After several days of intense Twitter backlash, Austin, Texas PR firm Strange Fruit Public Relations has decided to change its name, while also deleting most of its social media accounts and blog. Strange Fruit is, of course, the name of a haunting 1939 Billie Holiday song that pretty explicitly is about lynchings in the Jim Crow South, the titular fruit referring to "black bodies swinging in the southern breeze."
The firm hasn't decided on a new name yet, but Twitter had some grimly hilarious suggestions:
That a PR firm named after a famous metaphor for lynched black people in the South would inspire backlash is not all that surprising, nor is the power of social media to amplify outrage. What is a bit surprising is that someone would name their public relations firm "Strange Fruit" in the first place. What's more surprising than that is that it took two years for enough people to complain that they did something about it. That's how long the firm has been carrying that name, and they were confronted about it on Twitter almost two years ago:
Their now-deleted reply?
"definitely aware of the song, but our name has no affiliation to the connotation. We just love to talk food & drink."
Well. okay, but in fairness, maybe they thought of the name a year earlier, started the company, and had dropped a whole mess of coin on stationery and whatnot before they found out about it. Like they said on Twitter, "Our passion is telling the stories of hospitality professionals. We chose our name bc these incredibly talented artists stand out in a crowd.”
See, they meant, like, strange as in unique, and fruit as in, maybe, weirdo? Maybe a couple of white ladies can be forgiven for not knowing the history of the phrase they thought they thought up, and being slow to realize its significance after the fact. As my Angry Black Lady friend Imani aptly wondered, "how do you not Google the term that you want to name your company after?" But hey, pobody's nerfect, right?
“We thought the name would be perfect for a hospitality PR firm that specializes in food and drink,” Mickel said via email. “We of course Googled to ensure that it was not taken elsewhere and found the Billie Holiday song online. Thinking it would have nothing to do with our firm, and since it was written in 1939 it wouldn’t be top of mind in the public consciousness. We now know we were naïve to think that, and should have known better.”
There have been instances over the past two years when people have questioned the Strange Fruit name and its connection to Holiday’s song, Mickel acknowledged, but never to the extent seen this weekend.
They Googled it before they named the company. Here's a hint for you restaurateurs out there: if you're a married couple named Sam and Ella, do not let these people name your chicken joint.
The solution, going forward, looks to be pretty simple: why not just name the company after one of its founders?
Mary Mickel, who co-founded the firm with Ali Slutsky...
"Mickel PR" it is.