The Word Plantation and Its Implications

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the death of George Floyd the structural and persistent aspects of racism are being called out. A secondary, but still important feature of Americans’ reevaluation of images, symbols, and language, and the racist interpretations they denote and connote. The term plantation is under interrogation from Barbados to Rhode Island for these reasons.

Early credit is due to two young journalists, Katherine Kokal and Lucas Smolcic Larson at the Island Packet for being first out on this story.

Since then the Washington Post and New York Times (which also looked at the town of Plantation, FL) have followed their trail into the story.

Plantation is a complicated idea. It ranges from the use as applied to Rhode Island to what can be described as slave labor camps, as one historian put it. Since 1865 the term’s meaning has certainly migrated in the South from a land with a large enslaved population or community to mean anything from an estate that historically bore the name plantation to modern resort community. The future of the term is very much in question for those places that are not using the name as a continuation of a place name.

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