Make Them Apologize: Ani DiFranco Says Sorry For Plantation Retreat But Many White Fans Still Won’t

This weekend I wrote an extensive piece I hope you read about Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Retreat — an event scheduled to take place on Nottoway Plantation in Louisiana, a site “restored to its former glory” that openly whitewashed its brutal history, sold pro-confederacy literature in its gift shop, supported an anti-gay and anti-woman and anti-immigrant Australian billionaire, celebrated its founder as a benevolent slaveholder for allowing his slaves to take showers and praised its founder as a genius slaveholder for developing a system wherein slaves had to constantly whistle while walking to ensure they couldn’t eat or talk to each other. Following a significant backlash that lasted for many days before Ani or her colleagues responded, including a nearly unanimous declaration from black women that “this is super fucked up,”Ani DiFranco cancelled the event and published a defensive response referring to the fan response as “high velocity bitterness.”

The non-apology was justifiably deconstructed and rejected by the media including us, Gradient Lair, For Harriet, Racism Remixed, LA ProgressiveTatiAnaMercedesThe Toast, Brittney Cooper for Salon.com, Tim Wise and twitter. A brilliant rundown of Ani DiFranco’s “whiteous feminist” fans was posted on Mollyruthb.

This weekend, a website called The Advocate (not The Advocate you are thinking of), published a piece titled “Nottoway manager: Historic site is resource for Education,” citing the official statement of Nottoway General Manager Neil Castaldi, who claimed the Plantation is an “educational resource” and one of many “powerful places that reflect on both good and bad moments in our country’s history,” and a key element of the town’s struggling economy. For starters, nothing good happened on plantations. Furthermore, somebody should’ve asked Castaldi if he thinks that perhaps the region would be less depressed — economically and emotionally, really — if its alleged financial center wasn’t a Shrine to Racism. If the only source of employment for a 77% African-American town would require its black employees to interact with and promote a revisionist version of this community’s violent racist legacy, maybe the leader of that employment source should think about revising how it does business.

Today, finally, Ani DiFranco released an actual (if incomplete) apology, an apology many of her die-hard fans had been hoping to see soon enough (although for fans like me, I imagine white privilege affords an optimistic patience in this regard):

everyone,

it has taken me a few days but i have been thinking and feeling very intensely and i would like to say i am sincerely sorry. it is obvious to me now that you were right – all those who said we can’t in good conscience go to that place and support it or look past for one moment what it deeply represents. i needed a wake up call and you gave it to me.

it was a great oversight on my part to not request a change of venue immediately from the promoter. you tried to tell me about that oversight and i wasn’t available to you. i’m sorry for that too.

know that i am digging deeper.

-ani

Many found this apology inadequate, many found it a genuine improvement, and many hold out hope that there will be more apologies and explorations as Ani does “dig deeper.” The apology was also posted to her facebook page, which provided an opportunity for said die-hard fans to stare into the eye of a viscously racist storm. In between gratitude and expressions of support were repeated affirmations from white fans who’ve seemingly missed everything Ani has ever sung about racial injustice and still don’t understand that their white voices, white feelings and white tears are completely irrelevant.

Now — as a journalist, I really hate the type of link-baiting posts that deliberately seek out a few incendiary tweets or facebook comments posted on a controversial (and usually race-related) issue, declare a trend, and incite a national kerfuffle, as was done last year regarding Gabby Douglas’s hair. (A mistake I’m sure we’ve made ourselves too, as we grow/learn.) This is the internet. If you need evidence to back up a point or a trend, there is a 100% chance that somebody, somewhere has said a thing on twitter that will serve your purposes. So I try to stay away from making generalizations based on targeted social media searches.

Unfortunately, in this case, the sad truth is that at least half of her fans, if not more, posting with their actual names and faces on Ani DiFranco’s facebook page, are telling her that the initial response was “pitch-perfect,” that people “put too much stock in the past,” and, resoundingly, that she is “only human and makes mistakes.” There are fans hoping she’s still “playing and doing [her] thing at the plantation,” lamenting that they “hope there aren’t too many weddings to reschedule.” There are fans wondering “how many people complaining really know your work.” Others blast her with statements like:

ch dd ja md

Those who criticized the choice, according to some of her fans, are “bullies” and “oversensitive” and “unwilling to understand.” They beg Ani not to “beat herself up over this.” As AfterEllen writer Heather Hogan accurately tweeted about these fans, “It bums me out when pop culture fandoms are as blindly, delusionally partisan as Fox News viewers.” In response, many activists called out Ani’s fans directly:

listen

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And some black fans expressed hesitation with being part of this fandom anymore:

cw

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I’m interested in hearing your feelings in the comments. However, if you are a white person who would like to argue that Team Ani is being unfairly treated for their handling of this situation, that her initial non-apology was acceptable, that a plantation is a “healing” site for a songwriting retreat, or really put forth any opinion which neglects the very vocal opinions of black people regarding this event, then our moderators will delete your comment the minute they see it (there may be a delay on this during the hours in which we are asleep, please don’t reply to those comments in the meantime unless it is to say “mods please remove this comment.”)

Profile photo of Riese

Riese is the 33-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City, and now lives in The Bay Area. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are!

Riese has written 1758 articles for us.

90 Comments

  1. Thumb up 9

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    Just a white person talking… I thought her first non-“apology” was a joke, a nothing, a complete attempt at evading responsibility. The second one actually sounds like an apology, but I also wish she had addressed those fans of her who insist she’s being somehow ‘picked on’ or that anyone who criticized this situation was destroying community ‘people like Ani supposedly worked so hard to build’… yadda, yadda. When you are tacitly okay with a group of people supposedly speaking for you, supporting you and, in the process, talking racist smack, then you still haven’t really addressed the issue. That sites like “Ask Ellen” are complicit in that kind of talk doesn’t surprise me in the least… they’ve been racially exclusionary, cis and classist from the get-go.

  2. Thumb up 18

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    Eh, I think she’s just reacting to the fact that the whole internet got very, very angry at her. I don’t think it’s sincere at all, otherwise she wouldn’t have done it. I mean, really. There is zero justification for thinking that this was a good idea, and a week is not enough time for one to completely change one’s tune. I just think she’s sorry that she got caught. Just so disappointed by all of this.

