By Kat Endgame, PQ Monthly
A Righteous Storm
When I started working on an article about the Righteous Retreat that Ani Difranco was about to hold at the Nottoway Plantation in White Castle Louisiana, the storm of outrage was just starting to brew. #Righteous Retreat, #AnidifrancoRetreatIdeas, and other angry and snarky hashtags hadn’t yet come into existence, and the conversation was mostly limited to the event’s facebook page.
Here at PQ, we reported that Nottoway Plantation Inc. is owned by Paul Ramsay, and that information started making the rounds. The rising waves of outrage didn’t even need the Australian Billionaire angle though — for many, the simple gall of a white woman extending an invitation for retreat-goers to “get suntanned” and revel on the beautiful grounds of a shining representation of the most atrocious moments in American history was enough to demand a dramatic change of course.
Autostraddle does a great job of highlighting the details of how Nottoway’s slave narrative is not only whitewashed but
“In fact, according to Carie Rael and John Belleci of The Social and Global Justice Program, there’s no acknowledgment at Nottoway that anything bad ever happened there. They recall a gift shop stocked with books like Myths of Slavery and The South Was Right. The latter, sporting a book cover embellished with the Confederate flag, claims to prove “how the South was an independent country invaded, captured and still occupied by a vicious aggressor.” The former plans to disprove that slavery was “cruel, unjust and contrary to our nation’s basic creed of individual freedom.”
Jezebel does a great job of responding directly to Ani’s sorry-not-sorry apology with this interpretation of her statement:
“SYSTEMIC RACISM IS EVERYWHERE, IT’S NOT MY FAULT IF I DIDN’T NOTICE OR THINK ABOUT THE IMPLICATIONS OF HOSTING A FEMINIST CAMP IN A SITE THAT ESSENTIALLY CELEBRATES THE HISTORICAL EXPLOITATION OF BLACK BODIES BECAUSE OF MY PRIVILEGE, LEAVE ME ALONE YOU JERKS!!!!! “ [Link]
Many other blogs are picking up and picking apart the details, and I’ll leave them to it. I want to respond indirectly to Ani’s apology and cancellation. My message is to people like myself: her fans. The larger the pedestal you place below your (s)heroes, the greater the distance they have to fall.
In the few days since the story started making the rounds, I have poured over thousands of comments from die-hard Ani fans and Ani detractors, people who’ve never heard of her to those who claim she is a personification of the Goddess. This comes as no surprise, as the internet is nothing if not an infinite source of wingnuttery, but I was repeatedly struck by the response of many of Ani’s white feminist fans who seemed completely unable to process that Ani Fucking Difranco could or would fuck up.
No Heroes, No Masters
As an idealistic consumer of political media for my entire adult life, I’ve had to learn and relearn not to trust famous people. We are all, secretly or not, hypocrites sometimes. We have to understand that the art that artists make stands separate from the artist herself. Picasso made fantastic, thoughtful, and politically-charged work, yet in his private life he was a womanizing asshole. One need not accept the politics and lifetime-sum of actions of Ani Difranco to listen to “Subdivision” and appreciate the message.
Ani is also a person, who lives in a body, in this world. She makes decisions and wields power as an artist and metaphor at the head of a giant in the Indie scene. People have to be held accountable for their actions, whether we are calling her out or calling her in there has to be repercussions for messing up. Should you burn all your Ani Difranco .mp3 files to disc so that you can symbolically burn them in a bonfire? I don’t think so.
She made a mistake that betrayed a level of obliviousness many didn’t think her capable of. She Not-Apologized to the community in a defensive tone.
She did however cancel the retreat all together, and I think she deserves a little bit of credit for that.
I do think she has to apologize, for what it’s worth, that canceling the event isn’t enough. Next time she needs to do better research and maybe not work with Dreamcatcher Events.
We expect so much of our heroes, and our heroes let us down every time. They say stupid homophobic things when they think no one is looking, they play Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and prove they care little for trans women’s humanity, they cut off their cool hair and sell-out to a major label.
For god sakes, my favorite band from middle school Bad Religion just ironically-not-ironically released a Christmas album.
So, Dear White Feminists Who are So Shocked That Ani Fucked Up,
Can it. One day, everything you love will turn to ashes.
You can’t let politicians or artists stand in for you as mascots of idealism, as if identifying with the right heroes grants you entry to an optimistic fantasy world where oppression is over and the work is done sheerly by the quantity of good vibes everyone is feeling. The work is not done, we are each of us the ones who must do it, flaws and strength, and neither tearing each other to shreds nor giving each other a free pass on oppressive bullshit will get us any closer to the better world we all see in our hearts.
Kat Endgame is a designer and musician born and raised in Portland. She plays queer metal in a band called Labryse, and has a not so secret love of Architecture, video games and all things nerdy.