Plantation Brown

I read way too many internet comments, so I see that many people believe that if we just stop “race baiting” and talking about race, it will disappear.

In case you were confused, racist shit keeps happening because people, usually white (but not always), keep denying it and repressing it, NOT because people keep talking about it.

For example, my friend Sarah was visiting her brother-in-law at Sherwin Williams today, and was shocked and appalled to find this paint sample color:


“Plantation Brown”


Part of the reason systemic anti-black racism is still so deeply ingrained in our society, is because people often have a complete and utter lack of awareness that leads them to believe that certain things like this paint splotch (or Benedict Cumberbatch apologizing after referring to black people as “colored,” or the supreme whiteness of the Oscars or Grammys or whatever) are not racist, offensive, and should not be challenged in any way.

I’ve realized there are certain things that are always seen as “in bounds” in the Offensiveness Department – one such thing being the Holocaust.

For example, I can say with like, 98% certainty, that there is no paint splotch called “Holocaust Gray”.

Why is that?

Well for one, the vast majority of the Holocaust’s victims were technically white. The victims of slavery and Jim Crow were black. And while this may not consciously be the reason why we consistently understand the badness of one, but not the other, it is certainly still the reason. I mean, face it, we’re not great at sympathizing with black victims of violence.

Implicit racial bias is an insidious monster.

For two, when discussing genocide and horrors of the past in schools, for example, the Holocaust is something taught in a very black and white (no pun intended) manner (i.e., Nazis = bad evil devils, their victims = their victims).

This cannot (always) be said for the way we learn about slavery and racism in schools, and how we talk about it in society. As this article from Vox notes about a recent report on lynching during Jim Crow,

“The New York Times’ coverage of a new report on lynchings in American history in a piece published today failed to mention the race of the people who were responsible for these acts.”

Herein lies an example of passive voice being used to protect white people, the perpetrators of racial terrorism and violence, thereby absolving them of wrongdoing. As usual, intent is irrelevant to me; regardless of the conscious intent of the NYT author(s), the impact is still the same.

Now think:

Have you ever read a factual report about the Holocaust in which we don’t name the perpetrators?

I definitely haven’t.

We, as a society, make the Nazis (and often, unfairly, the Germans) take responsibility for the massive crime that was the Holocaust. But we don’t always do that with Slavery and Jim Crow.

As hard as we may try, Slavery is not something Americans can escape. It is our history. So when I see shit like this paint name, I recognize that there are people who would gladly defend the name of that paint sample. However, remember that our society is not a vacuum – we don’t exist in a space where “plantation” for some reason does not evoke American Slavery, regardless that this word has history prior to and following the institution of Slavery. Just like with the words “plantation” and “slavery,” the word “holocaust” (little h) was a word in use before the (big h) Holocaust, but has since been inextricable from Hitler’s regime.

The point here is not to say that Slavery was worse than the Holocaust; they were both awful human atrocities committed for no reason. The point is that we tend to recognize just how bad the Holocaust was, but are unwilling or unable to always do the same with anti-black racism.


6 thoughts on “Plantation Brown

  1. Dearest Brianna….I love the analogies. I think of what used to be a Crayola crayon color, “flesh.” The company later decided to call the hue peach. That veracity offers a hint into what the color was missing…Chocolate, the depth and intensity of vibrant browns and purples pulsating . I share what for me is fascinating…”The Crayola Crayon color name flesh was changed to peach in 1962. Although flesh was included in the original box of 64 Crayola Crayons, we felt it would be insensitive to include it in the commemorative box. Since the crayon color remains unchanged, we felt we were remaining true to history.” And yet, as you shared..

    I sigh and once again request permission to republish your wisdom. As is consistent with our beliefs and tradition EmpathyEducates will include all attributions and hot links to the original.

    EmpathyEducates acts for equal and equitable [formal and informal] education as an inalienable human and civil right. It is our Mission to expand the conversation and create an appreciation for the commonweal… We labor solely for love for all…

    I thank you for your time, consideration, and bring awareness to what is.
    May life bring you peace, prosperity, pleasant dreams becoming the best of your reality. May your life reflect the goodness that is you . . . Betsy


  2. Hi!

    I’m sure you will find this question repetitive and ignorant, but I can assure you I am honest and I don’t mean any disrespect. I’m also fairly intelligent, yet still can’t figure this out.

