Singer-songerwriter Ani DiFranco is very sorry everyone got so mad about her planned songwriting workshop at a former slave plantation.
The event, which had been scheduled to be held at the Nottoway Plantation and Resort in White Castle, LA, was billed a “Righteous Retreat,” cost $1,000 for four nights in a tent, and was meant to be a forum for “developing one’s singular creativity.”
The plantation’s website offers up a particularly crass description of the venue and its owner during the slavery era, John Randolph: “Considering his slaves to be valuable tools in the operation of his business, Randolph provided the necessary care to keep them in good health. He understood the importance of hygiene in controlling the spread of illnesses and disease, so he provided a bathhouse where slaves could bathe daily if they wished.”
The site continues: “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.”
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The choice of location even spawned its own Twitter hashtag, #AniDiFrancoRetreatIdeas, with joking entries including Jamie Kilstein’s “Funtime ground zero jamboree!” and David Lawson’s “Neutral Milk Hotel performing In the Aeroplane Over The Sea in the Anne Frank annex.”
As Mother Jones pointed out, despite the venue itself, some of the outrage was also directed at the current owner of the building, “a right-wing Australian billionaire who gave hundreds of thousands to help elect a prime minister who considers abortion ‘the easy way out,’ homelessness a choice, and doesn’t want his daughters vaccinated against cervical cancer.”
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Following the ensuing controversy, DiFranco canceled the event, and wrote a non-apology apology on the blog of her record label (capitalization and punctuation hers): “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.”
DiFranco continues: “i ask only that as we attempt to continue to confront our country’s history together, let us not forget that the history of slavery and exploitation is at the foundation of much of our infrastructure in this country, not just at old plantation sites. let us not oversimplify to black and white a society that contains many many shades of grey.”
She shouldn’t worry, no one’s going to forget this anytime soon.
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