  3. Thumb up 5

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    I was deeply disappointed by Ani’s initial decision to have the retreat, and her BS non-apology. I’m glad she seems to have realized that what she did was messed up and racist. My first instinct is to give her the benefit of the doubt now that she has actually apologized, but I also think that instinct to cut people slack after they’ve done racist stuff and apologized is probably a manifestation of my own white privilege. I definitely understand how this new apology might be too little to late.

    • Thumb up 7

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      RIGHT!?!?!

      I mean I’m looking at this whole thing and a lot of my white queer internet “friends” have been really quiet about this.

      This whole thing in my experience has been so #solidarityisforwhitewomen, I’m not surprised.

      • Thumb up 11

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        In my defense I’ve been at work all day. Heh.

        But also, I’m still deciding if I want to put into words yet again how fucking frustrating it is to be brushed off as being “too sensitive”. Or to be asked why I even care, or whatever other derailment tactic is being used. And not necessarily because I expect that on Autostraddle, but because that in itself is exhausting, and I’m still tired from the last time.

        But I feel y’all. The disappointment becomes two-fold when talking about it feels like you’re yelling into an empty room.

        • Thumb up 2

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          Hi everyone, as someone that posts here reasonably regularly and hasn’t commented on this, I was saddened to read this and the whole #solidarityisforwhitewomen vibe (totally justified by the relative quiet around here!). I’m in a cloud of flu related misery and in no way able for writing anything clever or coherent. I just wanted to say I hear this, I’m angered by this and deeply disappointed that once again somebody I thought of as a role model does something problematic as fuck. Anyway, didn’t want to allow myself to be part of the silent majority of no fucks to give. Solidarity from the land of cough medicine and onesies x

    • Thumb up 4

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      good point – even if it’s issue fatigue, you don’t get fatigued unless it’s something you’re not really interested in.

      I already get the feeling that this whole issue of racism (not just Difranco) has fizzled for the majority – tumblr social justice at its finest. Or (Riese is pretty much the exception) has devolved into a bunch of whiny white hipsters proving their bonafides by writing RACISM IS BAD articles about stuff people in the know knew years ago (or always). Meanwhile the really good articles linked here don’t get the hits they deserve. Same bad day, same people holding the same microphones.

        • Thumb up 2

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          oh no, Emily – I wasn’t speaking directly to you, sorry. I was referring to the collective “meh” that has greeted the situation.

          what i mean to say is – many people just don’t care, and many others who do know they’re never going to get the microphone on it they deserve, so. We’re pretty much where we were before.

      • Thumb up 7

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        I think you can and do get fatigued even when it’s things you really care about – the difference lies in where you go from there. Like you’re in a room, and there are lots of angry people shouting and some of them are stepping on your toes and sometimes someone just comes up and punches you in the gut just because. You can fight back but when you’re tired some people – especially the people who are most like those doing the yelling and the punching – have the option of leaving the room (feeling content that their good little hearts are intact because they still disagree on the inside, y’know?), while others lose their voice and the door’s closing them in.

        Too many people are leaving the room, is what I’m saying. I feel you on this and on a lot of other things besides.

    • Thumb up 11

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      I agree. The silence thus far is very disappointing. I am grateful to Riese for writing this excellent (as always ^_^) article, but the lack of commentary is disheartening. Things can get rightfully riled up around here about some feminist topics, but I’ve noticed that when it comes to issues or posts regarding poc there seems to be significantly less commentary going on at the end of the articles. What happened to all the supposed allies? I agree with Bra that this is another example of how #solidarityisforwhitewomen and I can’t say I’m surprised. Disappointed, but not surprised. =\

      • Thumb up 3

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        Here’s why I didn’t reply to this post:
        1) The last paragraph said that certain opinions expressed in the comments would be deleted. For me this was very thought-provoking, rather than comment-provoking. What’s the difference between deleting comments you don’t agree with, and censorship? I agree with curating a safe space and deleting racist or other bigoted comments, but I think there is a difference between people who *know* they are being racist (trolls and bigots), and folks (me included) who are ignorant of their own privilege. The AS community is remarkable for creating this wise and caring environment online, but I like and respect it more when ignorant comments are reasoned with by informed and compassionate replies from writers and readers, and I think we make a lot more progress that way. Sometimes I think the AS forgets its own privilege of knowledge of intersectionality, queer theory, social justice, history, etc etc etc and certainly I have gained a lot of education by commenters much younger than me here, and I hope it continues. I’d be interested actually to see a follow-up post about it (AS official moderator policy and how moderators distinguish between commenters that need to be educated vs bigots.) For me, people who expressed the opinion that Ani is a-ok here may be ignorant and unaware and would benefit from being allowed the space to ask questions honestly and coming from a desire to understand, though sadly many of them certainly are truly and knowingly racist.
        2) Racist people on the internet are racist — most AS readers know this, and I would expect our silence in this comment section is more like ‘Yes totally agree with Riese here’. Usually comments are stemming from disagreement, clarification or addition. I hope that the lack of comments on this particular article (Thank you Reise; thank you AS) is not interpreted as lack of caring about racism. Just to be clear, in my opinion yes Ani lost her credibility and I agree that her apology is ‘sorry only because i need you to like me’ and she hasn’t understood or taken responsibility.

        • Thumb up 1

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          not that many AS readers are racist, but that many members of the general public (such as Ani’s fb fans) are racist.

        • Thumb up 7

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          Re: no. 1, I know where you’re coming from but Riese is specifically setting the guidelines for this one comment section/conversation and not the site as a whole. (For the latter, you can see the comment policy that moderators go by.) She’s specified the type and content of comments that will be deleted, i.e. arguing that “Team Ani is being unfairly treated for their handling of this situation, that her initial non-apology was acceptable, that a plantation is a “healing” site for a songwriting retreat”, etc., and not placed a blanket ban on dissenting opinion. The reason for this is that the educating here has been done – this is the second of two detailed posts that are addressing exactly what these comments would be raising. We don’t need more of that because in this specific context, it would be derailing and exhausting.

          I agree that this might be giving people pause before commenting, but this isn’t a bad thing. (And it’s also not the only reason people aren’t commenting/talking about this outside of AS, as the commenters in this thread have been talking about.) The resources are already there for people who “need to be educated,” both here and elsewhere. And sometimes some conversations really just need to stop being entertained because they’re not getting us anywhere.

