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 Progressive, TatiAnaMercedes, The 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):
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.
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:
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:
And some black fans expressed hesitation with being part of this fandom anymore:
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.”)