not a sorry girl

anidifranco2Singer 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.

These Nottoway slaves look OVERJOYED.

These Nottoway slaves look OVERJOYED.

“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.


"Every New Year’s Day, John Randolph would give the field slaves a hog to cook and the Randolph family would eat with them in The Quarters. There would be music and dancing." SEE?

“Every New Year’s Day, John Randolph would give the field slaves a hog to cook and the Randolph family would eat with them in The Quarters. There would be music and dancing.” SEE?

“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.

Look at this porch where lifesaving songwriting is not going to happen because of you.

Look at this porch where lifesaving songwriting is not going to happen because of you.

“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”


“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.”


“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.



This entry was posted in Apologies for Historical Events, Artistic apologies, Musical Apologies and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to not a sorry girl

  1. Lisa Hirsch says:

    Awesome takedown, that. Thanks.

  2. blksista says:

    Priceless. This will be shared.

  3. oddchild1 says:

    I guess one fuax pas is greater than a lifetime of activism. This is why we can’t have nice things; the left savages it’s own while the right has a united front. Phil Robertson says that blacks were better off during segregation and actively preaches to disenfranchise the GLBT community and he gets his job back yet here we are destroying one of our own to fuel some self-righteous indignation that is very minor in comparison to the right’s campaign to rob women of color of their voting rights.

    • ditto says:

      Agreed – get a life and go after some of the people who aren’t trying their damndest to be your ally. Have fun on your self-righteous soapbox. This is a thoughtful and considerate apology – clearly more so than you deserve.

  4. IronickedOut says:

    I can barely read through the shriek-level snark to the actual (boring, overwrought, self-righteous, righteously indignant) point here. For God’s sake, pick your marks more carefully. This reeks of limo-liberal napkin-clutching political correctness (and I’m a hardcore liberal–but you give us all a bad name). DiFranco’s “apology” didn’t mention the word “sorry” or “apology” because she’s not sorry and not pretending to be (why should she have to pander to YOU?). She’s exasperated, bowing to pressure, and is being frank about that. Has the sorry-ass author of this post done anything close to what DiFranco has with her art to address social injustice and hypocrisy? Or is this level of sarcasm the best she can hope to achieve? Sad. Also, “snarly”, you’re not nearly as funny as you think you are.

  5. I don’t think she has anything to apologize for.

  6. ECP says:

    I don’t agree at all with the angle that the author here has taken. I actually find it kind of baffling because I didn’t read what DiFranco said this way at all, and I even came into this already disliking DiFranco and expecting to hate her response. But it seems pretty reasonable to me.

  7. mm says:

    freaking funny and educational. racism wont get better as long as the privileged cant tolerate having their privilege disclosed. mock privilege. it’s a fun (only?) way to undo it.

  8. denise says:

    Here’s the thing: Ani’s “statement” wasn’t intended to be an apology.
    She’s not used to being called out. The description of the event describes the plantation as a “resort” and she goes on to say “and otherwise get suntans” which speaks to
    the fact that women of color were not a consideration.

    Her statement was full of blame and actually, horse shit.

    The children from the Roots Movement will now suffer because some mean
    people railed against having an event at a plantation.

    She takes no responsibility. No matter her intent, either she’s un-involved in her own
    career or she’s not very bright. Why do I say this? Because it was an idiotic venue choice and she had the opportunity to think about it and her decision was to move forward.
    She needs to apologize to HERSELF for being that misguided and she would be
    better served by taking some time to reflect before she blames the people who took issue with the event’s location.

    Liberal white folks can very often be the cause of great misery. They don’t know
    when they’re being insensitive. They are truly ignorant- eventually, it will click.
    At least that’s my hope; I’ll not give up.

    I have compassion for her; just wish she’d given women of color the same courtesy.

  9. leftchild1 says:

    Oddchild1 has scored a complete own goal. Yes, the left critiques its own as well – this is a strength. It shows the left doesn’t sit around criticising others while turning a blind eye to ‘its own’ (like the Right does), but in fact all of us should be analysed, critiqued, and strive for better. Just because there are conservatives who are worst than Ani (why stop at Robertson, just go straight to referencing Hitler’s evil if you like!) doesn’t give Ani, or anyone of us, complete immunity from any analysis or criticism for eternity.

  10. Sue says:

    It is normal to have an issue w/the venue, at least, if you’re black. (Most black people would have an issue with it. I’m black and I just know. –my friends/fam would be like WTF re the venue. It’s like where Ted Nugent would do a concert, just to be annoying.) If she’s irritated that people have an issue with the venue…well. That’s just irritating to me. So we’re all even. She wants to show she’s a progressive and “we’re all guilty of racism/colonialization even you” and all that is true but this is a SPECIFIC issue, it involves her being gracious or ingracious, and her attitude is butt.

    “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.”– This reminds me of when ppl were irked A.Jolie wore brown face paint and a wig and played Marianne Pearl, and Jolie was like, I can see the concerns but in this instance I feel they are misguided.
    Like, it’s all good to have concerns but not when you are questioning MOI.
    and this:
    “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.”– Nope. It’s not. And your pouting is gross.

  11. tanita says:

    I thought, “maybe she lives in the South, so her venue space is somewhat limited,” but the thing is, plantations: they exist. Still. Maybe that they’re used as rental venues is not so much the point as them still existing as a point of … pride.

    …and, yes, her “apologia” – I love that concept – made a dumb-maybe-mostly-ignorant-harmless thing utterly reek of privilege, defensiveness, and wounded pride. Which is too bad.

  12. Pingback: » Race, Apology, and Ani DiFranco John E. Drabinski

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