Ani DiFranco’s “Righteous Retreat” songwriting camp was originally scheduled for next June at Nottaway Plantation in White Castle, Louisiana. It’s a charming, verdant resort with luxurious rooms, fine dining, and expansive event facilities, all built on the back of a “wiling workforce” (per the resort’s website) of hundreds of slaves used as physical labor and, on occasion, currency.
Some people got upset. Like For Harriet.
The thought of women choosing to luxuriate at the sites of historic brutality against black bodies confounds, but even more outrageous is the refusal of so many women to listen to those whose lived experiences continue to be mediated by the legacy of chattel slavery.
I have an inkling that if a man attempted to “reclaim” the word “bitch” or “cunt” these women would understand perfectly the error of misappropriation; however, white supremacy continues to obscure the realities of slavery.
DiFranco should absolutely choose a new location for her retreat. There can be no healing at Nottaway Plantation. Continuing to hold an expensive getaway here is an affront to feminists of color.
And Sara Starr in a Change.org petition.
This is insulting to black feminists and black queer individuals and is a very blatant display of racism on her part. In order for this event to be canceled, this petition has been formed so that feminists and queer individuals of all races can express their disdain for DiFranco’s racist and oppressive gestures, not to mention the obvious exclusion of/disregard for her black fans.
And Briana Urena-Ravelo at Feminspire.
Ani, the process you need to go through is not of the victim’s, it’s of the aggressor. It is of unlearning, unpacking, listening, shutting up, sitting down, and getting your boot from off our neck. You choosing that venue wasn’t about “reclamation”, it was about how completely ignorant you are to how not cool that is for us. Your fans instantly bought tickets and defended you — NO real discourse was happening or going to happen, just excuses & apologist.
And scores of commenters on the event’s Facebook page, although we’ll never know exactly how many because of the speed at which critical comments were taken down.
DiFranco’s supporters, shockingly, came out in droves to defend her. White fan Mandi Harrington, for instance, declared that since “slavery is over” and “those days are gone,” it was time for black people to “reclaim” the venue. When she began getting pushback, fan LaQueeta Jones jumped in to defend her, talking the way black people totally talk to back her up and quote Martin Luther King, Jr. Was LaQueeta Jones actually Mandi Harrington posing as a black woman? Of course she wasn–well, okay, yes.
Ultimately, DiFranco herself responded with a 1,300-word nonpology gently scolding us for not letting her lead the way in reclaiming the history of the plantation.
later, when I found out it was to be held at a resort on a former plantation, I thought to myself, “whoa”, but i did not imagine or understand that the setting of a plantation would trigger such collective outrage or result in so much high velocity bitterness. i imagined instead that the setting would become a participant in the event. This was doubtless to be a gathering of progressive engaged people, so i imagined a dialogue would emerge organically over the four days about the issue of where we are. i have heard the feedback that it is not my place to go to former plantations and initiate such a dialogue.
(“High velocity bitterness.”)
i know that pain is stored in places where great social ills have occurred. i believe that people must go to those places with awareness and with compassionate energy and meditate on what has happened and absorb some of the reverberating pain with their attention and their awareness. i believe that compassionate energy is transformative and necessary for healing the wounds of history. i believe that even though i am white, i can and must do this work too.
In other words: “It is too my place to go to former plantations and initiate such a dialogue.” She does, of course, respect your right to disagree. Mighty generous of her.
Hat tip to Open Thread commenters.
Note: The issue of plantations is something that I’ve seriously screwed up — and doubled down on — in the past, including arguments shamefully similar to DiFranco’s. I was wrong, and I’m grateful to everyone who called me out for it, particularly in the face of my resistance.