Let’s talk about Offbeat BIPOC Brides and couples of color

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As one commenter pointed out, we don't have a tag for white people... so why do we have one for people of color? Original photo by Tim Simpson Photography, remixed by Creative Commons license
As one commenter pointed out, we don't have a tag for white people.Original photo by Tim Simpson Photography, remixed by Creative Commons license

Back in 2008, I started a discussion about what I saw as a distinct lack of racial/cultural diversity among Offbeat Brides. As I said then: “I see a bazillion tattooed white women, but very very few black hippie brides, goth asian brides, steampunk latina brides, rockabilly native american brides, etc.”

Based on reader feedback that it was “hard to find any weddings of people of color,” we started tagging posts that featured BIPOC to make them easier to find. Tagging is how we make all sorts of things on the site easier to find: Kansas weddings, brides in glasses, grooms with long hair. We've got hundreds of tags. We wanted to make it easier for readers who were frustrated by the experience of feeling like they only saw white couples across wedding planning websites.

What we heard from our readers was that when it came to wedding blogs, they felt under-represented and invisible. The goal with the tag is to counterbalance some of this invisibility. The issue was discussed extensively back in 2008, both on the blog and the Offbeat Bride Tribe, right down to readers weighing in on the wording choice for the tag.

Recently, however, we gotten feedback from current readers that they find the tag misguided tokenism at best; racism at worst. Obviously, we take this feedback seriously. Offbeat Bride has a history of being sensitive to issues of labels and identity, and although the tag was original established to address a reader request, we're totally open to the fact that it may no longer be serving its intended purpose. If the majority of our current readers don't like it, we've got no attachment it. Tagging or not tagging won't change anything on our end: we'll keep featuring the same diverse range of weddings, which includes our ongoing editorial priority to seek out a wide range of ethnically and culturally diverse weddings.

So, we're doing a poll:
(poll now closed)

UPDATE: POLL RESULTS

So, the poll results make it clear that people want the BIPOC tag to stick around. Even if you eliminate the people who didn't care, the results are still overwhelmingly in favor of the tag. None of the alternative tag titles resonated for us — some of the most common suggestions included multicultural and ethnic, which don't quite ring true. Others suggested breaking things down by specific ethnicities, which feels like over-engineering things (we're a wedding blog, not the census!) and opening a nightmarish can of worms in terms of cataloging/taxonomy.

Based on comments, it feels clear that the issue is not the tag itself, but whether or not we as editors are applying it to people without their knowledge or consent. Everyone seems to agree: people can call themselves whatever they want, but it's inappropriate for Offbeat Bride editors to visually identify people as “of color.” This in mind, we're committing to only applying the tag to wedding profiles where the submitter has either A) checked the BIPOC when they submitted their wedding or B) mentions their race/ethnic background in their wedding story. In this way, we ensure that the tag is only applied to folks who identify.

That said, we will not be going back retroactively and de-tagging existing posts, unless we are contacted by the couple in question… which has happened! I got a very sweet email from a bride who'd been tagged BIPOC asking me to remove the tag from her wedding.

“I'm very proud of my heritage,” she explained. “But I'm not comfortable with the tag. I'm all for letting other folks self-identify that way, though.”

I respect that completely, and removed the tag from her wedding. All was well.

Mostly, thanks so much to each of you for taking the time to weigh in on the subject and sharing so many thoughtful, well-stated perspectives. While there's no way to make every single one of our hundreds of thousands of readers happy (especially not with a complex issue like this), the discussion was hugely enlightening for me.

Race is a sticky, difficult issue to discuss (especially online) and as always, I love that Offbeat Bride readers can talk about tough issues respectfully and intelligently.

Thanks again, everyone!

Comments on Let’s talk about Offbeat BIPOC Brides and couples of color

  1. As a person of color, I greatly appreciate being able to find posts that feature people like me. I’m not trying to be a bitch, but I wonder if the people complaining are people of color themselves? If they are, I’d actually love to hear their point of view. Otherwise, the reason I ask is because I don’t think you truly can appreciate how difficult it is to find something as simple as a mixed race cake topper couple (it’s easier with Etsy but it used to be impossible) or to see pictures of brides with natural, unstraightened hair(try googling brides with afros and enjoy the two pictures you get).

    The truth is, we seem weirdly underrepresented which is why things like “black” magazines are still relevant. It’s impossible to find images of ourselves with fairie wings, with tats, with nappy hair or dog collars or tiny birdcage hats.

    I know it seems wrong to focus on race but the truth is, people of color (of lots of colors) are not terribly represented on the internet yet. It’s getting better compared to just five years ago, but it’s still slim pickings.

    I say keep the tags unless the people of color are doing the complaining.

    • Agreed. I think that there should have been a 2nd question on the poll: Do you consider yourself to be a person of color?

    • I’m going to go ahead and agree with this response. Since the labels are opted-into by submitters, I think it’s great to make under-represented attributes easier to find for people who are looking to find more folks that represent their particular community, if the submitters are comfortable with that.

