Ani DiFranco is perhaps one of the best known “feminist” singer-songwriters of the last twenty years. Her music, which I’m not personally a big listener of, has been long been anti-sexist and anti-racist. So, at first, it was cool to hear that DiFranco was hosting what she calls a “feminist songwriting retreat” from June 25-29, 2014. Oh but there’s one problem — the “Righteous Retreat in the Big Easy” will be held at the Nottoway Plantation in White Castle, Louisiana, a former slave plantation. Say WHAT?!
Like many former slave plantations, Nottoway Plantation been turned into museum and educational venue that offers tours to visitors interested in experiencing what life was like for racist whites back before slavery was abolished. As Kat Endgame at PQ Monthly notes, “the information about the lives of the men and women enslaved [at Nottoway] focuses on how nice their master and mistress were to them.” In other words, Ani DiFranco’s “righteous” songwriting retreat is being held at a venue that makes a profit off of asserting that life wasn’t so bad for their slaves. “As in many such historical sites the immense suffering and brutal, history of slavery has been sanitized to be as inoffensive as possible to the wealthy white people who get married or vacation there,” writes Endgame.
Nottoway Platation is owned and operated privately by Nottoway Plantation Inc. and makes an annual revenue of $2.5 million to $5 million. Nottoway Plantation Inc. is owned by the Paul Ramsey Group, which has donated a lot of money to Australia’s highly conservative, anti-abortion and anti-gay Liberal party. Not so righteous, huh?
Obviously, most venues, if you follow the money, are going to have some problematic ties, but holding a feminist songwriting retreat at a former slave plantation owned by a private group that donates to causes that are in direct opposition to the work DiFranco and her guests claim to want to do at their retreat? Deeply hypocritical. Given how involved DiFranco is known for being in each and every career decision, it’s hard to imagine how this could have slipped by her. The event’s Facebook page has been inundated with complaints, so if she wasn’t aware before, she definitely is now.
Toshi Reagon, a Black lesbian folk/blues musician who agreed to be part of the retreat and is listed as a participant, posted a statement on her Facebook page, indicating that she was just learning herself where the event would be held and that she is also uncomfortable with its location. She says that she’s been in touch with DiFranco and that Ani would be releasing her own statement about the event. That statement is still forthcoming. A Change.org petition has been started demanding that the event be canceled.