By Kat Endgame, PQ Monthly
(Editor’s note: Read Kat’s update here.)
Ani Difranco has announced the Righteous Retreat Song Camp, a feminist songwriting retreat at a former plantation in Iberville Parish Lousiana, one of the largest in the south.
Your first response is probably outrage. Mine was too. To be clear, as a white woman I was struggling from a lack of perspective on how I should feel about this. Clearly it seems disgusting, right? But what if the Plantation has been turned into a museum documenting the grisly abuses suffered by the more than a hundred people enslaved there, who built with their hands what was to be the greatest mansion on the mississippi? What if all profits went to some kind of reparations-like fund paying into college educations for black americans impacted by slavery?
That is not the case at all. The Nottoway Plantation is currently owned and operated by Nottoway Plantation Inc. which operates a museum, restaurant and hotel from the premises. Tours are given daily, and you are invited to sample the absolute delights afforded the white slave owners who once resided in the massive opulent home.
Like all former plantations turned educational sites, the information about the lives of the men and women enslaved there focuses on how nice their master and mistress were to them.
“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. He also had a slave hospital; he paid a local physician to make weekly visits and trained one of the slaves as a nurse to care for his slaves. “ [Link]
As in many such historical sites, the immense suffering and brutal history of slavery has been sanitized to be as inoffensive as possible to the wealthy white people who get married or vacation there. You really wouldn’t want to spend a lovely weekend getaway (at upwards of $309.70 a night) sleeping with the tortured ghosts of American history, would you?
Well, you are cordially invited to do exactly that in the gracious company of Ani Difranco and her host of guests for a Righteous Retreat where you can see an intimate show and learn about songwriting from one of the greats.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love me some Ani Difranco. I believe it was a requirement for my Dyke card. I spent a good part of my late teens with Ani in my ears, she was the soundtrack for squishy teenage girl sex, revolutionary queer activism, and those solemn nights of reflection about the terrible state of world affairs. My father and I cried together listening to “Self Evident.” Difranco is incredibly prolific, and has released every single one of her more than 20 albums on her independent Righteous Babe Records. No matter that I haven’t cared much for anything she’s released since 2004’s Educated Guess; like L7, Team Dresch and Le Tigre her music will always occupy a huge place inside of my heart and history.
So why hold the Retreat at the Nottoway Plantation? In order to inform my outrage I wanted to know who benefits from the continued existence of the Nottoway Plantation. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but is owned and operated privately by Nottoway Plantation Inc. Nottoway Plantation Inc., with annual revenue of $2.5 to 5 million is owned by the Paul Ramsay Group. The Paul Ramsay Group, interestingly enough, is the investment arm of Australia’s thirteenth richest billionaire Paul Ramsay, a healthcare mogul well known in Australia for donating half a million dollars to conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s election campaign. So who benefits from the continued existence of the plantation? The man who has given more than $1.8 million to the anti-gay, anti-abortion, and anti-immigrant Liberal party over the last 14 years.
Of course if you hold a big retreat just about anywhere you can trace the ownership to some rich white asshole, but I’m pretty sure with Ani Difranco’s immense DIY cred she could track down a location with a bit less baggage.
The facebook event is abuzz with criticism. Jezebel has already covered it and I expect a statement from Righteous Babe Records or Ani herself will be forthcoming. I stand in solidarity with the women of color calling Ani out for this decision. Come on Ani, you can do better than this.
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.