Privilege in the Gardens

French Laundry Gardens

It’s a sunny February afternoon in Yountville, California, in the heart of Napa Valley. My fellow bloggers and I just finished a sumptuous lunch at Michael Chiarello’s Bottega, easily a new contender for one of the best meals of my life, and have consumed just enough wine to give the landscape a softened haze.

Yountville is also home to The French Laundry, one of the best restaurants (if not the best) in America. Chef Thomas Keller’s gardens that supply the restaurant are open to the public, and we stop briefly to wander the rows of produce.

My feet squelch through the damp grass. A gardener tills the soil in rows of cabbage. Bees hum at a nearby hive. The gardens are so straight and immaculate, I wonder if Keller has a secret garden that grows wild and straggly, where he hides the really good vegetables.

We’re happy. It’s the perfect time to take a group photo.

“Ooh, let’s get the farmhand in the background!” squeals one blogger.

And I freeze.

Bottega Wine Glasses

I’ve worked in the restaurant industry and I consider it among the most formative experiences of my life. Anyone who has worked in the restaurant industry in the United States knows that restaurants are built on undocumented immigrants. (Not every immigrant who works in a restaurant is undocumented, but a great many of them are.) And these people are often the hardest working employees with the worst jobs in the kitchen — and, paradoxically, the best attitude.

That goes for the fields, too, especially in an agriculture-driven state like California. I don’t know this man’s story; I wish I did. But he is not an Instagram prop.

We live in a time when Donald Trump is on his way to the Republican nomination after claiming that he wants to round up and deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants. A time when the alternative Republican candidates argue about who speaks Spanish better and who would treat immigrants worse.

Anthony Bourdain was succinct: “If Mr. Trump deports 11 million people or whatever he’s talking about right now, every restaurant would shut down.”

Napa Flowers

Like most of my blog trips, our group consists of entirely white middle-to-upper-class bloggers. And that is a problem. It’s not enough that one of the bloggers says hello to the gardener and chats with him in Spanish. It’s not enough that I write and publish this post. What we need is people of diverse backgrounds going on these trips and sharing their viewpoints.

(The travel blogging world can be surprisingly segregated by race. Did you know that? How many bloggers of color do you actually read? Think about it.)

The overwhelming whiteness of our group stands out even more as we explore Oakland, a phenomenally diverse city with a history of social justice. Here, I’m struck by how this city isn’t defined by a white narrative with people of color relegated to side players, a place where hip-hop isn’t “too scary” or “too inappropriate” for families to dance to on a Friday night at the excellent Oakland Museum of California.

But this isn’t a story about Oakland — that will come in due time. This is about a moment while standing in the French Laundry gardens, sunshine on our faces.

My stomach turns at the thought of smiling white people who make their living traveling to exotic places and posting pretty photos on Instagram making sure they get the brown-skinned gardener, a man who likely went through hell to get here today, in the background of their selfie, because — why, exactly? To prove how much better we have it than him?

“No,” I say. “No farmhand. Just us.”

I take a selfie of our group, but the moment’s gone. It sits on my phone, never to see the light of day.

I was hosted in Yountville as part of a campaign with Visit California. All opinions, as always, are my own.

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A Lady in London
Guest

You bring up an interesting point, Kate. Anything you’ve heard that’s being done to facilitate change in that regard?

Visiit
Guest

That’s what I thought.

Oneika the Traveller
Guest

I’m glad to read this on your blog, Kate. What you note in your post is the same thing travel bloggers like myself have been decrying for ages: a) an industry that often excludes us, and b) mainstream (read: white ) bloggers who are often too blind to their privilege to understand the nuanced intersection and influence of race, travel, and politics as they tour the world. The lack of diversity on these press trips is embarrassing for an industry that prides itself on cultural discovery and navigating foreign territory, and often births articles and blog posts that offer point… Read more »

Lila
Guest

Really intriguing! as a brown person I often come across things that many other people take for granted while my mind is still condensing all of it.

Heather
Guest
Heather

This is why you’re my favorite blogger! Bravo, Kate!

Olivia
Guest

THANK YOU for posting this.

Sky
Guest

What blogs written by bloggers of color do you recommend reading?

