Brewery Faces Backlash for Mocking MLK's 'I Have a Dream' Speech to Sell Black Beer
In a now-deleted apology on Facebook, the brewer described himself as a "stupid stupid man, but [...] not a racist."
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It’s no easy feat to twist Martin Luther King, Jr.’s iconic “I Have A Dream” speech into a racist Facebook rant. But Dave Hyndman, owner of Reckless Brewing Company in San Diego, California gave it a hell of a go on March 5 in a now-deleted post promoting its latest beer, “Black Lagers Matter.”
The post uses the language of King's famous speech to promote the beer, jokingly arguing that black lagers are discriminated against while mimicking the serious tone of anti-racist activism, and ignited a fierce and swift response. Commenters all over the country chimed in with disbelief.
Black-owned lifestyle brand Beer Kulture commented on Twitter: “This has to be one of the stupidest fuckin things you kan do… The fuck is wrong with this industry?”
“People are literally dying, but okay, let's make fun of BLM, social justice efforts, and the ‘perpetually offended’" added Robin LeBlanc, a beer writer based in Toronto, Ontario.
Of course, no racism-fueled controversy is complete without the requisite “people don’t have a sense of humor” backpedal.
As the comments piled on, Hyndman doubled down. First he replied to naysayers, at one point asking, “Does it affect your opinion if [sic] me if I told you that I ran the beer name in the post by some African American customers and they said they liked it?”
This was quickly followed by deleting myriad comments that condemned the original post. Finally, he released the below statement on Reckless’ Facebook page (the post has since been deleted).
This is far from Reckless’ first brush with controversy. Past beer names include “Genocide” amber ale, “Crazy Stupid Bitch” IPA, and, ironically, a barleywine called “Poor Social Skills”. The brewery’s history of tone-deaf marketing spans from the homophobic (serving a beer called “Adam and Steve's Friends of Dorothy Fabulously Fruity Super Gay Beer” and offering to pour it in an “extra gay fancy glass with an umbrella”) to the tasteless (crowdsourcing hookup stories via his email newsletter from his previous brewery, named Wet N’ Reckless).
From the newsletter:
“I love the idea that I have brought new friendships into people's lives. But, you know what I love even more? The idea that my brewery may have brought some sex into people's lives. So, I want to scientifically compile data on this effect. I want some feedback from people that have hooked up because of Wet N Reckless. Consider this a scientific study. These are simple questions, so I expect lots of responses. How far did you go? first base? home base? or something else. I'm interested in gay hook ups too, but if it's dudes you can spare me the details- call me hung up. (I'm good with the lesbian hook up details, though. You know, for science.)”
Other newsletter shenanigans include an essay on how everyone can celebrate Kwanzaa (“the holiday in which we all celebrate our African heritage because, as we all know, we’re all African if you go back far enough… ”).
Hyndman replied to MUNCHIES’ request for comment with the following email:
I made a post that I wish I never had. Because of my lack of awareness and difficulty in understanding the way that people feel about things I truly did not expect it to harm or offend anyone but it did in a big way. I can only apologize and admit that I made a terrible mistake but I never intended to hurt anyone's feelings or offend them. The uproar on facebook has been catastrophic. I have no idea how severely this will impact Reckless Brewing but I fear the worst. This is the worst day of my life.
The craft beer community has struggled with its tendency to let incidences of racism go unchecked. Beer Kulture’s recent essay about selective outrage in beer circles illustrated the massive gap in response when it comes to holding breweries accountable for racism versus other issues like gender inequality.
“I know to outsiders it feels like there's a mob mentality—a piling on—when examples like this come out. And to a recipient it may feel that way too. But… it is less about trying to destroy or harm the person that did it than it is an effort to try to educate them about why it is wrong, and to educate *other* breweries about what is socially acceptable for marketing,” explains Maine-based beer blogger Carla Jean Lauter to MUNCHIES.
In this case, the words were wielded in jest against a movement aimed at supporting a community that sees five times the incarceration rate of whites, are eight times more likely to contract HIV, and suffer from massive systemic inequalities that stymie opportunities in education, real estate, and wealth potential—and can be killed for holding a cell phone, selling cigarettes, or eating Skittles. And it wasn’t even the first time it’s happened with this particular joke; a Lakeland, Indiana brewery drew criticism last year for beers named “Black Beer Matters” (and “Flint Michigan Tap Water”).
Whether Reckless learns from the backlash or uses the blowup to lean further into its “edgy” reputation remains to be seen.
Beth Demmon is a San Diego-based craft beer writer whose work has appeared in BeerAdvocate, Playboy, Thrillist, MUNCHIES, Tales of the Cocktail, and more. View all her work at bethdemmon.contently.com .