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Tales of the Cocktail’s Paul Tuennerman resigns over ‘blackface’ row

Tales of the Cocktail’s chief business officer, Paul Tuennerman, has resigned following public backlash over a ‘blackface’ video of his wife and TOTC founder, Ann.

Paul Tuennerman, also credited as co-founder of TOTC, has resigned with immediate affect

Paul Tuennerman has stepped down from the renowned New Orleans-based cocktail festival with immediate affect after Ann Tuennerman posted a Facebook Live status showing her with a black painted face during a Mardi Gras parade.

She was riding in the parade with the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club, where participants across different races traditionally wear ‘blackface’ makeup.

The status’ caption read: “Paul G Tuennerman interviewing me on Mardis 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 status (below, right) received widespread criticism on social media for what were seen to be racist connotations.

Paul Tuennerman, who acted as a consultant to TOTC for a number of years before being appointed its chief business officer in 2016, issued the following statement on the festival’s website on Friday (3 March):

“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 US 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 behaviours 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.

“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 Tuennerman, founder and executive director of TOTC, issued her own apology, claiming she recognised how “deeply offensive” the status was.

“It was a naive and inconsiderate action, the consequences of which have made it clear that I have much to learn,” she said. “Regardless of anyone’s intentions, we all have to take responsibility for our actions, especially those of us in positions of authority.

“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 honour to ride with the Zulu organisation, 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.”

Ann Tuennerman’s full statement and apology can be read here.

She will take part in a Facebook Live interview at 2pm CST today to “listen to insights from those in our industry who have been confronting issues of racial discrimination and insensitivity for years”.

Ann and Paul Tuennerman, also known as ‘Mr and Mrs Cocktail’, are largely regarded as two of the most influential business leaders in the on-trade.

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