring out his Founders on social media, can have a very short memory, especially when it comes to beers they enjoy drinking. Let’s see how many folks are still boycotting Founders this time next year, and what that demographic is.

While I hate to be negative about this industry, the sheer audacity of Founders throughout this entire scandal has left me convinced that their confidence in brazening it out is based on a knowledge of their consumer base as well as their unbridled arrogance. They think they’ve already gotten away with it. While the law is responsible for ensuring justice for Tracy Evans, it is us, beer consumers and the beer community, who need to really hold them to account – not just with crowd-pleasing tweets of outrage but by withdrawing our financial support permanently. By showing them that we are all allies of anyone suffering discrimination. That they are wrong to take the complicity of the majority of the industry for granted. But are they? Sadly, I think probably not.