The Most Important Question Surrounding the Ani DiFranco Plantation Retreat "Controversy": Are White Women the Natural Allies of People of Color in the Struggle Against Racism?
Ani DiFranco cancelled her "Righteous Retreat" for artists which was to be held at a former New Orleans slavery plantation.
She is very upset and hurt by how the public through social media condemned her choice of venue. Tim Wise and Brittney Cooper have done a thorough and precise job of eviscerating Ani DiFranco's white privilege stained faux-apology for making such a choice.
Moreover, there is no need for hundreds or thousands of words to describe Ani DiFranco's white privilege fail.
It is much more efficient, and easier, to watch white anti-racism activist Sister Jane Elliot bring an entitled young white female college student to tears in the documentary The Angry Eye.
That young woman and Ani DiFranco are not too different in their responses to a critical engagement about their relationship to supporting and sustaining systems of white supremacy. Literal and virtual white women's tears have a ton of cultural power in the United States. White women's tears have gotten black men hung from trees. They command TV viewing time and shows. White women are a protected class in the United States. When white women's tears and pain are ignored, even more upsetness naturally ensues.
In her apology, Ani DiFranco is deflecting. Instead of offering up a simple "my bad", the default is a long-winded essay that is more defensive and deflective, with the emphasis being on how her critics are overly sensitive, than in owning her mistake. If she so chose, Ani DiFranco could have written two sincere sentences that would have done much more work in her favor than the many sentences and words she offered.
Excuse-making uses many more words than acts of contrition, transparency, and vulnerability.
Ultimately, and as is often common when well-intentioned liberal and progressive white folks are criticized for their racist behavior--intentional, passive, active, accidental, mistaken, or otherwise--Ani DiFranco's rebuttal to her critics is tone deaf. She knows the lyrics, chorus, and verse of the metaphorical songs that are in the anti-racist white folks' musical catalog. However, Ani DiFranco does not sing those songs with any soul or heart. She is a lounge singer, hitting the notes, but ultimately lacking the heart or the pipes.
The more important question about Ani DiFranco's plantation retreat controversy is a simple one: What is it an example of? How can we relate Ani DiFranco's faux-apology to larger and more important concerns about white supremacy and white racism?
Ani DiFranco is a white woman. I would suggest that much of the public's surprise at her plantation retreat and defensive apology is centered on how a "good" liberal and a woman can exhibit such acute white privilege and racist entitlement.
If we drill down to the essential essence of the surprise and shock by some at Ani DiFranco's faux-apology about her slavery plantation retreat, gender is revealed as a core and basic issue--how can a white woman, one who is a progressive and liberal, and one that should know something about marginalization through systems of sexism and gender discrimination, be so blind to racial privilege?
This surprise piggybacks on another assumption held by some folks in Left, post civil rights, activist communities: white women are assumed to be the "natural" "allies" of people of color in the latter's struggle against white racism and white supremacy. Of course, this is an ahistorical conclusion. White women were members of the KKK. White women owned black people as slaves. White women raped, tortured, and abused their African-American human property. White American women struggling for the right to vote in the early 20th century leveraged their status as "white" citizens, and the "offense" to the white racial order that was (ostensible) black male voting-citizenship, in order to win the franchise.