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Arts and Entertainment

Ani DiFranco Cancels Retreat At Former Slave Plantation, But Critics Are Still Pissed

Ani DiFranco (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images)
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Ani DiFranco cancelled her retreat at a former slave plantation after the event sparked public outrage. However, the apology (or non-apology as some critics called it) she issued on her website on Sunday still pissed off critics.

When the folk singer and feminist icon announced on Facebook on Saturday about her "Righteous Retreat" event, a four-day workshop for singing and songwriting at the Nottoway Plantation in Louisiana, she faced a major outcry from fans (especially feminists and the African-American community), according to The Daily Dot. (The event listing has since been taken down.)

A petition, which has already garnered over 2,500 signatures, even surfaced on demanding the retreat to be cancelled. Sara Starr, who launched the petition, wrote:

This is insulting to black feminists and black queer individuals and is a very blatant display of racism on her part. In order for this event to be canceled, this petition has been formed so that feminists and queer individuals of all races can express their disdain for DiFranco's racist and oppressive gestures, not to mention the obvious exclusion of/disregard for her black fans.
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However, DiFranco didn't remain silent during this debacle. On Sunday, she posted a mea culpa of sorts on her Righteous Babe. Many have argued it's a non-apology and sounded defensive. Here are some excerpts from what she wrote:

when i agreed to do a retreat (with a promoter who has organized such things before with other artists and who approached me about being the next curator/host/teacher), i did not know the exact location it was to be held. i knew only that it would be "not too far outside of new orleans" so that i could potentially come home to my own bed each night. and i knew that one of the days of the retreat was slated as a field trip wherein everyone would come to new orleans together. later, 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. this was doubtless to be a gathering of progressive and engaged people, so i imagined a dialogue would emerge organically over the four days about the issue of where we were. i have heard the feedback that it is not my place to go to former plantations and initiate such a dialogue. tragedies on a massive scale are not easily dealt with or recovered from. i certainly in no way expect or want to be immune from that pain or that process of recovery. i welcome (and in fact have always pursued) constructive dialogue about these and all political/social issues. my intention of going ahead with the conference at the nottoway plantation was not to be a part of a great forgetting but its opposite. i know that pain is stored in places where great social ills have occurred. i believe that people must go to those places with awareness and with compassionate energy and meditate on what has happened and absorb some of the reverberating pain with their attention and their awareness. i believe that compassionate energy is transformative and necessary for healing the wounds of history. i believe that even though i am white, i can and must do this work too. if you disagree, i respectfully understand where you’re coming from and your right to disagree. i am not unaware of the mechanism of white privilege or the fact that i need to listen more than talk when it comes to issues of race. if nottoway is simply not an acceptable place for me to go and try to do my work in the eyes of many, then let me just concede before more divisive words are spilled. 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.

for myself, i believe that one cannot draw a line around the nottoway plantation and say "racism reached its depths of wrongness here" and then point to the other side of that line and say "but not here". i know that any building built before 1860 in the South and many after, were built on the backs of slaves. i know that in new orleans, the city i live in, most buildings have slave quarters out back, and to not use any buildings that speak to our country's history of slavery would necessitate moving far far away. i know that indeed our whole country has had a history of invasion, oppression and exploitation as part of its very fabric of power and wealth. i know that each of us is sitting right now in a building located on stolen land. stolen from the original people of this continent who suffered genocide at the hands of european colonists. i know that many of us can look down right now and see shoes and clothes that were manufactured by modern day indentured servants in sweat shops. i know that micro profits from purchases that we make all day long are trickling down to monsanto, to nestle and to GE. i know that a sickeningly large percentage of the taxes we pay go to manufacturing weapons and to making war. and on and on and on. it is a very imperfect world we live in and i, like everyone else, am just trying to do my best to negotiate it.

Amy McCarthy of Bustle felt DiFranco missed the point: "The 'high velocity bitterness' she speaks of is the deep pain of people who have lived with centuries of racism and its effects, including the descendants of slaves who built the plantation home where DiFranco and her 'feminist' compatriots would frolic and sing Joni Mitchell."

While, Emily McCombs, the Executive Editor of gave some advice to DiFranco over Twitter on what to say:

Nottoway Plantation was one of the largest slave plantations in the South, but the location now serves as an venue for events, vacationing, and as a museum. The horrific history of the spot is glanced over on its website. Jezebel pointed out that there was even a shocking sentence on the website about the plantation's former owner that said, "Ever the astute businessman, Randolph [Nottoway] 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."

PQ Monthly found that the plantation is owned by the Paul Ramsey Group, and the owner of the group, Paul Ramsey, had "given more than $1.8 million to the anti-gay, anti-abortion, and anti-immigrant Liberal party over the last 14 years."

Some have argued DiFranco has learned her lesson and is human just like anyone and that the public should give her a chance to move on. One woman, who is white, had defended DiFranco on the event page:

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However, reported that Harrison later created a fake account pretending to be a black woman named LaQueeta Jones to defend her comments, but was called out after another user tracked down her IP address. You can't make this stuff up.

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