A lot of people are probably feeling conflicted about their mid-aughts obsessions with Ani Di Franco today, because while the singer finally canceled the “Righteous Retreat” feminist songwriting workshop that was supposed to take place in July at one of the largest former plantations in the South, she did so with an embarrassing non-apology.
The four-day, $1,000 workshop was scheduled to take place at the Nottaway Plantation, where hundreds of unwilling slaves were held captive and forced to work so the people in the house could live in luxury. And for being a major site in the area, Nottaway Plantation today is not helping to raise much awareness of a brutal and racist period of history. Instead, the plantation’s website whitewashes its own history and bills its original owner, John Randolph, as a kind businessman who took care of “willing workforce.”
“Ever the astute businessman, Randolph knew that in order to maintain a willing workforce, it was necessary to provide not only for his slaves’ basic needs for housing, food and medicine, but to also offer additional compensation and rewards when their work was especially productive.”
Everything is fine, guys! Slavery wasn’t that bad. Definitely hold your wedding here.
The choice to hold a feminist songwriting workshop at the site of historic violence against black women struck many people as shocking and offensive. According to The Daily Dot, more than 2,500 people signed a Change.org petition asking Ani Di Franco to cancel the retreat or find a new location.
“Holding an event on the site of the genocide of black people is no way to show inclusion and intersectionality, both of which are important tenets of feminism,” wrote petition creator Sara Starr.
In spite of the case against Nottaway, some Di Franco fans were surprisingly eager to defend the location and to tell black women how they should feel about it. One even appears to have created a fake “black” Facebook account with a stolen picture to defend Ani Di Franco and accuse other commenters of being racist against white women.
“The thought of women choosing to luxuriate at the sites of historic brutality against black bodies confounds,” wrote Kimberly Foster of For Harriet, “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.”
In the face of the controversy, Ani Di Franco finally announced today that she would be canceling the retreat.
“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,” Di Franco said in an extended statement that does not actually apologize or admit culpability anywhere. The “high velocity bitterness” bit sounds much like when people respond to a complaint with, “I don’t like your tone,” as though the complainer’s tone is more of a problem than the actual problem that inspired the complaint. She continues:
i obviously underestimated the power of an evocatively symbolic place to trigger collective and individual pain. i believe that your energy and your questioning are needed in this world. i know that the pain of slavery is real and runs very deep and wide. however, in this incident i think is very unfortunate what many have chosen to do with that pain. i cancel the retreat now because i wish to restore peace and respectful discourse between people as quickly as possible. i entreat you to refocus your concerns and comments on this matter with positive energy and allow us now to work together towards common ground and healing.
Basically, she canceled the event so people would stop yelling at her, but does not actually agree that the location was problematic and admits no fault. But the points raised were valid, and Di Franco should have acknowledged them and apologized properly.
“You cannot fight for the equal rights of women and ignore the history of racism within this country,” For Harriet’s Foster said, and she’s completely right.
Via For Harriet/Photo: WENN