Should Slave Cabins Ever Be Rental Properties?
Hint: the answer is NO!
If someone wanted to turn Holocaust death camps into holiday resorts, most people would have something to say about that, and it wouldn’t be good. So, why don’t we feel the same way about old plantation houses and other remnants from the period of enslavement?
After all, both of them are reminders of genocide and torture, and both of them come from times when humans showed some of their worst traits. So why is Southern plantation tourism so popular?
The reason this comes to mind is because of a recent TikTok showing that someone is using an old slave cabin as a bed and breakfast. I’ll wait for you to pick your jaw off the floor…
It raised a number of issues for me.
First, that there are people who think revisiting the site of trauma and treating it as a holiday experience is OK. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve gone to exhibits relating to the period of enslavement. I was acutely aware of where this sat within my history and, for the most part, maintained a respectful silence. In fact, at times I couldn’t have spoken even if I’d wanted to, such were the emotions the artefacts stirred up.
Second, that in making this space available, the owner hasn’t honored the legacy. It’s not about how the enslaved people lived in the past. This revamped cabin has a bathtub, lighting and all mod cons. It’s not exactly historically accurate, is it?
Third, the comments from visitors… they were just awful, again ignoring the painful history. I’m not going to repeat them, but you can check some of them out in the video on this Twitter thread.
How can this ever be ok?
Yes, we have to be aware of our history, but this AirBnB listing wasn’t about that. Instead, it erased the painful history of that location and turned it into whitewashed - literally - tourist fodder. As a Black person coming from a long line of enslaved people, I find this hurtful and disrespectful. The lack of awareness is almost indecent.
And don’t even get me started on plantation weddings. The graciousness and luxury of the South was built on the backs of enslaved people. That isn’t something to celebrate, and not the energy I’d want at my wedding, personally.
As I was thinking about this, a conversation with a young friend made me think about how this would play out in a place like Barbados where, as they put it, “there is no land that was not plantation land". There are schools, homes, offices, banks, hotels, government buildings and more on land where my enslaved ancestors once lived and worked. It’s inescapable, but it is - at least sometimes - acknowledged. (There’s still a long way to go, though.)
For my friend, there was a difference between the situation in a small country like Barbados (just 166 square miles) and the situation in the USA, where they said there is “no reason to give money to the racists when you could literally be anywhere else." In other words, whitewashed plantation tourism and spruced up slave cabins aren’t right.
My friend concluded that recent attempts to rewrite history in the USA make the AirBnB slave cabin rental particularly egregious: “It seems extra disrespectful when you want to pretend it never happened and make money off it".
What do you think?
Thanks for reading,
P.S. As I was finishing up this piece, I read that AirBnB had removed the listing. However, according to the Grio, there are still some on the site.
Image credit: Getty images: Peter Dazeley
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2022. All Rights Reserved.