December 30, 2013

Ani DiFranco's white obliviousness

As you may have heard, Ani DiFranco, the white liberal feminist folk singer, got in trouble for scheduling a retreat at the slave-owning Nottoway Plantation in Louisiana. Some postings on the subject:

…But How Dare You Complain to Me: Ani DiFranco, White Obliviousness and Historical Memory

By Tim WiseDespite realizing that, as she put it, “tragedies on a massive scale are not easily dealt with or recovered from,” and that “pain is stored in places where great social ills have occurred,” DiFranco insists that her intentions were noble. Rather than utilizing Nottoway so as to forget the past, she was utilizing it so as to remember, because, and these are her words: “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.”

Sure, like Dachau, where I’m quite certain she would never have thought to schedule a writer’s retreat, even if she were in the middle of a European tour at the time, such that getting there would have been a cinch.

That not only DiFranco, but indeed most white people, would flinch at the analogy between Dachau and Nottoway is predictable and largely suggestive of the problem with white people, or at least our propensity for blinkered historical memory. That we cannot recognize the similarities between a forced labor camp in the U.S.—which Southern plantations were, by definition—and a forced labor camp like Dachau (which, unlike the more deliberative death camps operated by the Nazis, was mostly a site of detention rather than extermination), indicates our inability to squarely face the genocide, physical and cultural to which our people mostly assented for hundreds of years on this soil. We do not allow for the pain of black peoples to equate in our minds—or the larger national imagination—to the pain of European Jewry, no matter that the transcontinental slave trade resulted in the deaths of millions (on the forced marches to the African coast, at sea, and once in the so-called new world), and no matter that the system of white domination that was central to enslavement still operates, albeit in a different form, and that the legacy of slavery itself is still evident in patterns of wealth accumulation (and its opposite) very much operative in the 21st century.

While Germany has long confronted the horrific truth of its history, we still have not, principally because most white folks aren’t, by and large, up to the task. Indeed, in one of the most deliciously repulsive ironies in curricular history, one is far more likely to find an American classroom ruminating on the tragedy of the European Holocaust than its American counterparts, be they perpetrated against black folks or indigenous persons. In fact, and as I’ve noted elsewhere, one isn’t even allowed to equate these things, or even use the same words, like “Holocaust” (with a capital H, no less, and perhaps even a trademark symbol) or “genocide” to describe them, unless one wishes to face the wrath of American apologists, who equate nicely with the current operators of Nottoway, all of whom insist upon how humanely the slaves owned by John Hampden Randolph were treated.
Glamming Up Slavery: Ani DiFranco's Plantation Paradise

By Jessica Ann MitchellFeminist folk singer Ani Difranco has enraged fans by hosting her upcoming “Righteous Retreat” at Nottoway Plantation in Louisiana.

As someone that grew up in Georgia, I’ve seen that a lot of White southerners and northerners view plantations as glamorous vacation hubs. For many, plantations are serene settings for family gatherings, weddings and retreats. There are even housing communities that are presented as high class by adding “plantation” to the name.

The gruesome realities of plantations are almost non-existent in their minds because the pain is not tied to their historical framework. There is almost always a careful removal of a realistic identity of masters, their descendants and the privilege that comes along with the erasure of history. So when people like Thomas Jefferson are discussed, the excuse for his participation as a slaver owner/rapist is, “He was a man of his time.”

The focus now turns to his legacy as a founding father rather than as a racist, enslaver and sexual abuser. This history is often avoided or shunned which leads to the cloaking of actual events. It allows for privileged groups to remain unbothered by very meaningful lived experiences on terror filled plantations.

The focus on the lavish and decadent lifestyles of the plantation owners trumps the fact that patrons are directly basking in the riches accumulated from the mass enslavement of African American people. Some would like to think that times weren’t so hard for “the slaves.” The Nottoway Plantation’s website specifically states, “It is difficult to accurately assess the treatment of Randolph’s slaves; however, various records indicate that they were probably well treated for the time.”
DiFranco "apologizes"

Ani DiFranco’s faux-pology: White privilege and the year in race

With most white people not having to confront the true history of plantations, honesty about race remains elusive

By Brittney Cooper
We ended 2013, the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation—a year in which one of the most popular movies, “12 Years a Slave,” chronicled the horrors of slavery in Louisiana—with Ani DiFranco huffily canceling her plan to host a “Righteous Retreat” for artists at Nottaway Plantation in New Orleans. That, ladies and gentlemen, sums up your year in race. I understand that most white people never have to think beyond notions of the idyllic and pastoral when it comes to plantations. That these places continue to represent sites of untold horror, violence and humiliation for black people is the very kind of knowledge against which white privilege inoculates.

The whole point of being white is that you are never supposed to feel uncomfortable in space. To the moon and back, the world is yours. This past year, “pure” white space has been procured and subsequently sanctified through the precious spilled blood of black bodies—Trayvon Martin, who got no justice; Jonathan Ferrell, who asked for help in the wrong neighborhood; Renisha McBride, who did the same.

In her faux-pology, which doubled as a notice of cancellation, DiFranco claimed to “get it.” But from her passive aggressive chastisement and her choice to accuse her naysayers on social media of engaging in “high velocity bitterness,” she obviously doesn’t really get it. She acknowledged that “the pain of slavery is real and runs very deep and very wide,” but saw as “very unfortunate” “what many have chosen to do with that pain.”

No doubt, Ani discovered this week, that social media is no country for white women’s foolishness on race. Unfortunately for her, she chose to launch this retreat at the same time that another unfortunate white feminist soul launched a twitter campaign called #stopblamingwhitewomenweneedunity. And after a year of looking at Miley Cyrus’ non-twerking ass, everyone has had enough.
And a broader look at what white feminists like DiFranco are doing:

A Year in Review: The Top 10 Most Racist/Privileged Things White Feminists Did in 2013In honor of the #stopblamingwhitewomenweneedunity hashtag (started via this Huffington Post article penned by the delightfully clueless Adele Wilde-Blavatsky) I’ve decided to put together a top ten honoring the many interesting methods white feminists employed this year to promote unity between themselves and feminists of color.

From refusing to defend feminists of color against attacks from the patriarchy (or from other white feminists for that matter), to deriding feminists of color for not being feminist enough, to blaming feminists of color’s oppressions on their own cultures (instead of, you know, patriarchy) white feminists sure have a funny way of expressing their desire for unity with feminists of color.
Even though this posting is mainly about white privilege as it relates to blacks, it applies to Native issues as well. The same power and privilege is behind Thanksgiving pageants, Halloween costumes and parties, and Indian team names and mascots. It's about reinforcing the American mythology of the benevolent European "settlers" who tamed the "wilderness" and brought civilization to the "New World."

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