        • Thumb up 8

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          [ETA: what fikri said! and she said it much more concisely than i did. our internet is going in and out so i'd posted this before seeing hers, but the connection was lost mid-send]

          “what’s the difference between deleting comments you don’t agree with and censorship?” – well, wikipedia says that “censorship is the suppression of speech or other public communication which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient.” that’s actually exactly what we are doing here, i wouldn’t deny that.

          The thinking behind preventing that kind of discourse is twofold:

          1) important feedback from poc readers that allowing those conversations to dominate threads on race-related issues was making AS feel like a very unfriendly space. i think as a white person it was easy for me to sit here and say “oh, the people speaking out against racism are Our People, not the people they are schooling” or even “oh, everybody knows those people are wrong even if nobody says so,” but because both sides were given equal space to express themselves (and often more space was actually taken up by the racist commenters than the anti-racists), it didn’t feel that way to people approaching the space who were used to having their issues marginalized and de-prioritized, so we made changes to fix that. (i’ve since paid attention to comments on race issues on other feminist websites and fucking hell, this derailing happens everywhere and we have ourselves a serious community-wide problem.)

          2) anybody wishing to make the claims we forbid in this post’s disclaimer would be met with rehashed explanations from my original post, from this post, and from posts by poc at Gradient Lair, For Harriet, Racism Remixed, LA ProgressiveTatiAnaMercedes and. Salon.com.

          As was pointed out by commenter Mikki on the original post, in response to another commenter saying that she doesn’t understand why this situation is racist, “You’ll notice that I’m not answering your question about what makes it racist and that’s because the whole situation is so profoundly wrong and so profoundly racist that thinking about it to write it in a comment to you is going to make me angry and I need to sleep. I’ll also add that you saying ‘I’m genuinely just interested in why this is so upsetting’ hurts me because Riese has already taken her time to write an article, quite a few black feminist websites have done the same, there are comments on here and you still want people to justify and explain their pain to you?”

          //

          I’m totally aware that making commenters register and forbidding certain comments means we’ll have less comments on this thread than we would otherwise, but that’s okay with us.

          the traffic and comments on the two posts we’ve done on this has been more substantial than usual on poc issues, but i hear all of you saying that it’s still nowhere near where it should be and that crickets abound on other posts. (and i’m REALLY disappointed in the response from other publications and the fact that tim wise’s voice has been the most cited thus far.) i hope everyone knows that has no impact on our desire to solicit and publish those pieces — #solidarityisforwhitewomen is a big fucking problem feminism and queer culture needs to fix if we’re ever gonna make progress or have anything to be proud of as a community. we’ve been called out in the past and i’m deeply grateful to our poc readers and writers who, despite fatigue, have held us accountable. we’ve learned a lot from those callouts, yet sometimes still i find myself being defensive or making things about me when it isn’t. i hear those of you saying that there is fatigue and i feel it’s crucial for the less fatigued among us (aka white people) to step up (without talking over). this matters and it should matter to all white feminists. and no, we don’t want cookies or applause, we just want progress.

        • Thumb up 4

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          Thanks Fikri and Riese for your thoughtful and thought-provoking replies. I don’t envy the task of curating an online space. I really liked hearing about the reasoning behind the comment policy specific to this article in your replies here. I’d like to suggest that if a future article also has unique comment restrictions, that the restriction statement is directly linked to a place where comments are open (which was nicely done at the top of this article, but just include it directly with the comment policy at the bottom, too). Also, include the reasoning for the unique comment policy such as in your replies here (which I still think would be an interesting article in its own right). Thanks again, sincerely. I appreciate what you are doing here.

        • Thumb up 2

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          Becky,

          Thank you for being brave and putting into words what I was too scared to write- I was afraid of being deleted too.

          “Sometimes I think the AS forgets its own privilege of knowledge of intersectionality, queer theory, social justice, history, etc etc etc and certainly I have gained a lot of education by commenters much younger than me here, and I hope it continues”

          Autostraddle speaks to a very specific, educated part of the queer girl community and we always have to take hot button issues with a grain of salt. As a community, we cannot hold the general population to the same privileged standard, and instead do one of the things AS does best- generate productive discussion.

          It will probably take awhile before Ani will earn her fans’ trust again. However, I will always credit her for at least trying to get us to think a little harder over the last 20 years. I’m sorry for fans who have felt betrayed.

        • Thumb up 0

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          Thanks Dee-dee. Maybe if there was a volunteer proof-reader who *isn’t* a queer studies major that could check AS articles for ‘mainstream-ability’ … in the mean time, I continue to learn a lot from the AS comment sections things that I would probs otherwise miss.

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          sorry meant to add, like this gem from the comments section of Riese’s first article on this topic:

          “it’s not our … decision when to reclaim someone else’s brutal history.”

          which is I think at the heart of a lot of Ani’s fb fans’ lack of understanding.

        • Thumb up 7

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          real quick — we totally feel you on the “we don’t all have an academic background” situation, which we’ve talked about elsewhere, address in the comment policy and will address directly in a post soon. (i don’t have a formal women’s studies or queer studies background or degree and neither does laneia, and accessibility is important to us!) i don’t think you need a degree to listen to POC or identify racism, though, but if you have any other questions/suggestions about the elitist academic background thing, please shoot us an email!

        • Thumb up 5

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          I want to second Riese in saying that knowledge of academic social justice theories isn’t necessary to intersectionality. As a matter of fact, I think that the idea that it is can lead to a situation in which people of privilege are centered. After all, existing as a WOC can be enough to give someone knowledge of the need for identifying both racism and sexism as sources of oppression. The idea of knowledge about intersectionality being a privilege comes across as not acknowledging people who live at various intersections and therefore gain their knowledge of intersectonality and the need for it not from textbooks, but from lived experience. For instance, I don’t need education to be familiar with the idea of tone policing (even if I don’t use that exact term), there are plenty of instances where I am accused of overreacting, being impolite, or being too aggressive simply for voicing an opinion as a black woman.

