This Insights & Analysis article will be a first for this blog: a book review. The book, Beer and Racism: How Beer Got White, Why It Matters, and the Movements to Change It by Nathaniel Chapman and David Brunsma was released in October as part of Bristol University Press’ Sociology of Diversity series.
The book is an academic book. I say this upfront to set expectations. There is a lot of very real, non-academic content that will be relevant to a non-academic industry participant, but to access the content that an industry participant will likely find most valuable, you’ll have to browse (or skip) the literature, the reviews, the theoretical framework and the external signs necessary for an academic volume. Skimming through academic debates to access the content can be worthwhile. While I doubt many readers care about the place of this work in the various scholarly literatures or in frequent quotes from Bourdieu, many brewers might ask more urgently about their role in systemic change in this country. and how our industry interacts with these larger issues.
In the same vein that this book is an academic work, it is not a “how to”, and there are few practical suggestions on how to build a diverse organization. If you search for this, many resources appear. It is, however, theoretical background for those interested in learning more about systemic racism, and specifically how these structures that have long fueled inequality in American society first manifested themselves in beer. and brewing, and now in craft brewing.
Looking back, much of the story is bigger than craft beer or even beer. Several times I was reminded of Garrett Oliver’s comments that were quoted in a recent article by Dave Infante: “craft beer is part of america, and america has problems.” The story that is presented throughout the book makes this clear. That’s not to say the beer industry is flawless. Rather than the rules that have shaped America’s relationship with beer, both formal laws and informal cultural and marketing practices, date back long before anyone marketed malt liquor or put the word “craft” in front of it. “beer”. From the places we were invited to drink to the beverages we marketed, Americans have long faced very different worlds, including in drinks and hospitality, depending on their race (and gender – well that the book focuses primarily on race, sexism is often woven into the story).
If I could sum up the book’s central thesis in a sentence or two, it’s that both the community and the craft beer industry were created by networks that provide unequal access, which many participants in the industry (especially white people and men) are probably oblivious to; they miss the “forest for the trees”. Moreover, these systems and networks are difficult to break: it is difficult to introduce black people to craft beer in white spaces, and these spaces remain white without inviting a black perspective on the side of the industry.
This book attempts to walk the woods, and few swathes of industry (or American society) are spared in description. From home brewing and science education to wholesalers and labor unions, many stages have conspired to keep beer and brewing organized by race, class, and gender. That’s even before we get to hiring and the brewery spaces themselves. These problems can be difficult to see from the inside. The Home Brewing Section brought back personal memories of a conversation with Brewers Association staff by Aaron Ellis, who, as a graduate student, researched the BA archives. His presentation to staff was likely the first time that many white male staff members had considered how a homebrew club meeting might appear to a single minority attendee.
If there’s any positivity, it’s in the final chapter on movements and change efforts within the brewing industry. Although the beer community may only play a small role in larger societal systems, it documents some of the work done within beer.
Should you read this book? Academic jargon will likely be a hindrance for many in the industry. There is a sad irony in this, as the central thesis of the book is about the educational and cultural systems that keep people out. That said, if you’re willing to skim or skip the literature review and paragraphs on sociological theories, historical content and modern interview excerpts from the book would be valuable reading for anyone who thinks systemic racism is present. in the company, but don’t see how that applies to them or their brewery. Beer and racism take the books that made the best-seller lists this summer and bring them home with beer. While I can create a list of quibbles within the logic of some of the arguments or some of the data presented, none of them refute the central premise of the book, which is that the weight of history and the systems that support this story weighs on almost all trades. Brewery. We repeat the environments and structures we live in and repeat the stories we are told. Without knowing the foundations of this history and its flaws, as well as consciously working to build new structures, our beer history is destined to repeat itself.