Leaving excuses behind for no excuses
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Plantation Blues: Ani DiFranco steps into it … and then out

Ani DiFranco has cancelled her planned Righteous Retreat at the controversial Nottoway Plantation & Resort and issued a statement explaining why she thought the place would be okay in the first place. Because some of the already published summaries of her statement appear to be more interested in merely profiting from the debate’s heat, I would encourage you to read Ani Difranco’s full statement here yourself.

Let me say that while I don’t agree with the why of her position on the plantation site at all, I appreciated reading her decision to cancel and had my “faith” restored.

The Disagreement

As I tweeted to my skin-sister @alphabeta, her and Ani’s assertion is equivalent to this: “this is a graveyard … but isn’t every piece of land, really?” While I agree that, yes, blood has been spilled all over the planet, a graveyard — labeled and commonly understood as one — cannot be so casually redefined without raising confusion, question, and indignation. Buildings and land are, yes, buildings and land, but they are systematically given meaning by the communities that create them, use them, promote them, sell them, destroy them, and restore them.

If folks started laying wreaths in Ani’s backyard and showing up daily for ritual funerals there, she’d get the difference, I think, between “the dead are all around us” and “this is a graveyard” points of view.

Moreover, the plantation people themselves get this (plantation and resort!), so why does Ani feel compelled to dismiss them with this:

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.

That’s not what the “plantation resort fun!” sellers are selling at all (google their website, because I won’t be linking to it here) so consider this Ani diss #1 . Indeed, this isn’t just a former plantation and a new site for introspection. It’s a site that has repackaged the slave past and is selling it now to whites as massa-done-good-by-those-darkies plantation fun.

That’s the present day, not the past. Ani’s hope that discussion about that would simply and gently “emerge organically” was naive at best and dismissive at worst.

From her text, I’m going with dismissive (Ani diss #2). See her “rich white dudes with conservative political leanings” comment specifically. She knows; she just doesn’t believe it’s important to distinguish.

The Agreement

Nevertheless, here’s why I said my faith was restored: In her words, I was reminded that she does see herself as a white ally. She recognizes white-skin/ethnic privileges and also asserts her rights to a voice and a role in the anti-racism fight (one that isn’t one of mere skin-based deference to us people of color) .

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.

Not only was she willing to pull the plug on this after the controversy (yay!), she had already committed her time and resources in this event beforehand to anti-racist projects and people. That she reminded us of that here isn’t to be dismissed by our anger as self defense (public diss #2,019). We can stop drinking the haterade now, folks, and get back to tending and mending our bonds. We need everyone in this effort and we need more of that kind of forethought and commitment.

This controversy — in its good, bad, and ugly — continues to drive us toward greater consideration and understanding. I, for one, am glad to see Ani still in it, asserting her righteous babe cred and taking the heat as righteously.

We can disagree on the why, Ani. My faith in the opportunity of anti-racist work is nevertheless restored.

UPDATE 3 Jan

Ani has done a bit more “digging” and issued a straight-to-the-point apology via Facebook:

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.

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