Singer/songwriter Ani DiFranco was working with a group to put together a songwriting retreat near New Orleans and managed to find a venue at the Nottoway Plantation and Resort. Everything seemed like a good idea until the announcement was made and all hell broke loose on the Internet. From The LA Times:
After posting on Facebook that her “Righteous Retreat in the Big Easy” would take place in June 2014 at a setting portrayed as “the historic Nottoway Plantation and Resort” in White Castle, La., commenters replied with outrage. This was a place, after all, described on DiFranco’s site as recently undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation that “restored this historic plantation to her days of glory as well as adding luxury resort amenities.”
The seeming tone-deafness prompted a fascinating, contentious and at times incendiary conversation on history, slavery, race and context. The most lively of those posts, however, were then deleted, sparking frustration at the DiFranco camp’s reaction and charges that the deletions were stifling a healthy discussion.
You can read up about Nottoway here and learn about the the former slave owners that come off smelling like Mel Gibson in The Patriot as opposed to Mel Gibson in real life. They let their slaves bathe, that means they’re some of the good ones!
DiFranco addressed her critics today by canceling the retreat, but she further irritated many by sounding more defensive than apologetic. “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,” she wrote on her site, adding that she did not wish to relocate the retreat. “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.”
The musician acknowledged the pain of slavery and added that she’d planned to involve a group of underprivileged children, and she went on to further defend her choice of venue. “I believe that people must go to those places with awareness and with compassionate energy and meditate on what has happened and absorb some of the reverberating pain with their attention and their awareness,” she wrote. “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.”
That did not dissuade the angry Internet mob that wants a formal apology from DiFranco and continue to flood her Facebook with anger. The artist’s Righteous Babe Records released another statement earlier today about the controversy, including the accusations that they had been deleting comments in the wake of the announcement:
Righteous Babe is a very small office and we do our best to manage all of Ani’s social networks. We are sorry that we didn’t act quicker on responding to your posts.
Currently we are reading all of your posts and thinking and talking and learning. Just because we aren’t chiming in does not mean you are being ignored. Up until today all comments and accounts were left up and we did nothing to filter the discussion, however, after realizing that a.) We can’t keep track of conversations happening in multiple locations and b.) Some comments were filled with hate and were not adding the discussion we decided to remove some posts. We have seen that not everyone is happy with Righteous Babe and/or Ani and we are not censoring those posts- we are only deleting repeat posts and comments like “You are a racist whore.” Everyone at Righteous Babe is human and we are doing our best but we aren’t perfect. So please do not think that because we aren’t responding at social networking speed we do not care.
The whole thing got pretty ugly, but nothing is quite as ugly as thinking that holding an event at a former plantation was a good idea. I don’t think there’s malice intended here, but the choice is boneheaded and I’m surprised a group of people that didn’t include Paula Deen would even consider it an option.
I do suggest checking out the Facebook page. I would include every bit of anger that poured out over there, but there is just so much.