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      One reason people haven’t mentioned for not commenting, and I think it’s probably a big one, is that this whole problem has stemmed from white people speaking for/speaking over poc who have not been listened to. I have refrained from commenting in order to try to give other people the floor. I don’t know if that’s misguided, but I hope people won’t see it as a lack of solidarity or support.

  4. Thumb up 4

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    Riese, I love you for this. Thank you for not simply accepting this apology and for asking that we all “dig deeper” and be aware of our own white privledge. I think she most definitely had something to apologize for.

    I think many people struggle to reconcile their love for her and what she has always stood for, with the choice of venue and crappy defensive apology. They feel they are betraying her by saying what she did was wrong.

    I can say that she made a huge impact on my life, and she will always hold a place in my heart as one of my heros. But I can also say that I am disappointed in her, and I think this has shown me that she is no longer in the same type of place where I can blindly follow and embrace her ideals. I hope she does “dig deeper” and get back to being a positive voice for change.

  5. Thumb up 17

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    As a white feminist, I want to simply voice my support for WOC and POC. This is total bullshit. The minute Ani heard the word “plantation” it should have been a definitive “no” to the venue, no actually a “wtf?” to that venue. Her non-apology and subsequent maybe-convincing-maybe-not apology were not enough. The obvious racism of so many of her fans is gross. All this situation says to me is that white “feminists,” like so many of people in general, still do not understand racism, intersectionality, or how to critically think about their own privilege.

    Which makes me even more thankful for Autostraddle. The thing I liked best about this article was the last paragraph.

  6. Thumb up 26

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    At this point, I am not forgiving for these reasons (just the ones I can think of right now):
    1. I think that too many times that white feminists, and white social liberals in general, talk a good talk but when it comes down to it think they are better than POC. They think they are more intelligent, more rational, have better control of their emotions, and see themselves as saints for being so understanding and deserving of benefit of the doubt despite having been socialized to look down on us and see us as inferior. When it comes down to actual self-reflection, they are quick to defend their own behavior. That’s what the first statement was about, and this one does a poor job of acknowledging how condescending she was to WOC who called her out.

    2. DiFranco talks about expecting organic conversation to arise, but does not even mention the significance of the site they were holding the retreat in her advertisement.

    3. RBR took down facebook posts they deemed sexist but made no statement about deleting racists posts, many of which were also sexist in that they accused black women of overreacting and being too emotional/sensitive and angry.

    4. She still has not addressed her fans. I think it is clear that her reaction set the tone of argument among her fanbase, and at the very least justified it. After all, she in so many words accused us of being angry and bitter.

    5. I think the apology is too generic and fails to address how and why she as a white person messed up and engaged in a major racial fail in the setting, the use of this particular plantation, the advertisement, and talking about deleting sexist comments without acknowledging all of the racist ones. Hopefully there will be a more in-depth follow-up.

    6. There still has been no acknowledgement of why this particular plantation is so bad. I would be leaning a bit more towards forgiveness if it had been another plantation that didn’t gloss over and downplay slavery, that didn’t put up luxury cabins where the slave quarters were, that spoke with honest about history. But no, it just had to be the Paula Deen Phil Robertson Revisionist Mansion.

    I see this as a case of another person letting WOC who step out of line and criticize them know how they really feel about us, and this apology does nothing to alleviate that feeling. Not to mention, based on how so many of her supposed fans are reacting, I would never consider any of her events a safe space.

  7. Thumb up 13

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    I think her apology is still bs. Just like Piper Champan trying to apologize to Red and Alex using her “pretty words” and smiling face, Ani’s apology reads just a phony to me. There’s no way that someone with her level of education, feminist leanings, and supposed intersectional awareness would ever find out that her event was to be held at a plantation would not IMMEDIATELY see that as a problem and change the venue. I’ve never heard any of her songs, but based on what I’ve heard about her work and this whole debacle it sounds to me like Ani has been singing about equality to make herself feel good and to get pats on the back. Like I said, anyone who honestly, truly meant all of anti-oppression stuff that she seems to stand for would have immediately known that holding a function at a plantation was not ok and would have done something about it post haste.

    • Thumb up 8

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      I was also really bewildered by the fact that there was no immediate shutdown of this venue when the idea was originally put forth — the problems with this place don’t seem like anything you have to “dig deeper” to find, its name puts it out there so blatantly before you even get to the delusional descriptions. I know I must have some enormous blindspots of my own, but this is still really hard to believe. While I was at first glad to see her second statement, it doesn’t go nearly far enough — she needs to call out the racist comments of her “defenders” and she needs to make it clear that she does not want (and is actually *against*) that kind of support.
      (Not the biggest problem in all of this at all, but another thing that makes the distance seem far from where Ani was (or where I thought she was) and where she is, was the fact of the pricetag for this workshop. I am all in favor of artists being paid fairly for their work, but the cost of this retreat seemed exorbitant and exclusionary.)

    • Thumb up 3

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      I’m so glad you mentioned the parallel to Piper in Orange is the New Black. We just finished watching that show and while there are some amazing characters on there, the main character is like nails on a chalkboard. Can. Not. Stand. Her.

      Ani’s first “apology” has some parts that were interesting and honest. But it was also pretty clear that she was just upset that people had criticized her.

      I like her music alot, but she’s not the first artist to be a little self-obsessed and oblivious. I think she likes the cheers of the crowd alot more than the questions and critiques.

  8. Thumb up 18

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    I’m just shocked and amazed that these plantation tourism sites exist… as a non-American, it’s unfathomable to me that people would want to eat a fancy restaurant meal or have their fucking wedding at a place built by the exploitation of slaves. How…? WHY?

  9. Thumb up 7

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    I’m glad to see what sounds like a sincere apology this time around. I hope there will be more to come, because a) what she said was nowhere near enough, and b) many of these fans need to be seriously called out. Ani needs to be the one to do it. If she really is learning from this, it’s inexcusable for her to let other people make racist apologist remarks on her behalf/in her defense.

