Late last week, an anonymous commenter posted racial slurs, homophobic rhetoric and threats of violence to the website of Hendersonville’s Black Star Line Brewing Co. The brewery was also the target of an act of vandalism — possibly related — that damaged a critical piece of brewing equipment and left the brewhouse temporarily inoperative. In the wake of these events, Western North Carolina’s community of craft beer enthusiasts and breweries has offered support.
“On Thursday and Friday a person, or some people, we don’t know, started posting these racist, homophobic messages to the company website. As Friday rolled around we got the fifth message, which was pretty darned threatening,” says Black Star Line chief operations manager and assistant brewer Javier Naranjo. “It was saying things like ‘The only good n-word is a dead n-word,’ which was jarring to say the least. That night was pretty unnerving.”
Although the comments were unsigned, the commenter used the name “N***** Killer” on the brewery website’s contact form. Screenshots of the messages were posted by Black Star Line founder and owner L.A. McCrae to numerous social media platforms. The screen shots have garnered national attention via outlets such as Facebook.
The police response was swift and conscientious, according to Naranjo, who also noted that Hendersonville Chief of Police Herbert Blake stopped by personally to talk to brewery staff and express his condolences. Police patrols have been increased in the downtown area surrounding Black Star Line in response to this incident, a fact that Naranjo finds reassuring.
The investigation is ongoing and no suspects have been identified at this time, says Blake. There is, however, a statute that can be used to prosecute the perpetrator or perpetrators once they have been identified.
“We are taking this very seriously and we are putting resources into trying to get to the bottom of it,” Blake explains, adding “There’s a strong possibility that we may partner with another agency. The investigator assigned to the case has, in the past, worked with other agencies, especially when it comes to crimes involving the internet.”
The event has had a negative emotional impact on the entire Black Star Line staff, including McCrae. As previously reported by Xpress, McCrae is the first black, queer woman to own and operate a brewery in WNC and structured their company around ideals of social inclusion and community-building for marginalized groups.
McCrae declined to comment, beyond saying “I am numb and in disbelief.”
“It definitely took a toll on L.A.,” Naranjo noted. “We’re all feeling a little emotionally overwhelmed right now. But we’re going to keep doing what we set out to do with the business, which is create a space for everybody.”
To that end, Black Star Line has soldiered on with substantial participation from the WNC community. Representatives of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. traveled to Hendersonville to repair Black Star Line’s damaged equipment. New Belgium Brewing and Wedge Brewery are both donating proceeds from beer sales at their respective taprooms to the brewery, and Black Star Line’s GoFundMe campaign has been reinstated due to requests from the community for opportunities to contribute. Additionally, a keg swap with nearby Sanctuary Brewing Co. on Nov. 19 was met with a resoundingly positive response.
“We took kegs to Sanctuary and they brought some over here, and tons of people turned out,” says Naranjo. “We had people coming from all over the place. There was even one couple from Rhode Island. It went really well — we ran out of beer by the end of the night,” says Naranjo.
While Naranjo points out that some social media responses have echoed the virulent sentiments of the anonymous commenter, including some that dismiss racism or attempt to normalize homophobia, the overwhelming majority of people have shown unequivocal support of the brewery and its mission, both online and in person. Blake concurs that these actions are inconsistent with the values of the people of WNC as he has come to know them.
“I don’t think this is at all a reflection of the Hendersonville community,” he says. “I’ve been here 10 years, I’m an African American, and my family and I have been welcomed with open arms. That’s why were very interested in getting to the bottom of it, because it is not a reflection of the Hendersonville community or the Henderson County area in general.”
The brewery will persist undeterred in its attempts to create a safe space for people of all ethnicities, sexual identifications and theological and philosophical leanings, and proceeded as planned with the first of its Our Table events, a monthly potluck intended to foster community engagement, on Nov. 21.
“I love people, so it’s hard to experience this side of things because people are generally good,” says Naranjo. “It’s foolish when people say that racism doesn’t exist anymore, but we’re here to lay the groundwork. Maybe if we’re taking this heat now, it’ll make things easier for somebody in the future.”