Elizabeth R
Guest
Elizabeth R

My friend Elaine started a travel/life blog relatively recently: http://www.finallyelaine.com/ She’s Venezuelan American. Check her out 🙂

Katie @ Domestiphobia
Guest

*slow clap*

Jen
Guest
Jen

I can certainly understand your uneasiness with the scenario described, especially if the man was in earshot. And it is easy to conjure up an image of a bunch of empty headed girls giggling about “farmhands” in a superior manner. However, I think it is a large (and unfair) leap to automatically assume that it was her intent to use the man as a “prop”, “To prove how much better we have it than him?” When a photographer captures an image of women gathering tea leaves in a field or of stilt fishermen’s silhouettes in front of a sunset, would… Read more »

Dana Carmel
Guest

We need more dialogue like this from white travel bloggers in the travel blogosphere, Kate. As a black travel blogger, I really appreciate this post. Like you, at times I find the travel blog/travel writing space very disheartening in that more bloggers and writers of color aren’t being recognized and the predominant narrative is that of white travelers. Frankly, I get sick of the fluff, and I wish that more travel bloggers would start moving beyond the fluff and start talking about real issues that we confront when traveling. After all, isn’t developing a certain social consciousness and world view… Read more »

Abi
Guest

I know I’ve replied in more detail elsewhere, Kate, but your question made me realise that a) I’ve never stopped to think about the “background” of the bloggers I read and b) Now that I do look at colour/gender/sexuality/education and social class etc I realise that, actually, I read, work and travel with a pretty diverse bunch (if that’s how we want to label people). c) The same can definitely not be said of my experiences in the “traditional” travel media world…

Katie
Guest

Well said!

Monique
Guest

Kate, I love this blog , because besides the wonderful trips , the pictures are beautiful and this class and sensational!

Elizabeth N
Guest
Elizabeth N

Yes yes yes yes yes!!!!! I love the journey you’re taking Kate. I love how you recognize that a lack of diversity (in any field really) is not a good thing. Kudos to you for discussing it. And your thoughts on the optics of the shot with your colleagues are dead on. Do you follow/read my other favorite travel site, Travel Noire? Great writing/photography/perspective over there as well.
To borrow a beautiful phrase and sentiment, stay woke!!

Gabi @ Books & Trips
Guest

This is a very interesting topic. It’s true, most travel bloggers are white & coming from USA, Canada, Western Europe or Australia. Regions like Eastern Europe (where I am from), Africa, Asia, Central & South America are so underrepresented and it’s sad, but unfortunately there is not much that can be done. For example, the medium net salary in Romania is 654.38 USD, it would take years and years of savings for a Romanian to be able to quit his job and go travel the world. But we do what we can 🙂 Luckily, we are savvy people and we… Read more »

Katie
Guest

Thank you for this Kate. I absolutely love that a big name blogger like yourself is a) aware that she is privileged and b) wants to see change in the industry. I am looking forward to reading more posts like this on Adventurous Kate

Jill
Guest
Jill

Put your money where your mouth is. Give away EVERY press trip YOU get to a blogger with more diverse backgrounds. Let’s see if this is more than just an ploy to get a story angle as I agree with Jen that you are reading a lot into a situation.

Tim
Guest

What a cringe moment with the forced farmhand selfie … some people are so ensconced in their own bubble, they don’t know what goes on outside of it!

Melissa
Guest
Melissa

Thank you so much for writing this. A complete lack of recognition of privilege has turned me off to a huge percentage of travel blogs, and it is great to see you bring this up. I love framing this in a simple but telling anecdote – not only are these young bloggers white and socioeconomically privileged, but for all their global experiment and education (I doubt there’s many in that group without a degree) they’re also sadly lacking in the very basics of self-awareness, class-consciousness, or solidarity. As another post mentioned, shouldn’t exposure to developing countries, racial and cultural diversity,… Read more »

KM326
Guest
KM326

I’m a little sad about the comments that think this was written as a “ploy.” Perhaps the other blogger wasn’t thinking about the person in the background but, at least from what I understood, that’s part of what Kate is saying. No one thought to ask this person if they even wanted to be in this selfie, the way you’d ask a parent before taking a photo of a kid or how you’d ask someone working at a stand if you can take their photo. It was just like he was part of the scenery “oh, farmhand working!” And that… Read more »

Brooklyn
Guest

And this post is the reason why I will keep coming back to your site.
I’ve never read a post like this before on any blog.
Thank you!

http://www.justbeingbrooklyn.com

Kathi
Guest
Kathi

Thanks for this, Kate.