    • Thumb up 10

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      this is what i keep thinking: i know a lot of people (a lot of whom are straight white cis folks but have super “liberal” leanings) who incorporate a shit ton of social justice into their art, whatever form it takes: visual artists, performance artists, musicians, poets, writers, etc. a lot of this social justice is far outside of their experience, but it doesn’t seem as “appropriative” for them to comment on it because they are doing so under the guise of art. it is very, very easy for them to do this social justice work via these mediums because they are not getting called out or alienated as a result of it, given their audience; on the contrary, they get GIANT pats on the back.

      what i keep thinking is, it’s so easy to say that you’re using art as a way to further social justice, but if you’re not actually experiencing these things in your own life, if you’re not speaking to oppression because it’s 100% yours, then are you really helping with exposure, or are you getting quick and easy approval because the audience for most of these niche artforms is already outstandingly liberal?

      i didn’t really listen to ani ever (although i went with my friends to one of her shows in philly and all i remember is a scary guy in the parking lot following us and someone who had tattooed her record label’s logo on their ankle) so i didn’t feel the huge sense of betrayal i think a lot of other queers are feeling, but i know that her music, kind of like andrea gibson’s poetry, spoke to a LOT of social justice causes, a lot of things that weren’t just about ani’s queerness or immediate experiences. prior to this situation, i haven’t heard about a lot of backlash re: her social justice art itself, because it seems like she, for the most part, fell on the ears of a liberal “enlightened” crowd and never had to deal with the mainstream.

      basically: it means jack shit to incorporate a wide range of social justice themes into your art if that’s a nice safe back-patting option for your white cis ass. thus it doesn’t matter if she sang about anti-racism or puppies, it’s not even remotely a surprise that there was no practice of the “preaching.”

  10. Thumb up 34

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    When I was 14, my family took a trip to the national slavery museum in Cleveland Ohio. One of the main pieces of the museum was a slave holding cell they had transported off of a plantation and preserved for educational purposes within the museum. It was a tiny 12×12 box with a wooden bench that went across the perimeter, and several overhead beams that extended from wall to wall. We were told over 200 slaves were packed into this tiny room in the scorching heat of the south with only one tiny window, and were never aloud outside. Prisoners were chained to the floor and walls as well as chained together by their ankles and wrists 24/7. The women were kept at the floor and bench area. The beams were present for the purpose of providing “over- head storage” for chaining the male slaves, who were chained lying downing, many times facing the ceiling, and unable to move, be in an upright position, or use their legs at all. The slaves were stripped of their clothes, and forced live in nakedness. There was no bathroom. The women on the lower portion tried to urinate and defecate into a jar, which they would pass down to the slave nearest the window to be dumped outside. The men chained to the beams had no choice but to relieve themselves onto the women below them. The stench combined with the southern heat would have been lethal. The most atrocious act of degradation I remember being told was when the white slave master would regularly enter into the cell and rape many of the women, who being chained down to their prison with their ankles and wrists restrained and chained to each other, were completely defenseless. The other women could do nothing but look on in terror. I can only imagine what the screams would have been like. I can only imagine what it would have been like to be one of the male slaves chained so that he faced up towards the ceiling, hearing the cries of anguish and terror from the women below him, and not even fully knowing what was going on, not being able to look the aggressor in the eyes, completely unable to help. The raped women would often become pregnant, and still being chained down, would have to give birth smack dab in the spot they were chained to, barely able to move as they labored, their loins and newborn infants exposed to the feces-soaked, disease-ridden environment.
    As I sat on the bench where these horrifying events took place, Our tour guide told us that “so much feces had built up and become caked onto the floors, walls, and benches, that even today, after the cell had been restored, there were still traces of feces present in the wood.

    Please tell me how anyone can possibly defend a decision to host an event for the purpose of “relaxing, pampering, and socializing” on a site where people were put through indescribable torture?
    Why would anyone justify making a place where people’s suffering is stained into the floorboards into a luxury resort?
    Why is choosing to host an event on a monument to rape and dehumanization, a tomb of squalor and unimaginable stench, a landmark to the threshold of human misery, something that Ani “shouldn’t have to apologize for”?

    It’s a prime example of how our society lives under a guise that the wounds of slavery have completely healed over, and it utterly sickens me.

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      Stunning. Horrifying. You are so right.

      As a tiny foot note, I believe the museum you’re referring to (and I could be wrong, I don’t know about a slavery museum in Cleveland) is the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. It is an amazingly curated and quite sensitively designed center, dedicated to combatting modern slavery and addressing issues of equality as well as educating about the era of legal slavery in America. I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Cincinnati.

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        You are probably correct. It was many years ago when I actually went, and being from north east Ohio, when My family would make a trip, It was almost always to Cleveland, the main exception being an occasional trip to Columbus. I didn’t remember ever going to Cincinnati, so I assumed it was in Cleveland. Now that I think about it, going to the Freedom Center was what my Grandma asked to do for her birthday that year, So we must have made a special trip. That’s my Grandma for you–long when she was a teacher, she was teaching black history to her special needs students before anyone else in her school district was teaching it at all.

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          That’s awesome that your grandma was such an educator. Yeah I’m from Cincinnati and I thought the Freedom Center might be what you meant because it has, I think, the only recreation/restoration of a slave pen quite like that.

          I’ll be completely honest, I did not remember all the horrifying details you listed above, and I believe it’s because I was too sick to my stomach to read all the signs when I visited that part of the museum. Your comment (and this whole discussion) has helped me see how my willingness to NOT read and remember all those details is another small symptom of the problem with white feminism. Thank you. For the record, I’ve set a date to go back to the Freedom Center and pay closer attention to all the exhibits there.

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        That’s so awesome that you’re making another trip there because of my post! I’m glad it inspired you. I highly recommend you make arrangements to tour the center with a museum guide. That’s what my family did, and it really made the experience so much better, you absorb a ton more information and knowledge (and also learn some things you wouldn’t have from the posted descriptions alone). Our guide was really awesome and actually gave us a verbal account of what I have mentioned in my post– that’s why I can recall it so vividly.

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          That’s an excellent idea. I’ll see if I can get a guide! And thanks again for this post. It obviously helped a lot of people in this discussion get to the crux of the history we’re talking about.

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      These are the kinds of things people go to great lengths to hide from themselves, and they’re exactly the kinds of things we need to remind one another about in times like this. Horrific things happened on slave plantations, but we’re not supposed to talk about them, or we’re “living in the past.” When something upsetting happens in the present and we react, we’re asked, “What’s the big deal?” Well, the big deal is what you’ve spent a century telling us we’re not supposed to talk about. And if we then talk about it to explain why the situation is hurtful (because you asked) we’re right back where we started.

