Jesus And America Wept: Ani Di Franco’s Genius Idea To Hold Songwriting Retreat On Plantation Is No More
Today’s reading from the Big Book Of Ways Not To Manage Your Social Media Presence is from the book of Ani Di Franco. Chapter the First: Announce you are holding something called a “Righteous Retreat” at $1000+ per head, because that’s progressive, at a plantation, because that is SUPER progressive. Make sure it is a plantation where the promotional literature about the plantation informs the public that the slaveowner was a really nice guy and had a real head for business:
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.
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. Every New Year’s Day, John Randolph would give the field slaves a hog to cook and the Randolph family would eat with them in The Quarters. There would be music and dancing, and the Randolphs would give the slaves gifts of clothing, small toys and fruit, as well as a sum of money for each family. In addition, the workers received an annual bonus based on their production.
Sounds lovely, except for the part WHERE THEY WERE SLAVES. OK, so anyway, Ani Di Franco, you thought this was a great idea. Weirdly, all other people in the world did not really think this and they thought you were not intersectional and kinda tone deaf and sorta racist and all those things, which would have seemed mean except YOU WERE GOING TO HOLD A PRICEY RETREAT ON A SLAVE PLANTATION. Even the GOP didn’t hold their “We Heart Minorities” meeting on a plantation even though they did pick a room that unfortunately had “plantation” in the name. You are being dumber than the GOP for fuck’s sake.
Chapter the Second: Have one of your allies/minions/co-righteous retreaters, Buddy Wakefield, write a really aggressively petulant response on your behalf:
Howdy shitstorm e’erybody! As a Righteous Babe who was naively excited to participate in this event I’m not necessarily able to make a comprehensive public statement today due to spinning full plates and a cruddy case of the crud. Until I or Ani or Toshi or anyone else are able to respond from our personal perspectives on the blunder, I think it’d be most productive for y’all to continue assuming the absolute worst, don’t you dare ask thoughtful questions as to how this really went down, venomously insult Ani and her years of efforts, then write as many demolishing statements and articles as possible in an effort to eternally shackle her to this oversight. If forgiveness is off the menu, consider compassion and the possibility of extenuating circumstances before discounting 20+ years of sincere activism. I think it’s pretty safe to say all the artists involved are amply bummed about the situation, and that your hateful approaches/vitriolic statements/narrow understanding of how things transpired have safely arrived to our inboxes. I happen to know that given all the facts I/we were otherwise not privy to, Ani is cancelling. You can all go feed on someone else’s mistakes very soon.
Jesus, people. Everybody knows that 20 years of activism gets you a pass for one incredibly expensive songwriting retreat held on a site that most people of color would find repugnant! If you hit 40 years of activism, you get to hold a concert at Dachau, so keep on truckin’.
Chapter the Third: Cancel the retreat, because you realize people are not going to stop talking about this, but write your notpology in such a fashion that everyone is still going to be talking about what a jerk you are. By all means, kick off your “I’m sorry you’re sorry” statement by blaming someone else.
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. i knew only that it would be “not too far outside of new orleans” so that i could potentially come home to my own bed each night. and i knew that one of the days of the retreat was slated as a field trip wherein everyone would come to new orleans together. 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.
(Childish refusal to use capital letters in original.)
Such unexpected bitterness! Why can’t we all just get past that little bump in the road in American history where some people owned other people? Such a small thing, really.
After you pass the buck and explain that you thought about it and were taken aback, but you didn’t really expect anyone to be so nasty about the whole thing, move on to justifying your actions by telling everyone else that they do it too, nyah nyah nyahhhh.
for myself, i believe that one cannot draw a line around the nottoway plantation and say “racism reached it’s depths of wrongness here” and then point to the other side of that line and say “but not here”. i know that any building built before 1860 in the South and many after, were built on the backs of slaves. i know that in new orleans, the city i live in, most buildings have slave quarters out back, and to not use any buildings that speak to our country’s history of slavery would necessitate moving far far away. i know that indeed our whole country has had a history of invasion, oppression and exploitation as part of its very fabric of power and wealth. i know that each of us is sitting right now in a building located on stolen land. stolen from the original people of this continent who suffered genocide at the hands of european colonists. i know that many of us can look down right now and see shoes and clothes that were manufactured by modern day indentured servants in sweat shops.
These things are all indeed true, and thank you, Ani Di Franco, for the whitest, guiltiest, guilting-est statement ever. However, generally we have found that our shoes, sweatshop made though they might be, do not bear upon them a lengthy discourse about how awesome it is for the child laborers that sewed them together because on occasion someone buys them a snack. This may seem like a distinction without a difference, but it kind of does not matter because we are not planning a large expensive celebration to be located on our shoes any time soon.
Chapter the Fourth: Get “all publicity is good publicity” tattooed right below yin yang symbol, practice deep breathing, and try to figure out how many people will write angry Facebook posts if you order the promoter that organized this to be beheaded. Consider crafting speech about how our ancestors beheaded way more people and who among us is not historically guilty of beheading, but decide to wait until another day. Fall asleep and dream the dreams of the (self) righteous.