Ani DiFranco Cancels Feminist Songwriting Retreat At Former Slave Plantation, Offers Weak Non-Apology

Singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco has officially canceled her four-day “righteous feminist songwriting retreat” after fans and non-fans alike rightfully took issue with the event’s location — the Nottoway Plantation, one of the largest former slave plantations in the South. DiFranco posted a lengthy message on her Facebook page announcing the cancelation and offered a pretty weak explanation for why the retreat was ever scheduled at such a historically problematic location in the first place. (There is no explanation offered for why DiFranco refuses to use capital letters, but I digress.)

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.

I’m confused. Is this an apology? Where are the words “I’m sorry”? Where’s the accountability? And what the fuck is up with the tone-policing of very real and valid concerns about hosting a feminist songwriting retreat at a location that currently describes the human beings it enslaved as “a willing workforce”? I mean, “high velocity bitterness”? GTFO.

I’m sorry, but I cannot even proceed much further with DiFranco’s post because I’m so stuck on this paragraph. Maybe for the average person hosting the average party at a plantation turned whitewashed slavery museum would be no big thang. And certainly it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that someone famous like, say, Paula Deen would host an event at such a location. But Ani DiFranco?! Ani DiFranco, of all people, upon learning a retreat branded with her name and “righteous” messaging would be held at a planation, only thought WHOA? That she didn’t bother to investigate the location further or discuss the issue with friends and associates of color, at the very least, before going ahead with the retreat is absolutely shocking to me. It is also the very definition of white privilege in action.

I also call bullshit on her explanation that she imagined the setting would become a “participant” in the event because if she honestly believed that, if she was that mindful of the setting’s significance, she would have emphasized that aspect on the retreat’s website. But she clearly wasn’t that mindful of the setting’s significance, because her only response was WHOA. Just. Whoa.

Annnnnyway, the rest of the post uses a lot of words like “compassionate energy,” “reverberating pain,” “positive energy,” etc. which makes me think too many yoga headstands might have contributed to Ani’s completely tone deaf decision-making. DiFranco spends a few paragraphs self-righteously reminding everyone that oppression is built into the fabric of everything, what we wear, eat, defend ourselves, etc., you know, so what’s a righteous babe to do?

i ask only that as we attempt to continue to confront our country’s history together, let us not forget that the history of slavery and exploitation is at the foundation of much of our infrastructure in this country, not just at old plantation sites. let us not oversimplify to black and white a society that contains many many shades of grey. and let us not forget to be compassionate towards each other as we attempt to move forward and write the next pages in our history. our story is not over and, Citizens of the Internet, it is now ours to write.

Her point seems to be that we can’t exist in this world without contributing in some way to the oppression of others — and she’s right about that, unfortunately. But we can do our very best not to be stupidly offensive hypocrites. Deciding to hold a feminist songwriting retreat at a slave plantation is so stupidly offensive and hypocritical that I still can’t believe this whole thing isn’t some Onion hoax.

Looks, while there’s certainly some thoughtfulness to Ani’s statement, what’s disappointing is that clearly that thoughtfulness was completely lacking when she approved of the retreat’s location in the first place. Her no-pology does not take any accountability for that other than essentially saying she didn’t think the venue would upset people. That she didn’t think it would be upsetting is the problem. Hopefully she spends some time thinking about why. [Righteous Babe]