Aisling
Guest
Aisling

I see where you are coming from but not sure this is what the person meant when she asked to get the farmhand in. There is nothing I love more than taking pictures of locals doing their own thing when I travel. You get a sense of the REAL country and what the real picture is! Even if it was Chef Thomas Keller tending to the farm himself, its an image I would have liked to include. Its not the person that I want in the photo, its the act in general!

Brenna
Guest

Thank you so much for posting this, Kate. I just posted something about privilege on my blog, too… it’s a topic that I’ve noticed more and more people talking about on blogs, and rightly so. I think we all need to talk about it.

Beth @ Betty Beyond Boston
Guest

I have got to get up there! Have you been to Temecula, CA down south? Just went there this past weekend and did an off-roading Jeep Winery Tour. SO much fun.

Angela
Guest

Wonderful, relevant post. Thank you for having us stop and think about this.

Bowlercat
Guest

This is very intriguing. I have heard that California is beautiful in the spring. Keep up the good work blogging. =)

World into Words
Guest

As a multiracial blogger and avid traveler, I grapple with these issues a lot. I’m just now cracking my way into the travel blogging world and am, as usual, very aware of how my race, background and culture impact my travels, experiences and writing. I also have the privilege of being able to afford to travel, while many others do not. What I’m seeking answers to is how I can continue to travel and also give something back. I don’t know if there is one answer. All I know is that I hope to inspire, connect, and bring light to… Read more »

Edna
Guest

I have to disagree with the person above who said “there is nothing I love more than taking pictures of locals doing their own thing when I travel.” If they’re ‘doing their own thing’ in a service or labor industry, I find this intrusive and absolutely using them as a prop. If I find what someone is doing interesting, I’ll try to just focus on their hands or take a shot that doesn’t show their face. I hate when people use me as a prop in their photos, why should it be okay to do it to someone else just… Read more »

Edna
Guest

Oh, and it’s not just with tourists: my boyfriend’s brother has lived in Bushwick for years and now that it’s getting trendy, he’s annoyed that so many Instagrammers come to his neighborhood and will just stand on a street and wait for locals to walk in front of some street art, just so they can have a #strideby photo. PROP.

TestarossaTravel
Guest

Kate, thank you for this very thoughtful and well-written article. What a deeply enlightening moment that must have been, and isn’t that truly the best gift of traveling? The issue goes far beyond bloggers though. 90% of the travelers I meet look like me and think like me (I’ve searched the world for a Trump supporter, but they don’t travel – which may be why they think the world is unsafe). What’s worse is that so few travelers actually engage with locals in anything more than a cursory way. We have so much and yet strive for more, while so… Read more »

Kate
Guest

Really great post!

World into Words
Guest

I was really inspired to share my experience about travel and how my being multiracial influences my trips. Though this is more of a piece on how, if we can, start the dialogue about these things. Hope you have a chance to give it a read! http://worldintowords.com/essays/multiracial-travel-experience/

Jasmin
Guest

Thank you so much for posting this, Kate. I grew up in Yuma, AZ – the winter vegetable capital of the world – and have seen the lifestyle of agriculture workers all my life. Not everyone realizes the amount of work that it takes, the toll it takes on a body, and the crazy hours that are worked to complete a day’s goal. I can go on and on about what people live through, all for a low wage. Some don’t even realize that these individuals may even be professionals in their home country, but have given it all up… Read more »

Alissa
Guest

Hi Kate. I think that this post raises some really important points. The travel industry as a whole is incredibly saturated with white voices, most of whom are completely unaware of their privilege. I am glad to see that you are using your platform as a very prominent travel blogger to draw attention to privilege, especially, as you pointed out, as the majority of your readers are white. My critique with this post is that there is so much more to say here. Yes, you identified that this blogger completely tokenized a person of color. However, I feel that expressing… Read more »

Jennifer
Guest

Its a shame that people like the woman you are talking about actually get to go on press trips! Thanks for posting

Larry
Guest

You make a great point, Kate. There aren’t many bloggers of color. I really have to wonder why that is…

Thanks for starting the discussion.