Tales of the Cocktail founder resigns over ‘blackface’ comments

One of the founders of New Orleans-based cocktail festival Tales of the Cocktail (TOTC) has resigned after making an “insensitive, hurtful and just plain dumb” comment about his ‘blacked up’ wife prior to her participation in a Zulu parade.

Paul Tuennerman

Ann and Paul Tuennerman – known as ‘Mr. and Mrs. Cocktail’ for their founding of the New Orleans-based cocktail festival – found themselves at the centre of a social media storm after Ann posted a picture of herself in blackface prior to participating in a Zulu parade for Mardi Gras.

She accompanied the image with the following caption: “Paul G Tuennerman, interviewing me on Mardi Gras Morning from the Zulu Den. As he said ‘Throw a little Black Face on and you lose all your media skills’. He did his best as the interviewer.”

The Krewe of Zulu – an organisation of predominantly black members founded in 1910 in New Orleans – have traditionally worn blackface, which in itself has caused controversy, with the practice originally a response to overt racism in the south and black stereotypes, but also a tribute to African culture.

Since Ann’s participation, her husband has stepped down from the festival and issued a formal apology. Confirming his resignation with a post on the TOTC website on Friday Tuennerman said the comments were intended to be a husband’s “innocent teasing of his camera-shy wife, not a belittlement of others.”

“They say that when you love something, you have to let it go,” he said. “Tales of the Cocktail has been one of my life’s passions and building it together with the love of my life, Ann, has been a joy and a privilege, as has getting to know the spirits and cocktail community both in the U.S. and around the world. At its essence, Tales, which embodies the ethos of hospitality and welcome, is about inclusion and there can be zero tolerance for actions or behaviors that divide us by race, religion or sexual identity.

“My comment to Ann about blackface prior to the Zulu parade was meant to be a husband’s innocent teasing of his camera-shy wife, not a belittlement of others. In retrospect, the words were insensitive, hurtful and just plain dumb and I feel horrible for the pain they have caused. I take full responsibility and it is with a very heavy heart that, effective immediately, I am resigning from Tales of the Cocktail.

Ann Tuennerman’s post on a Facebook Live feed, depicting her in blackface ahead of the Mardi Gras parade last week

“I hope my departure will speed up the healing process and help the community constructively address the very important issues that have been raised as a result of this unfortunate and unintended incident. I humbly ask that you look beyond my stupid words and continue your support of Tales of the Cocktail and Ann who loves this industry with all her heart and all her soul.”

Ann meanwhile has agreed to appear in a Facebook Live chat on Monday afternoon with Ashtin Berry, a bartender at the Ace Hotel New Orleans that has objected both to the image and to Ann Tuennerman’s comment on the photo.

Posting an apology online prior to her husband’s resignation, Ann admitted that she had been “naive” and that she now recognises how “deeply offensive” her actions were.

“Regardless of anyone’s intentions, we all have to take responsibility for our actions, especially those of us in positions of authority,” she wrote. “As an industry leader, I assume full responsibility for my actions, and am ready to listen to all those who I have angered and hurt in the process. It was an honor to ride with the Zulu organization, but in my ignorance, I did not consider how videos and photos of my participation in this parade would cause pain and incite anger for so many. I understand that my role comes with a responsibility to take these considerations into account and to be mindful and respectful of everyone in our global community. I failed at this, and have no excuse to offer.

“My purpose here is not just to apologize publicly; I do not believe an apology excuses anyone of their actions. My purpose here is to acknowledge my ignorance and to open myself up to critique; to take my first step toward becoming someone more capable of listening to those who I have hurt and understanding the ignorance of my own actions”.

She added: “As a result of my actions, the question of fair and equal representation for bartenders of color at Tales of the Cocktail has been raised, and is one that deserves and will receive, our full attention. Words cannot begin to describe how regretful I am for having caused this situation; I am truly sorry. I also realize that actions speak louder than words, so I ask that you give me an opportunity to show you how sorry I am, and to work with me, to create solutions.”

The live Facebook interview with Ann and Ashtin will be broadcast on the TOTC Facebook page at 2pm CST on Monday, 6 March.

Ann Tuennerman

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