UPDATE: Ani DiFranco has been a feminist musical icon for a generation, but her choice of venue to host an expensive songwriting retreat strikes some black feminists as supremely tone deaf.
DiFranco announced earlier in December that she planned to hold her annual Righteous Retreat songwriting camp in June on Nottoway Plantation in White Castle, La. The plantation once housed hundreds of slaves under brutal conditions.
After a massive public outcry, DiFranco announced Sunday that she was cancelling the event.
“When I agreed to do a retreat (with a promoter who has organized such things before with other artists and who approached me about being the next curator/host/teacher), I did not know the exact location it was to be held,” DiFranco wrote in the statement. “Later, 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 cancel the retreat now because I wish to restore peace and respectful discourse between people as quickly as possible.”
Kimberly Foster at ForHarriet.com described it as “white feminist cluelessness,” while hundreds of posters on the Facebook event page poured invective on the choice of venue.
“How is Ani, or whoever runs this page for her, managing to avoid answering the voices of feminists of colour and their allies, who have shown repeatedly their distress at her hosting an event at a former slave plantation,” wrote Juta Stokes in one well-liked comment. “And how are her fans, who surely, like me, learned so much about equality from Ani’s writing over the decades, allowing her a free pass on this?”
Others have taken a more direct path to criticism.
“This is insulting to black feminists and black queer individuals and is a very blatant display of racism on her part,” wrote Sara Starr in a Change.org petition asking DiFranco to cancel the event in Louisiana. “In order for this event to be canceled, this petition has been formed so that feminists and queer individuals of all races can express their disdain for DiFranco’s racist and oppressive gestures, not to mention the obvious exclusion of/disregard for her black fans. Holding an event on the site of the genocide of black people is no way to show inclusion and intersectionality, both of which are important tenets of feminism.”
The petition has about 2200 signatures to date.
DiFranco’s label-mate, spoken word artist Buddy Wakefield, said to Raw Story that he has personally come under fire after appeal for calm while waiting for a formal statement from the label. Wakefield is slated to attend the retreat.
“The mob is in full swing,” he said. “I want to respect 360 degrees of perspective here about the oversight. I understand a lot of people are really hurt. I also feel that Ani hasn’t issued her statement yet, and I want to let that statement be heard.”