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Diversity in the World of Wine

“Excuse me, you look like you work here.” “Are you sure you’re in the right room?” “I’m sorry, I thought you were the help.” “How do you afford to travel like you do?”

I grew up in a house where words meant things. And not just the words themselves; “it’s not what you say, but how you say it,” echoed daily. I used to mock my parents for saying it until I became an adult and realized the adage’s simple truth. The questions and statements below are just a few things that have been said to me while I attended wine tastings.

Did I mention I’m an African-American woman? Maybe I should have led with that. Now, read those statements again. Do you see a problem? Now multiply these statements with looks, comments and racial bias—real, not perceived. This is my wine life.

I know many wine professionals of color. We’re out here, it’s not hard to find us.

My response to most of these statements was to ignore the person. Anything else would have given validation to their statements. I chose to act like they didn’t exist. There were no words needed.

The wine world is interesting. It’s wide and vast, but the thinking about who wine represents still sits in a time lapse. My beloved industry is made of dynamic, smart people, some of the kindest people I know. There’s an energy that makes me come alive when drinking, reading, writing and discussing wine. But, like most fields, there are issues around diversity that need to be addressed, and the lack of representation for people of color is a major problem.

“Diversity” is a buzzword. It’s right up there with “lean in,” “woke” and “inclusive.” Words mean things, but without action, they turn into old-school lingo.

I’m often the only person of color at tastings. We represent less than 10% of attendees. How is this in 2018? I know many wine professionals of color. We’re out here, it’s not hard to find us. We just need to be welcomed in.

So, if you see me at a tasting, say hello. That’s a great place to start both change and a conversation. Don’t judge, and don’t make assumptions. Words mean things. Even the small ones.

Whatever you do, don’t mistake me for the help.