      The way to work through pain is not to ignore it or pretend it never happened. It is to address it and acknowledge how awful it was so that kind of pain can be prevented in the future. We can’t do right by our children by telling them the world is perfect and allowing them to act with the hubris of our ancestors.

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    I can’t even…. How can someone (facebook commenter) compare a street corner where someone was mugged to a plantation?! Mostly I am just so sad and angry that some of Ani’s fans can’t see the problems with what she did. I want people to be better. Thank you for the initial article and the follow-up, Riese.

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    Well, I’d hoped Ani would issue a proper apology, but…this wasn’t really what I wanted. It’s too weak and generic. There’s no acknowledgement of what, exactly, she did wrong. There’s no calling out fans hideous behavior and refusal to listen to people of color. There is no apology for the defensiveness in her first statement.

    This whole situation is a load of bullshit, beginning to end. A huge disappointment.

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    Hello, did you write this for me? I feel like I am the only white person I know who is angry about this, so thanks to y’all who are too. Not just a little. Furious. Seething. Betrayed Angry.

    First off, my relationship with Ani’s music runs deep, so criticizing her is hard. Her queer visibility in the early 2000’s meant the world to me. The fact that she existed in my pre-internet adolescence made me feel like I could find myself out there somewhere, even though I had to cut up her CDs when my parents found them and then interrogated me for hours about why I had them.

    I was already upset when I first heard about the plantation location, but her first non-apology is really what screwed me. The gaps in her expressed logic are astonishing. As I understand it, she didn’t set out to engage racism before the location of the retreat was chosen. She only chose the retreat location based on things that are easy for her even though she moved to NEW ORLEANS. And in my special affection for NOLA, I believe all people who choose to move there have a duty to think through the very difficult racial past/present of the city. She did not engage in reflection or seek counsel from peers of color once the idea of a plantation was suggested. She does not understand why she cannot reclaim a the history of a plantation as a white woman, and why that would be different from anti-racist work she could/needs to be engaging in. She cannot fathom why she is being called out for putting her feelings before the discomfort of people of color and White people not willing to let people of color be uncomfortable there.

    The fact that she doesn’t understand any of these things even before there was outrage? Please excuse me while I hold my real heroes to a higher standard. There is no going back for a public figure who is purportedly anti-racist and feminist but can’t LISTEN. I hope she works on her shit as per the second apology, but I hope this backlash lasts a while so she can’t forget it.

    Sadly, I’m fighting an uphill battle to explain to a lot of white queer women fans I know why this is such a cutting, huge, and changing development in Ani’s persona/whatever. I’m even more upset and concerned for those conversations. But I promise I’ll have them because white queers have got to fucking stop waiting until queers of color bring the fury.

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      I am a black woman, and not a big fan of Ani’s music, but she really resonated with me when I was coming out because back in the late 90s, there were few, if any out bifem icons.

      When I heard this story, my 19 year old self just died a little. I am already cynical about the mainstream feminist movement and stopped identifying as a feminist years ago. At this point, I don’t think I ever will again.

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    “white fans who’ve seemingly missed everything Ani has ever sung about racial injustice and still don’t understand that their white voices, white feelings and white tears are completely irrelevant”

    Can I just give a huge thanks to the AS staff and all the awesome WOC posters in this community? Everyone’s voice and experience has helped me understand this statement, and challenge myself in becoming more supportive in anti-racist attitudes. I’m so grateful to the community here, so thank you. You’re all amazing.

    I think right now, I don’t really care what Ani says, it’s more about what she DOES to respect and support the WOC she ostracized with this fuckery.

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    I feel like I came into feminism and social justice all wide eyed and optimistic with people like Ani Difranco kinda guiding me along the way. This whole fiasco has just been a very sudden awakening to a deeper issue I’ve been seeing in bits and pieces this entire time. I don’t know if Ani realizes the shit storm she started. It’s going to take work to clean up. I did hope she would do her part to educate the rest of her fans. A sorry at this point just seems kinda silly, the damage is already done.

    I don’t even know anymore. This black queer is tired of feeling like I’m screaming for my own benefit. People need to learn to LISTEN. At the very least I’m grateful for Riese and the AS staff for putting the truth out there always and being TRUE ALLIES.

  16. Thumb up 12

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    Clearly, Ani needs to call out her if her ‘fans’ if her apology is genuine. The brevity of this belated apology has given ammunition to those who consider her an innocent victim of the PC Police, and if she has any real desire to grow or dig (or whatever the verb du jour is) I think it’s necessary for her to release something in longer form that explains her process of digging, and why exactly she was wrong, making it clear she wants no sympathy from these racist & ignorant jerks writing on her page.
    The very least she could do is try and turn this into something constructive to illuminate to other white people that it’s not enough to talk the talk and then sit back, if you want to be an ally you must constantly examine your own privilege and constantly try harder to resist racist societal norms and not become complacent in this just because you don’t think you’re a racist.

    As an outsider (non-American) looking in, what struck me more about this situation was that it must reflect the internal conversation in the US about Slavery, Plantations and Black History.
    No mainstream, let alone left leaning entity would ever hold an event at or condone a holocaust site that glossed over the suffering there, as the public in general in Western nations are very well educated about the suffering and evil that happened there. From Austria to Australia, both school education and the arts (literature, film, visual art) teach people about this issue.
    I know from my own access to American pop culture that this isn’t the case with Slavery, and I can only surmise (although I guess it would vary from state to state) that Black perspectives around this aren’t given adequate air time in school classrooms either?
    It all seems to be ‘gone with the wind’ – whistling smiling men in overalls, and white people who were either active or complicit are given a ‘context’ card and declared not guilty because they were a product of their time. Not really examining closely what kind of evil it takes to treat a fellow human this way.

    If Plantations were given a fraction of as much cred as concentration camps as places of suffering I don’t think people of any ethnicity would be queuing up to have a wedding there.

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    I made this my Facebook status today after reading through hundreds of the comments on her apology. I feel like it’s relevant here too. “Lots of Ani DiFranco’s fans disagree with her decision to cancel her plantation retreat and still want to bring exorcise the dark places of our past so we won’t be forever haunted by them. They’re right. Ani should do something to exorcise the darkness of the plantation she wanted to perform at. She should buy it and bulldoze it.

