Folk singer and acclaimed feminist Ani DiFranco has gotten some unusual press lately. A long-time advocate for equality for all regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, etc., DiFranco was taken aback when fans voiced their disappointment in an event DiFranco was participating in.
Dubbed the "Righteous Retreat", named after DiFranco's independent album label, Righteous Records, the retreat was intended to be "3 days and 4 nights exchanging ideas, making music, and otherwise getting suntans in the light of each other’s company".
The retreat was set to take place at the historic Nottoway Plantation and Resort in White Castle, Louisiana. DiFranco herself lives in New Orleans, only about an hour away. As DiFranco explains, she had accepted the invitation to do the retreat because, after having had a new baby this past April, she could "potentially come home to [her] own bed each night".
The trouble started when it became known that Nottoway was a former slave plantation. This is not an unusual thing in the South, but for an artist with the kind of following DiFranco has, it became a sore spot.
Fans set up a protest petition, raising 2500 signatures, asking that DiFranco cancel the event and apologize to her black fans who felt insulted that she schedule an event at Nottoway.
DiFranco responded on her website:
"i have heard you: all who have voiced opposition to my conducting a writing and performing seminar at the nottoway plantation. i have decided to cancel 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. 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."
She also points out that part of the retreat was to include a field trip to the Roots of Music free music school for underprivileged kids in New Orleans.
"Roots of Music is located at the Cabildo, a building in the French Quarter which was the seat of the former slaveholder government where all the laws of the slave state were first written and enacted. i believe that the existence of Roots of Music in this building is transcendent and it would have been a very inspiring place to visit. i also believe that Roots could have gained a few new supporters. in short, i think many positive and life-affirming connections would have been made at this conference, in its all of its complexity of design."
But DiFranco is not one to take a beating, even from friends, without pointing out the errors in their argument. She went on to take some issue with the bitterness with which she was attacked by people who claimed to be supporters of the same tolerant causes she backs. Some were particularly irate that the owners of Nottoway appear to have political views that are in direct opposition to DiFranco's queer-friendly, liberal reputation. DiFranco agrees that that was disturbing, but wondered aloud about how far she should go in vetting venues at which she plays:
"is it possible to ensure that no 'bad' person will ever profit in any way from my existence or my work? again, maybe we should indeed have drawn a line in this case and said nottoway plantation is not a good place to go; maybe we should have vetted the place more thoroughly. but should hatred be spit at me over that mistake?"
She summed up her stance, despite her disappointment at her treatment, by reminding her listeners that "we need every ounce of energy that we have to try to create a positive change in this world. and to work together. that energy is precious."
Image via: Youtube