Of all the locations to hold a retreat in all of the world, they had to choose this one. Republican Party leaders, fresh from an electoral shellacking among black, Hispanic, Asian and women voters, have decided to put their heads together Friday and figure out how to do better, particularly given the changing demographics in the country. But they’ve chosen an awkward venue for their session entitled “successful communication with minorities and women”: an historic Virginia plantation.
Friday’s panel, according to the published names, indicate it will include two Latino women, three white men and a Latino moderator. Yet the panel is not without an issue in optics; the room where the discussion will take place is called the “Burwell Plantation” room at the Kingsmill Resort.
In fact, the room is named after the Burwell Family, a wealthy family that owned many slaves in 18th century Southern Virginia. Records pertaining to the families owning of slaves is well-documented by the city of Williamsburg on their website.
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., who heads Republicans’ campaign efforts, deflected a question regarding the irony of a panel trying to help the GOP woo minorities happening in a room named after a slave-owning family’s plantation.
“I don’t pick the rooms we meet in,” Walden said. “I know the Democrats have held their retreats here too and I assume you’ll go and figure out if they ever held meetings in that same room.”
Walden was also asked why the panel on appealing to minorities included three white men among six panelists, and he responded that he doesn’t “do this part of it.”
Asked and answered.
The choice of the former plantation (now a resort) has drawn raised eyebrows and snickers that even stretch overseas. Richard Adams, a blogger at the Guardian UK, even quoted from the Kingsmill sales literature, writing:
“When the first English foot was placed in Virginia, it was here on these grounds that once served as a central part of the area’s plantation life in the 1600s through 1800s,” boasts the website of the Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, which draws a discrete veil over whatever events in the 1800s may have caused that to end.
Slate’s Dave Weigel has thrown cold water on the snark over the GOP’s choice of venue, pointing out — correctly — that Democrats have “sat atop dead slave bones” at Kingsmill too, holding their legislative retreat on the grounds in 2009. President Barack Obama even prepped for his second presidential debate there.
But the reverse umbrage misses the point: the problematic optics for Republicans are not just the former plantation, or the bones and ghosts of dead slaves that share space with a lavish resort and golf course. The optics are a party that is almost entirely made up of white men, holding a strategy session on how to appeal to minorities and women while ensconced in a plantation, surrounded by the aforementioned bones and ghosts.