      That being said, as a non-PoC bride (since you asked 😉 ), I don’t think my opinion on this particular topic really is the point, nor should it be. The important thing is that whether the PoC tag stays or goes should reflect the desires of PoC brides.

      • Well, the self-identification issue is where we’re a bit inconsistent and there may be room for improvement. We’ve let brides self-identify as “couples of color” on their bride profiles for the last year or so, but we also apply the tag when one partner was visibly non-white OR they mentioned that race was an issue with their wedding planning.

        There are also instances with wedding porn posts where the couple doesn’t have the opportunity to self-identify, when we have used the tag. In fact, there was a post when we didn’t use the tag, and a commenter got irritated.

        I totally recognize that editors identifying couples as non-white is a sticky issue. I’m open to suggestions for how we can keep the tag useful (since it seems like the majority of readers appreciate it) while also keeping it respectful.

        • Perhaps adding a box to the submission process which says “I’m okay with Ariel and the gang adding tags they think are applicable to my wedding!” would clear this issue up.

        • I guess my issue is that while I look white, I have Native American blood in me, a trace of Asian, and a trace of African American. So what box would I check?

          I self identify with Southern American as my culture, but I’ve studied enough about various cultures to realize that just labeling a person by the pigment of their skin doesn’t do justice to describing who they who- we’re identifying based on one factor that we can’t see and ignoring so many that we don’t know about.

          • I would love to see a multiracial brides tag for this purpose. My partner doesn’t really identify as being a person of color, but she is definitely biracial (white/Asian).

    • yES i agree with this totally. totally!!!!!! and i am a person of color, non-american raised!!! great post

    • I’m a white woman who married a black man. I can not begin to tell anyone reading this how helpful that tag was to see couples like me and/or my husband get married. Non-white people are not nearly as represented in the wedding complex.

    • As an offbeat lite afro-latina I completely agree! Although it may not seem pc, this would help me find brides like me faster. Planning an offbeat wedding is difficult enough especially when you’re going against your cultural grain. This site is my only real support through the wedding planning craziness so finding brides like me would be a great help. I do not mind the tag at all and see if for what it is, a tool to find what I want faster.

    • Wow, you really weren’t kidding about the two pictures thing. That’s super crappy.

  2. As an offbeat-lite woman of color (hahaha, what a mouthful!), the tag really doesn’t bother me at all. It can be reassuring to see other people who look like me doing really cool, interesting things for their committment/wedding ceremonies and receptions, and fully expressing themselves and their love. I see it as being analogous to marking some weddings as “lesbian” – it’s gives you a way of finding them easily if you’re interested in them, but it’s not like they’ve been separated out from the rest.

    I doubt I would use the tag to find these weddings, but it’s nice to know it’s there if I wanted to.

  3. I remember someone at some point a while back saying “Why not say Ethnic Offbeat Weddings?” but more often than not ethnic pertains to your country of origin, and a lot of the time when you say “ethnic” weddings, people think you are taking cultures from the old country, which may not necessarily be true.

    I personally think the tag is fine.

  4. Ignore my cartoon avatar…I am a very mixed girl who looks “black” if you wanted to throw a label on me.

    Personally, I think the tag is fine. I like being able to sort down to brides that look like me. It is often that I have a hard time picking out accessories or dresses because with darker skin and natural hair, I know what it looks like on the average model, wont be how it looks on me (especially when it comes to hair accessories).

    So keep the tag, rename it if enough people ask, but all in all, it is nice to be able to search for a bride that might look more like me quickly.

    Thank you ^_^

  5. Why does it have to be pointed out and seperated in it’s own tag? Just show more diversity in your regular posts and problem solved…No one is left out or singled out.

    • Diversity is a HUGE editorial priority for us, and all my editors actively seek out diversity in all our posts. Diverse content is almost always bubbled to the top of the editorial queue.

    • They do better than many of the other wedding sites out there, problem is, they can only show what’s submitted. It’s easy to sit back and say “be more diverse,” but I know these guys are likely busting their butts.

  6. As an African-American, same-sex coupled bride (and a few other random categories included in there), I appreciate the tag line and the category. I don’t understand how the act of tagging is offensive and I fail to see how the category name is offensive.

  7. Speaking as a white person, I don’t feel equipped to have a legitimate opinion on this issue. I wouldn’t mind my wedding being tagged as a “Pagan wedding,” but I also don’t have the cultural experience of being oppressed based on that identification, so I don’t think it applies in the same way. :/

    This is a *really* sensitive and thorny topic for a lot of folks, so kudos to you, Ariel and the OBB crew, for being so willing to confront it and listen to those of us who do feel strongly.

  8. Well, that’s the thing–there *is* an option to tag yourself as a plus-sized bride or a short-haired bride.

    As long as the tags are being applied by the submitters, rather than the OBB staff, I don’t really see an issue.