    The Benedict Cumberbatch thing – even though I feel the word ‘coloured’ is outdated, I don’t see why it’s offensive. In fact, especially in my native language, the equivalent of ‘coloured’ feels like a fairly normal, non-offensive, non-derogatory word. It feels to me that the correct word for your skin colour changes every few years and I honestly don’t know anymore what the non-offensive, politically correct word is. I remember vividly discussions online about a decade ago about the word ‘black’ – people were outraged. That was around the same that everybody was told ‘African American’ was the correct word, which I always thought was silly, for the very, VERY obvious reason that I still didn’t know how to refer to black people that weren’t Americans! 🙂 Nowadays, ‘black’ DOES seem to be the accepted word. Another expression I hear fairly often is ‘people of colour’, which strikes me as slightly outdated as well, but it doesn’t strike me as offensive.
    Then there’s negro. Since there was a whole outrage about that word as well, and I’ve seen it used in literature and films as the way slave owners referred to their slaves, I don’t use it because it makes me feel uncomfortable. Yet, it really simply is Portuguese/Spanish for ‘black’ so technically, not necessarily meant as derogatory.
    I’ve always learned that the worst is ‘nigger’. I’ve never liked the sound of it, never use it. But then there’s the widespread confusion of white people (like myself, obviously, otherwise I probably would know the answer to all this…) when we hear the word used so, SO many times by black people amongst themselves. I understand that it’s a different story if it comes from them instead of a white person insulting a black person, I do. But still, you might understand that I would still not expect black people using the word.
    There’s also ‘dark-skinned’. I like that word, personally, but it doesn’t translate well at all in my native language, in my language it would become ‘dark-coloured’ (because there’s no way to translate dark-skinned into something equally short in my language, it would become ‘person with a dark skin’, there’s no way to make it an adjective, except for the alternive dark-coloured, which apparently is offensive).
    I think the normal term nowadays for caucasion is white.
    So is the normal term for a person of your skin colour black? If so, how come it was such an outrage not even a decade ago?

    About the plantation brown.
    I do have to point out that plantation is an actual thing – it doesn’t only mean the plantations of the horrible slavery days, it simply means something with a lot of plants. In some languages, it’s a word still regularly used. Obviously, if I were this paint manufacturer, I would have NEVER used this name because of the associations it might have to some people. But still, plantation is a normal thing and lots of greens and browns on a plantation, so technically (there we go again), there’s nothing wrong with it. But, again… if one simply thinks for a few minutes about this name, it should be obvious that it’s fairly ignorant to use, especially given the dozen alternatives one could come up with.



    • Hello again! And thank you for reading and commenting. About Benedict Cumberbatch, I can honestly say I wasn’t offended by his words. I was more wondering if where he comes from, that is an accepted term. Here, it is outdated to be certain, and a throwback to a time when signs like “whites only” or “colored only” segregated people during Jim Crow. Words are terms are always changing, for sure, but context is always important. As you said, in Spanish, negro is the word for black, but in a largely English-speaking America, Negro has been used derogatorily. Again, I, for one, can understand the evolving terminology, so I’m not usually offended by technical terms, but slurs (like nigger) are always a no for me.

      What I was offended by in the Cumberbatch situation were the people saying he shouldn’t have apologized. Which is messed up and entirely out of line. He absolutely should have apologized. Apologizing when you say something out of date and out of line is the right thing to do, and his apology was sincere. I appreciated it. But many people (nearly all of them white) were saying she shouldn’t have apologized, which I found quite racially insensitive and ridiculous.

      And yes, I understand that plantations are a technical thing. But, so are holocausts. Those were a thing before Hitler, and yet the word has been changed because of his actions in Europe during WWII. In the same way, slavery has irrevocably changed the connotation of the word “plantation” – and the descendants of the victims of slavey should be given the same respect as the descendants of the victims of the holocaust. But more often than not this is not the case.


      • You have a way with words. Ever thought about doing something with that? 🙂

        Thank you for explaining. I agree – I liked his apology and I don’t understand why he shouldn’t have. If apologies are really not needed, or they are clearly insincere, leave it. But in this case he clearly knew he had offended people, he clearly didn’t mean to, he clearly felt uncomfortable and he clearly felt the need to address that. How is that not a good thing!

        I think language is a pretty big thing here indeed. I hear the term ‘people of colour’ very often in the UK, used by intelligent and open-minded people, so maybe that’s where it comes from. In Dutch, plantation is still used – as a matter of fact, in my village, there’s a beautiful nursery garden that is called De Kleine Plantage, i.e. the little plantation. Would I have chosen that name? No. But, it’s still often used and doesn’t have the association at all, the different language makes it both literally and figuratively sound different.

        You’re right. As much as things that aren’t bad in themselves, they might get a bad association attached to them in the course of history. Look at the swastika, to give an obvious example. From time to time, I hear about a young person called Adolf. A very normal German name and it’s a shame it has a horrible association, but it does, so with 100,000 names to choose from, why would you? The same applies with this colour. Come on. Jungle gold. Cuba vintage brown. Autumn glow. Think of something – it’s bound to be better than plantation brown…


  3. You have an excellent post and thank you for articulating the truth. I disagree with a statement in your closing paragraph. Slavery and the Holocaust were human atrocities committed for many reasons with the core being financial gain and power. Our national wealth was built on the backs of slaves. As a country we have not faced that and even more importantly have not addressed the debt we endure today from Slavery.


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