… for a Black girl
The complexities of tokenism, Black excellence, and how they make me squirm in my chocolate-coloured skin
“You’re going to love our wine — the winemaker is Black.”
My stomach drops. I smile awkwardly to stop the look of annoyance, frustration and confusion from spreading across my face. I can’t do anything but reply with a weird “mhhmmm”… while silencing my inner voice that wants to reply back:
“… but do they make good wine?” — my inside voice
I am thrilled that I was recruited into the world of wine and spirits. It found me early in my career and has given me the opportunity to develop personally, creatively, professionally, and academically. As someone who lives for taste and started collecting the LCBO’s Food and Drink magazine a lot sooner than I should admit, I am honoured to work with and learn from incredible leaders, visionaries, and entrepreneurs from across the industry, many of whom have built a life on grapes or grains. I am more than happy to share my professional perspective as a young marketer and thought-leader on the future of the alcohol beverage industry but let’s get something else out of the way that seems to be one of the most interesting facets of my identity lately. I am Black and I work in wine — I don’t usually lead with that when I introduce myself because it’s obvious and though important, surely not the most interesting part of my identity.
Approaching 30, I have only just begun the work to understand how to articulate my own experience; there is a level of discomfort and hesitation to share my perspective, only because I have never actively reflected on what this experience means to me beyond a surface level.
I grew up as a competitive dancer and an athlete where talent was nurtured, and drive made you successful. You were promoted for your achievements and recognized based on merit. These spaces where I felt championed for my skill and talent, instilled values and experiences in me that continue to shape my identity today.
What being Black means is going to look different and take on a different meaning depending on the individual you ask. Our voices, experiences and perspectives are all unique and the ways in which we choose to connect to ourselves and those of the same group are completely different.
Defining my perspective and finding my voice
In recent years, I feel there has been an insurmountable expectation put upon me to declare where I stand and how I feel about my Black experience, allowing all kinds of questions and reflections to the surface. Being Black is simultaneously the largest, yet smallest subset of my identity and it seems to carry more weight than I have ever allowed it to in my life and there is no succinct way to describe the experience.
This month, I was asked by my employer to share my perspective on how I define representation and comment on the future of the wine and spirits industry as part of their #BlackHistoryMonth employee spotlight program. Because I am often asked to share my perspective, most of the time I decline due to the depth and complexity of the topic. I was reluctant to participate due to the nature and timing of the ask, howver, reflecting on the topic of representation and identity in the workplace was a therapeutic excercise and I am grateful to have been prompted to begin this self-discovery. This was the first opportunity I have initiated to actively and willingly participate in this conversation and share my perspective.
What does representation mean?
To me, representation means being seen and valued for however you choose to show up and present yourself to the world. I hope that when I show up to work every day it is my grace, grit, and passion for grapes that shines through and is reflected in my work. Throughout my life, I have had to tune out unsolicited comments that suggest, I play the “Black card” to get ahead, or that “I’m just the diversity hire.” However, in my role as the National Portfolio Manager with Breakthru Beverage Canada, I have never felt like the token Black girl. I feel seen and valued by my colleagues, our suppliers, and strategic brand partners for the creativity, credible brand-building experience and vision for the future of the industry that I bring to my role.
I too, am unlearning and learning about unconscious bias that exist and perpetual stereotypes that have long been depicted in the media. As a marketer responsible for building consumer-centric strategies, we create customer personas, actively profile and make educated guesses on how and by whom our products will be consumed. My awareness is heightened around the importance of adopting inclusive language, and content created that feels well integrated and not like we are “checking a box” when it comes to representing diversity in ads and messaging.
Beverage alcohol and the hospitality industry at large, are chock-full of stereotypes. It has been powerful seeing brands shift to meet consumers where they are and, I love how representation has evolved seamlessly and exponentially through the power of the creator economy and adoption of user-generated content as a key marketing tactic.
The Future of Wine
Rooted in tradition, the future of beverage alcohol is ripe for disruption. In a world where everything is going digital and expanding into other dimensions, savouring a glass of wine, mixing a craft cocktail, or sipping a new spirit is one of the last experiences you cannot download or replicate to the same sensory degree in a digital space. There is an incredible opportunity to enhance our food and drink experiences with technology. It is accelerating the ways in which we can get products into consumers’ hands and create more accessible ways to find, sample, and select high-quality wines with a story. In this digital world, we are in constant conversation with consumers, and new lifestyle trends are opening up paths to serve more convenient, sustainable, and wellness-conscious options. Product development and innovation are accelerated with an unprecedented amount of sensory and attitudinal data allowing us to market wine and spirits in a more friendly and accessible way. At Breakthru, we are relentlessly focused on redefining new and engaging ways to reach consumers, educate customers and tell the stories of the people and places behind the bottles of our portfolio.
Zakiya Dalila Harris | The Other Black Girl