      • This raises the rather uncomfortable question of whether you would tag a larger bride who did not self-identify as plus-size, based solely on observation? What about a gender-queer couple? Is it only the mixed-race couples who get the eyeball treatment? If so, is that necessary?

        I know that from an administrative standpoint, you’ve got to be able to whittle down the number of tags and unify the language of each tag to keep OBB searchable. If we had one big box where we could input all of our own tags for our weddings, you’d be seeing things like “Wiccan wedding” “Wiccan handfasting” “handfasting” “handsfasting” “wican wedding” and “wiccan_wedding,” all of which would be read by the site as different tags, but all of which should probably be in the same category. So yes, the admins are forced to put some qualifying statements into the site just to make it searchable. That, unfortunately, sets up a necessary double standard–promoting every kind of offbeat wedding you can find AND categorizing them into different kinds of offbeat. What a headache!

        It seems to me that you could a) add a “Go ahead and add more tags” box to your submission profile, which I suggested above in response to the comment you posted (before I read this) or b) develop a list of static tags (anywhere between 20 and 50) and make submitters choose 5-10 of them.

        If you take the first suggestion, you could end up with some mixes reactions as folks get tags applied that they might not feel are appropriate for them.

        If you take the second suggestion, there are going to be some folks who feel like *none* of the 50 tags apply to them (these people are always going to be out there… “You don’t have a tag for a Libra-Pisces wedding! I’m soooooo offended!”).

        It’s possible neither of these suggestions are appropriate solutions… Just thought I’d add my two cents.

        Hang in there!

        • Lots to chew over, but to answer your first question: “plus size” is so subjective, that we never apply it to anyone unless they apply it to themselves. This has caused some awkward moments where brides have self-identified as plus-size, and commenters have been like “Why is this curvy woman tagged as plus-size?!” Erm, because she identified herself that way. All relative!

          Race is a slippery slope of relativity too … but since the goal is about visibility, I’ve always opted toward visually identifying people in addition to letting everyone self-identify. I’ve had many brides who “look white” identify themselves as “of color” (light-skinned latina, mixed race, etc etc etc) but never had, say, an African American bride who was tagged “of color” write in and say “WTF WHY DID YOU TAG ME THAT WAY!?”

        • There’s no reply-to option for your comment, Ariel–just wanted to let you know that I read it and appreciate your response. 🙂 You answered my big question there (“How do most of the non-white brides feel about having tags applied to them?”).

        • *Suppresses urge to comment on comment comment comment comment comment’s comment.*

        • I think that race should, perhaps, be treated the same way as plus-size, which is to say leave it a matter of self-identification.

          Or, perhaps, there could be some communication with the bride who submits the wedding: “I noticed you didn’t select the race or queer category. Do you mind if we put it on, to help other couples?”(I know, you guys are crazy busy, and I’m suggesting even more work. But maybe for an issue as sensitive as race, it’s necessary and/or worthwhile?)

  9. I think the concept of allowing people to easily find pictures and inspiration in other wedding pictures, but yes, the idea of labeling someone as “of color” can be tricky territory.
    I don’t mean this as an attacking criticism (I love OBB and the amazing job it is doing!), but simply to highlight that issues of race are always going to be complex and require thoughtful consideration.
    For example, how does OBB decide to tag a couple as “of color”; is it based on the couple’s self-identification? or based on how they appear to OBB staff? Must both partners be non-white, or just one?
    Is this an issue of just that, color? As a very light skinned mixed-race girl, I identify as “non-white”, but at face value, I definitely don’t appear to be “of color”! However, with a mixed family and siblings of every shade from ivory to deep sienna, I’m eager to see pictures of other Latin brides and their weddings; what they did with their hair, what dresses/outfits most flatter their curves, etc…
    I don’t think this is really ever a conversation that can be neatly packaged, but I always appreciate that OBB isn’t afraid to address a myriad of issues openly.

    • This! I’m also a very light skinned mixed-race Latina, and I don’t ever know if I should classify myself as “of color” because I identify most strongly with my dad’s Hispanic family but look most like my mom and her German family. Same for my FH. He’s also mixed race, although less Hispanic than I am, but has the added confusion of being raised in a Hindu home. Are we a couple of color? Where do we fall in?

      I think it’s a convenient tag, just like the rest of the convenient tags. I don’t think it’s offensive, but I am rarely offended.

      • I’d say it is pretty much up to you. Ariel said that she and the staff tag based on obvious appearance of one or both of the couple, or if issues of race came up in the profile. So if you feel like tagging yourself that way, do it. If not, then don’t. It’s not like you have to tag yourself a certain way.

  10. As a Filipina married to a Mexican, I really appreciated having a quick, go-to label while researching weddings on offbeat bride (as well as the offbeat-lite option)!

    • At least for me there’s the added “use” of this site, in that I have sent friends and fam who don’t quite get “the offbeat ‘thing'” from my description alone.

      Not that we need to justify our choices, and frankly I am OBL too, but you really can’t overlook the power of showing someone outside of OBB examples of couple who look like their own fam.

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