Singer Ani DiFranco (or her people) scheduled a four-day “creativity workshop” at a former slave plantation in Louisiana. Many humans found this problematic. DiFranco ultimately cancelled the retreat…but her statement about why is abysmal. We really shouldn’t be tackling it, since the words “sorry,” “apologize,” and “ask” do not appear; it’s an apologia, not an apology. But since it uses many of the rhetorical swoops that appear in actual apologies, let’s do a close reading, academia-style! Come with us on a line-by-line journey of discovery, similar to the one we used with Chris Matthews’s execrable apology for saying he was “glad” about Superstorm Sandy. (Which was an apology, even if it was bad, which means Chris Matthews trumps Ani DiFranco, which is not a sentence I ever thought I would write.)
But first, go read DiFranco’s whole statement here. I’ll wait.
Now that you’ve done the required reading, LET’S PARSE!
“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.”
Translation: I responded in the mien of Joey Lawrence of Blossom, a product of the 1990s like me, a creature of winsomeness and light, who would testify that “whoa” is a perfectly reasonable response to the news that one’s purportedly feminist event was going to be held at one of the largest plantations in the South, a site whose web site perkily discusses what a NICE master lived there (he gave his slaves “gifts of clothing, small toys and fruit”! WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT? also the plantation had its own bowling alley, and WHO AMONG US CAN SAY that the slaves were not allowed to use it?) and thus I cannot fathom why everybody else has to be such a font of negativity.
“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.”
Translation: I hear you saying that it is not my place to initiate IMPORTANT RACE DIALOGUE because the world is just not READY for my transformative compassion and awareness.
“i know that the pain of slavery is real and runs very deep and wide. however, in this incident i think is very unfortunate what many have chosen to do with that pain.”
Translation: sorry about yr slavery but why you gotta STEW? you should write a song.
“i entreat you to refocus your concerns and comments on this matter with positive energy and allow us now to work together towards common ground and healing.”
Translation: just work harder to tap into your positive energy so we can forget this. it’s always a THING with you. y u always gotta be so NEGATIVE? u r so dark. WAIT DIDN’T MEAN IT LIKE THAT.
“i know that indeed our whole country has had a history of invasion, oppression and exploitation as part of it’s very fabric of power and wealth. i know that each of us is sitting right now in a building located on stolen land. stolen from the original people of this continent who suffered genocide at the hands of european colonists. i know that many of us can look down right now and see shoes and clothes that were manufactured by modern day indentured servants in sweat shops.”
Translation: THIS WHOLE COUNTRY is racist, not just this ACTUAL FORMER SLAVE PLANTATION. [SorryWatch editor’s note: Absolutely true. But the fact that EVERYONE’S A LITTLE BIT RACIST is not an excuse. To have a retreat. On an ACTUAL FORMER SLAVE PLANTATION. Doing so IS materially different from having it in, say, the Empire State Building, which contains steel which was controlled by robber barons, or in a restaurant, which uses sugar which has a history of being part of the slave trade. Even knowing as we do that racism infuses our entire lives on this planet doesn’t mean there aren’t greater and lesser evils, and it’s disingenuous to pretend otherwise. Parallelism not friend here, Ani.]
“who are all the owners of all the venues i or any other musician play? the performing arts centers? the theaters? the night clubs? i bet there are a lot of rich white dudes with conservative political leanings on the list. is it possible to separate the positive from the negative people in this world? will those lines be clear and discernible with enough research? is it my job to do this for every gig? is it possible to ensure that no ‘bad’ person will ever profit in any way from my existence or my work?”
Translation: Let’s all throw up our hands, because fighting racism is hopeless. [SorryWatch editor’s note: I don’t think DiFranco actually believes this. I think she is a person who wants to build a better world, and she made a mistake. But she’s choosing to compound it out of her discomfort with the cognitive dissonance of seeing herself as a flawed person who screwed up. As we discussed in the last post, it’s psychologically very difficult to square our self-perception with our acts that fall short of all we desire to be. To push away that dissonance, she lashes out, defensively, at others. And to respond to the actual substance of this part of her statement: Well, yes, Ani, I expect you or your people to do due diligence. This is why we get angry at the dimwit pop stars who go sing to dictators for great sums of money. You are an artiste and don’t do things for great sums of money, but you’re still accountable. Big companies do bad things, but this doesn’t mean we go live in a hidey-hole in a dress made from corn husks. For instance: I don’t buy from American Apparel or Urban Outfitters because the leadership of these particular companies makes me uncomfortable. There are plenty of other companies I could and maybe should avoid, but this is one case where I have chosen a “clear and discernible” line for myself. You have an obligation to do the same, especially when you’re not just spending your own money; you’re asking OTHER PEOPLE to enrich a dubious institution.
“i invited my friends Buddy Wakefield, Toshi Reagon and Hamell on Trial to impart their particular brands of spirit and wisdom to the conference attendees”
Translation: SOME OF MY BEST FRIENDS ARE
“i also planned to take the whole group on a field trip to Roots of Music, a free music school for underprivileged kids in New Orleans.”
Translation: YOU HATE CHILDREN.
“i think many positive and life-affirming connections would have been made at this conference, in its all of its complexity of design.”
Translation: But nooooooooooooooooo, to quote John Belushi. You had to go and RUIN EVERYTHING with your RACEY RACIAL PARANOIA THAT IS CLOSED OFF TO BEAUTY AND LIGHT AND TRANSFORMATION.
So, Ani: Which side are you on? This statement is 32 flavors of bad, and here’s wishin’ and hopin’ you put aside your defensiveness, look inside yourself, and try again with an ACTUAL apology. We’re disappointed that you and your followers (who you need to condemn, by the way, when they do things like, oh, making fake black-people Facebook accounts named LaQueeta to support you) are actively confirming stereotypes about white feminists. When you claim to understand that you have white privilege, then throw it around like glitter, you hurt everyone — black and white, feminist and as-yet-unenlightened. We don’t hold out much hope that Michelle Shocked will come around, but we still think we can get somewhere with you, and we can’t let go, and we hope we will get through.
UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE (On Jan 2, 2014. By Sumac, since Snarly is out of town with no computer. In the snow.)
Ani DiFranco is stepping up. Here’s the apology she’s now posted on Facebook:
it has taken me a few days but i have been thinking and feeling very intensely and i would like to say i am sincerely sorry. it is obvious to me now that you were right; all those who said we can’t in good conscience go to that place and support it or look past for one moment what it deeply represents. i needed a wake up call and you gave it to me.
it was a great oversight on my part to not request a change of venue immediately from the promoter. you tried to tell me about that oversight and i wasn’t available to you. i’m sorry for that too.
know that i am digging deeper.
That’s really good. She says “sorry”; she takes responsibility; she names her mistake; she even apologizes for her initial defensive reaction.
I’m impressed. I am not even going to say anything about capital letters.