    Bulldoze the luxury cabins built on the old slave quarters, bulldoze the gift shop praising the slaveholder, bulldoze the master’s quarters where (before she cancelled) people could spend almost $4,000 to sleep at during her retreat. That would do more to exorcise the darkness of the place than having a white singer and her horde of well off fans come and party in a place of torture and slavery glorification.”

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      yes! and honestly, rebuild something in its place that could provide genuine employment opportunities for the residents of White Castle. easier said than done, obviously, thus the national unemployment rate, but this seems like a great place for a non-profit to move in and make something happen for real

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      I am so into this idea. Bulldoze that shit to the ground and then build a sustainable non-profit on top.

      Also I am really revolted by the idea of people paying luxury prices to stay in master’s quarters. I think a lot of white people who had booked those accommodations wouldn’t be so open to the idea of staying in luxury guard quarters in a closed prison camp.

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      Yeah, I don’t get this at all. Gives me the heebie jeebies. Those white people probably wouldn’t want to sleep in the guard quarters in Auschwitz, so why would they want to sleep in the “master’s” quarters at a plantation house? On that note, people (besides Neonazis?) probably wouldn’t want to go to a songwriting retreat at Auschwitz, but a plantation is okay because it’s a pretty house?
      Grossssss. I lived in Tennessee for awhile and people were all about that. One plantation house got turned into a Christian college’s dorm. My dad lived there for a hot minute and is actively working to try to get it demolished. He says he never could sleep, because it just had a bad feeling hanging in the air. I think it’s a studio-style apartment complex now. Gross.

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    If this latest (read-first) apology is all she has to say, it will not be nearly enough. If she means what she said– that she knows she did something completely unacceptable and is taking in what those calling her out are saying– then I’m hoping that it will lead to more: calling out her fans who are still saying racist things, going into what was wrong with her initial statement, taking some action around inclusion of poc voices, all things that still need to happen. It’s also so good for me to be reminded that my patience and optimism can be part of my white privilege.

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    So I’m not an Ani fan but my older sister is (I remember her carting around Ani tapes when she was in high school/college and I was a single digit). So I don’t feel personally betrayed by her, but just disappointed.

    My opinion is that her initial fuck up was really, really stupid, but if she had issued a real apology right away it wouldn’t have been so bad, maybe? This seems like too little too late. A sort of ‘well I don’t care about what you say but if it makes me look REALLY bad then I will care.’ I understand that people have a tendency to get irritated when they’re corrected, and I don’t know anyone who’s completely immune to that, myself obviously included–but her kneejerk reaction sucked and it would have been better if she had taken a little bit longer to formulate her statement and listen. Sigh.

    As for the fans defending her initial choice of venue and non-apology, that’s inexcusable.

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    Her apology is cringe-worthy and comes across as very self-defensive and dismissive. Her fans in support of the plantation retreat really need to know why the event location is problematic and why leaving racist remarks in support of the event is not okay.

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    So, I agree with what everyone on this post is saying. I have a question, though, as a (white, cis-, abled) historic preservation professional – would anything be different if Nottoway was preserved in a way that accurately interpreted the history of the place? If the slave quarters were not turned into luxury cabins, but preserved as they were used pre-civil war? Or if the story told at the site wasn’t trying to make the slave owner sound like a nice guy? Would it be different if there was more truth at the site?

    I guess this has less to do with Ani and more to do with historic preservation as a tool… but can buildings with dark histories be useful if preserved in a thoughtful, honest, and respectful way?

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      it’s still not a place to go for a relaxation, music, spa retreat Bullshit event. If it is preserved, it should be preserved as a means to remember the atrocities that took place there. Using it as a place for rich people to have parties in erases the history of what took place there. It encourages us to forget, which is part of the reason so many people have told Ani “you have nothing to apologize for” and why so many POC are being told to “Get over slavery.”

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      If it is to be preserved, it should be with the same respect that a concentration camp site would be: as a shrine to the victims of the atrocities that took place there, and it should be POC who manage it and get to tell the story…if indeed they want to. Otherwise, I agree with Asher_Jak above: bulldoze it.

      The idea of people having weddings and retreats there just makes me queasy.

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    At first i thought of DiFranco’s statement as a legitimate apology, because i tend to take such things at face value, but then reading the comments pointed out the huge factor that there really is no reason for having to “dig deeper” to see why this was a bad idea to start with. I think everyone else who’s commented has pretty much stated succinctly the problems with this apology.

    The apologists treat DiFranco & the situation in a very infantile manner, in the sense of not holding a grown person, who claimed to be so much about social justice, responsible for their actions. If she is truly apologizing & holding herself accountable, then she does need to address the apologists & point out their own racism. If she really holds herself accountable, she should hold them accountable as well. She also shouldn’t expect any of this to equal an easy fix, especially considering what a lot of WOC have said about not feeling safe if they were to go to any of her shows. If she’s truly sorry, she should understand this & strive to actually fix the issue, while understanding that it may never be fixed.

    If she doesn’t do any of this, then i think that will tell whether or not the apology was sincere.

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    I agree that she should have held the racist fans accountable for their actions. Then again I honestly believe that this isn’t a sincere apology. There’s a part of me that even wonders if this is her own words or a well crafted PR statement hoping to not make her look bad. It seems too well crafted to truly be legitimate.

    I have only heard of her name and don’t have a deep emotional connection to her. Even with that I am quite saddened that someone who can craft songs about racism can end up acting like this. It does bring out the fact that singing or painting a picture about racism is not enough. It’s a token stunt that seems to make her seem more like a “limousine liberal” than anything else.

    I am still quite shocked that she didn’t laugh hysterically when this concentration camp was mentioned as a venue. No matter how much white washing you have, any place that housed slaves is not an appropriate place to have any type of event. It seems quite obvious that I truly wonder what went through her head.

    If there is one thing this proves, it’s how the American educational system has failed. History is obviously taught badly in general. Many things are whitewashed about history that I could go on and on about. When it comes to racism we are taught that it doesn’t exist anymore. It’s a relic of the past. This is of course far from true. No Child Left Behind put African Americans into an “other” category along with other groups of people that were considered undesirable. The defense of Phil Robertson not only for his homophobic but racist attacks shows that it’s a far time from the time that we can honestly say that racism is a “relic” of the past.

