Ani DiFranco's "Righteous" Writers Retreat Is Racist and Offensive

As someone who grew up on her angsty girl rock, I was devastated to find out that Ani DiFranco had enraged black feminists (and non-black feminists, and human beings) by planning to host a "righteous" songwriting retreat for her feminist fans at what is perhaps one of the least-feminist locations possible — a former plantation.

The Nottoway Plantation and Resort, located in White Castle, Louisiana, is a “gigantic mansion that once housed hundreds of slaves,” but is “now an event venue-cum-tourist attraction,” according to The Telegraph. DiFranco was met with a mountain of (deserved) criticism once the retreat was announced, especially from people of color.

This retreat, with tickets priced upwards of $1,000, was to be an empowering experience of “exchanging ideas, making music, and otherwise getting suntans in the light of each other’s company,” according to the event’s website. Thousands of people, including DiFranco’s fans, sent messages expressing their outrage to the singer via social media and the event’s webpage.

In her Change.org petition urging DiFranco to cancel the retreat, Sara Starr wrote “insulting to black feminists and black queer individuals and is a very blatant display of racism on her part.” Starr also added that “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.”

I signed the petition, and I completely agree with the criticism of this event. To ignore the racist implications of hosting an event at a plantation is not something that I would ever call feminist. This type of “feminism” is not inclusive of women of color, queer people, and others who have been marginalized by white patriarchy for centuries.

I have to wonder why DiFranco (or, more likely, DiFranco’s people) thought that it would be a good idea to host any kind of retreat, especially one labeled feminist. Earlier in the year, GOP Congressmen planned a “minority outreach” summit at a former plantation, and pretty much everyone thought that was a bad idea, including other Republicans.

Only after peak backlash was reached on social media, DiFranco released a statement announcing that the Righteous Retreat had been cancelled. In the apology, DiFranco writes:

“i have heard you: all who have voiced opposition to my conducting a writing and performing seminar at the nottoway plantation. i have decided to cancel the retreat.”

I wish she’d stopped there. If Ani DiFranco had just said “I’ve heard what you said, I didn’t intend to hurt anyone, and the retreat is cancelled,” I think a lot of people would have been very respectful of that. Unfortunately, she goes on to show just how much white privilege can shield a person from the very real, very hurtful past of American slavery.

“i did not know the exact location it was to be held. “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.”

Aside from a frustrating refusal to use capital letters at the beginning of sentences, DiFranco has entirely missed the point. The “high velocity bitterness” she speaks of is the deep pain of people who have lived with centuries of racism and its effects, including the descendants of slaves who built the plantation home where DiFranco and her “feminist” compatriots would frolic and sing Joni Mitchell.

I’m an Ani DiFranco fan, and I find this entire fiasco to be extremely disappointing. I don’t want to delete “Not A Pretty Girl” from my iTunes, but my feminism is not racist. It’s disheartening to see someone who has long been regarded as a queer feminist icon completely ignore the implicit racism in hosting an event at a plantation home. The “resort” may be beautiful today, but there is a deep history of pain in those places.

She may as well have tacked a “White Only” sign on the door. Why would people of color celebrate their feminism in a place where they would have been abused and enslaved just a few hundred years ago? They wouldn’t, and white feminists shouldn’t either.