Happy Nice Time People's Lisa Needham has the story of the shitstorm surrounding Ani Di Franco right now. Seems Di Franco was hosting a very expensive "Righteous Retreat" for aspiring songwriters. Which is fine, you know. If you think blowing over a thousand bucks to spend time with Ani Di Franco and Ani Di Franco's friends is going to make you a better songwriter, this is America and you have the right to do that. The problem comes with the location of the retreat: It was to happen at The Nottoway Plantation and Resort, a huge Louisiana slave plantation that's currently trying to whitewash its history by referring to the slaves as "a willing workforce" on its website. The backlash against Di Franco started on Saturday, reports the Daily Dot:
“I feel sorry for not only Ani, but all the women who look up to her and think of her as a leader or pioneer in feminism,” wrote Ayana Ivery on the retreat’s Facebook wall. “I feel sick,” added commenter Sandra Karlsson. “And [ashamed] of white women claiming to stand up for equal rights but [still] hold on to their white supremacy and ignorance. If this was on Europe it would be similar to holding the event on the sites of the Holocaust. What an immense disrespect!”
Di Franco canceled the retreat with a long passive-aggressive note on her website saying, in part:
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. i have heard the feedback that it is not my place to go to former plantations and initiate such a dialogue.
Seattle poet Buddy Wakefield was a major player in the Righteous Retreat, and he posted a Facebook rant that makes Di Franco's response look graceful and friendly in comparison:
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.
Wakefield comes off the worst in all of this, with his claims that "20+ years of sincere activism" should protect he and his friends from criticism, followed almost immediately with his charges that people who criticize he and his friends are "hateful" and have a "narrow understanding" of the situation. To contextualize: Wakefield is lamenting the cancellation of a luxury songwriting retreat. Is this really the ideal spot on which to plant a flag and take a stand?
(Thanks to Slog tipper Joshua for the Twitter heads up.)
UPDATE 10:21 AM, 1/2/2013: It's worth noting that Wakefield has responded in the comments:
Hi All. It's worth noting that my knee-jerk reaction was directly aimed at that predictable, repetitive voice which seems eager to bury public figures at any level when questionable activity arises. It most certainly was not at people of color. After watching individuals on Facebook, mostly within the poetry community (largely white), contribute heavily to a common backbiting momentum we've all witnessed, I unfortunately reacted to that. I had known about the shit storm for only a matter of hours. I had no idea about the two weeks of unanswered-questions-turned-outrage that had been allowed to build. I ran into the room without looking, wielding humor for the lowest common denominator in an effort to get folks to stand down until a comprehensive statement could be made. It was grossly ill-timed and ineffectual to say the very least. I did not register how broad that stroke would be. I'm embarrassed, and made two thorough [unreported] apologies the moment perspective poured in to that same thread, mortified by the fact that it reads like a totally dismissive white bread burn aimed at people of color. For the resurfaced habit of reacting, without yet having the grace to consistently sit with negativity before addressing it, I am guilty. I am otherwise listening and learning continuously with regards to privilege and race. I acknowledge that what I said hurt many friends and acquaintances. I deeply apologize. I commit to learning what it means to being a better ally, and I recommit to gentleman practice. I know this statement doesn't speak to everything, though I'm willing. I'm easy to find. I will be personally reflecting on all of this for quite some time regardless. Warmest regards, Buddy Wakefield
PS Please, white people, do not rally around me on this, especially on internet forums. It serves no one well on the matter.