Ani DiFranco, a plantation and outrage

So Ani DiFranco, or more correctly her management, set up a writing retreat for writers and artists. It was to be called “Righteous Retreat” and held at the Nottoway Plantation.

Apparently, if you are Ani DiFranco, this was a very bad idea. See, the plantation was, guess what, a plantation. Since it was a plantation in the south pre-civil war, it was built and worked on by slaves.

As we all know, slavery was a horrid thing. It was inhumane, stupid and evil.

And apparently, Ani DiFranco is a racist for having a retreat there:




Now, presently this plantation hosts weddings, tours and is a hotel. Link.

There was such a negative outcry that DiFranco canceled the event and issued an apology. Apparently, to a reasonable number of people who pay attention to these things, this isn’t enough.

Now, I am a bit baffled by the outrage some people are unleashing on DiFranco. I understand that slavery was evil. I understand that the house was built by slaves. However it seems a bit odd to me that holding an event there is racist. It just seems like the criticism is unjustified. If using buildings built by slaves is (or should be) taboo, there are a whole shitload of buildings, including the White House and the Capitol building, which should be off limits.

What am I missing?


People like being angry at shit. Especially Social Justice Warrior Tumblerinas, who make up probably 70% of her fans.

Tricky. I can see both sides.

Yes, objectively, places have no moral qualities. Auschwitz is just a small town.

But, subjectively, places have deep moral associations.

The trouble with that is that the moral associations must not come to overrule the objective value of a place. Suppose my distant relatives in Poland die, and bequeath to me their little farm and house on the outskirts of Auschwitz. Suppose I go and live there. Suppose I want to invite some friends over for a writing conference…

Is every citizen of modern Auschwitz morally tainted? May not even one of them write books, paint paintings, make sculpture?

There needs to be some distance between the site of an evil act, and the modern use of the land. Else, there is hardly an acre of land, anywhere on earth, that is free from this taint.

In a situation with a moral dimension, there must be a “right answer.” The opposition here have denied the writing group the possibility of one. That is, in itself, immoral.

ETA: “People like being angry at shit.” Grin! That too!

So, can you give them a bunch of money and you can go dress up like Scarlett O’Hara? People will probably pay for that.

I have a hard time seeing the outrage here. Did slavery historically occur at this location? Yes. But slavery historically occurred at pretty much every habitable point in the world.

The outrage being wasted on this non-issue could be better used on some more pressing problem.

You aren’t, people are just morons. The slavers are long dead, as are their victims. Razing the plantation to the ground and salting the earth won’t undo what they did hundreds of years ago.

The site isn’t just a historical plantation; it’s now run as a profit-making venture for a right-wing white billionaire, and advertises a version of its own history which considerably downplays the tragedy of slavery for the actual slaves involved. At best AdF showed extraordinarily poor judgment in deciding to hold the event there.

I think that the problem is that Ani has set herself up as the most socially conscious of the socially conscious. She’s the equivalent of a level 5 vegan. So her fans hold her up to a ridiculously high standard. Viewed from that angle, yeah, reserving a plantation was not the best move she could have made. But realistically, even if she had rented a random hotel somewhere, I’m sure that hotel would still exploit its workers to the point where some fraction of her fans would take umbrage.

The only thing more blatantly racist she could do would be to wear clothing made of cotton. COTTON!

(Actually, ruadh’s explanation makes at least a little sense, but… not only do people like being angry at shit; other people like mocking people who like being angry at shit.)

I can see the issue. Why hold this event at that location?

A liberal like Ani [or her management] should understand the implications involved here, both historically and presently.

For a singer, it was a very “tone deaf” choice.

Isn’t it subversive of the meaning of the place that a feminist writing retreat occur there? I would think this was brownie points for AdF.

Got a cite for the owners view of slavery?


I don’t think he’s saying that the owner downplays slavery. He’s saying that the resort downplays the history of slavery there. Which probably makes sense from a marketing standpoint. “Reserve a room at Nottoway Plantation and enjoy the fine accommodations, built on the pain and suffering of innocents.”, probably doesn’t get many bookings.

It would be subversive if it were a Black Panther Retreat or something along those lines. But Ani Defranco isn’t Angela Davis, and feminism in general often seen as the domain of white women. A major complaint of black feminists is that the intersection of racism and sexism is often overlooked–that white feminists are quite comfortable talking about how they are oppressed by sexism and homophobia, but they rarely seem comfortable confronting racism and the ways they privilege from it.

Holding a retreat on a plantation symbolizes this disconnect. I agree that you can’t step foot on any inch of American soil that wasn’t stained by slavery or racism, but a plantation is much pretty the biggest symbol of racial oppression as you can get in the US. It’s the first thing most of us think of when we think of slavery. Indeed, I would think feminists in general would also have a problem with the choice, seeing as how it’s a throwback to an era where white women, while placed on a pedestal, were treated as the fragile, brainless property of their menfolk. Scarlett O’Hara was NOT a feminist ideal.

But is it right to bash Ani Defranco for this PR blunder? No. This is a case where a good point of criticism is being overshadowed by manufactured outrage.

This Ann Defranco character sounds like a wrong 'un

You might want to go easy on the painting.

Yeah - I see the plantation’s history page was deleted, but this site copied their ‘oh, those black folks just loved slavery’-style justification and commented on it:

A plantation and Auschwitz are not even remotely comparable.

A plantation is a farm. There is nothing inherently evil about farming. In this case, and in many others, the farm was built and worked using slave labor, which is, of course, inherently evil. But the farm itself is not. Plantations are not inherently evil (that said, it’s true that plantations in the American south were built and worked with slave labor). There have been plantations built and worked by free, compensated laborers.

Auschwitz, on the other hand, was a death factory. It had no other purpose besides genocide. It’s disingenuous to refer to it as “just a small town.” The term “Auschwitz” is commonly understood to refer to the camp, not the town that gave it its name. There was nothing good, or useful, or even neutral, about Auschwitz.

I don’t really care about Ms. DiFranco, or the event she was planning at this plantation. It may well be that, as a poster above said, the place is “now run as a profit-making venture for a right-wing white billionaire, and advertises a version of its own history which considerably downplays the tragedy of slavery for the actual slaves involved.” If that’s the case, then I do see a legitimate issue there, and that’s worthy of discussion, at least.

You say a farm is not inherently evil, and I can agree with that, as a farm is not capable of being evil. The evilness is perpetrated by the humans who owned the farm and the slaves.

Likewise Auschwitz is not in itself evil. Buildings and fences are incapable of perpetrating evil, just as farm buildings and gardens are likewise. It’s the actions of people that made Auschwitz evil, just as it did on that plantation.

Both are evil in the same way. Both were locations where evil was perpetrated. Neither are locations where evilness is inherent in the ground, air or in the buildings. Your attempt to whitewash the plantation completely misses the mark IMO.

If you held it at the Holiday Inn down the street then you were still going to be holding it on land that was forcibly taken from the Choctaw Indians when they were moved west at gunpoint. The Choctaws probably took it from somebody else, who in turn had despoiled it from the virgin wilderness that it was before.

So really, I guess there’s no place you can have it without celebrating evil.