    I do believe that this should not be forgotten in a week, even though it seems that it is starting to get there. I don’t know if the major news outlets even spoke about this story. The truth is that there is racism, even among those that try to think of themselves as above that. All they try to do is sweep it under the rug and try not to talk about that. This needs to stop.

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    I’m not going to lie, I took a long, long, long break from Autostraddle after becoming REALLY frustrated with comment sections and a complete disregard for the feelings of blackQueers and other QPOC from other members, so it’s been a fucking while. But Riese, my love, this

    “However, if you are a white person who would like to argue that Team Ani is being unfairly treated for their handling of this situation, that her initial non-apology was acceptable, that a plantation is a “healing” site for a songwriting retreat, or really put forth any opinion which neglects the very vocal opinions of black people regarding this event, then our moderators will delete your comment the minute they see it”

    this

    this
    this
    this

    and this for all other posts where this happens and all other comment sections where anti-racism is left in the dust. THANKYOU.
    i cried blackgirltears.

  25. Thumb up 6

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    this whole situation is so disgusting
    i’m still stuck at, how can you see plantation and retreat in one sentence and not think anything but WTF HELL NO

    also, in an otherwise unrelated recent situation in NL, a popular white female musician made some harsh true comments about racism in NL, which lead to lot of super disturbing racist backlash from her fans, and she basically told them to all f*ck off and that she didn’t want them in her fan base. really this is the least ani should do

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    I hesitate to comment on this as a white cis woman, and to be honest, I never liked Ani’s music much. She rubbed me the wrong way. But as a human, I agree that she fucked up. Big time. Ani should have known better. As someone who sang about social justice issues, she needs to set the example. This is a huge slap in the face. The people defending her are just as bad, if not worse.

    Why did she have to have it at a plantation? Why did she devote only one day to work in the inner-city? Why couldn’t they rent out a community center in New Orleans (or New York, LA, Chicago, or a little town where jobs have fled) and spend half the days working on songwriting, and the other half helping out the community? Why not make it accessible financially to many people, instead of pricing so many out? The answer, I believe, is that the Business of Ani DiFranco the brand must be fed.

    When the outcry began, she should have issued a proper apology instead of the two typical non-apologies that no doubt were crafted by a PR person. Her real apology needs five parts:
    1. I’m sorry.
    2. I know what we at RBR did was wrong. I know the choice of venue goes against what I sing about.
    3. These are the steps I plan to take to educate myself (examples could include a large donation to an anti-slavery/human trafficking organization, educating herself about the atrocities of slavery, both historical and modern – a trip to the National Underground Railroad Museum mentioned above would be great).
    4. Acknowledge that she needs to regain the trust of ALL her fans. The steps above won’t do it all, but a start and her further actions will demonstrate her work to that end.
    5. Shut down the racist comments by her apologists.

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    I’m late to this conversation here on AS, but in my opinion I think the analysis here is really good Riese, and I think particularly the commenting rules were the right choice to make, and I’m proud to be part of AS and know that we are really, genuinely putting in the effort to get this stuff right (even if mistakes are inevitable of course).

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    I have been an Ani fan for years but she just plain messed up this retreat idea from square one.

    First, what made her think this venue was appropriate for ANY gathering? I mean could she not find an accomodating campground?

    Secondly, when the fax paus was brought to her attention a better response I feel would have been to admit her ignorance or insensitivity and move the retreat.

    I believe Barbara Fields, made a comment during an episode of Ken Burns, “Civil War” PBS series that even Abraham Lincoln used the slavery issue as a political tool, and rather acting under pure moral principal, waited to sign the Emancipation Proclamation when the time was right. White America generally doesn’t understand the anger still seething within Black Americans who cannot fathom how a whole nation allowed institutionalized slavery and I believe they grow tired of being treated as a political football by white politicians.

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    As a white girl, I really appreciate getting the opportunity to learn from this in the sense that this is a good example of identifying institutionalized or otherwise normalized racism in a place you wouldn’t expect it to be. Not to say that I’m happy it happened, I’m really disappointed to see someone like Ani be a part of something so hurtful and wrong. But I’m also really grateful for the chance to learn from it and see that even someone as socially progressive as Ani D-Fuckin’-Franco can be blinded to the subtle ways that racism presents itself in our everyday lives. Really helps remind a girl to be more conscious about her actions/words and think about ways that they might impact others.

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    Everyone is human and we all make mistakes but the fact that she chose to release not one but TWO half assed replies instead of taking the actual time to “dig deeper” (although, how deep does she really need to dig to understand why people are pissed that she chose A.FUCKING.PLANTATION as her venue & even more pissed at her initial response to their outrage).

    Privilege is not something that goes away in a day or even a life time. People have to make a conscious choice to assess and re-assess their thoughts and actions and to LISTEN UP when POC are offended. Clearly, Ani feels she is so anti-racist that she no longer needs to do this.

    Sadly, I stopped going to Ani’s concerts long ago because I discovered the hard way just how “un-friendly” her fans can be. From strange looks, to comments of “what is a black girl doing here?”, to sitting down in my assigned row only to have the people I sat near suddenly need to get up & relocate.

    Thank you Autostraddle and members for allowing this discussion to be a SAFE SPACE!

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      “Sadly, I stopped going to Ani’s concerts long ago because I discovered the hard way just how “un-friendly” her fans can be. From strange looks, to comments of “what is a black girl doing here?”, to sitting down in my assigned row only to have the people I sat near suddenly need to get up & relocate.”

      that is really fucking awful to hear, jesus. when my girlfriend and i were reading the facebook page comments we were like, fuck, are these the people we’ve been standing next to at ani concerts all this time? i guess so.

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    Because getting mugged is completely the same as slavery?..I live in super rural Southern Louisiana and I’m familiar with the plantation she wanted to go to. We have to go on field trips to plantations and farms as part of our Louisiana history classes and again in college. As soon as I read that she was planning on having it there I was like…seriously? The KKK have meetings out there. People aren’t even aware that they are still around. So, this is me trying to make people aware.

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