Interesting story here…at least to me. Hopefully it is for you, as well.
I should probably start by saying that there are few musical artists that have had a bigger impact on me than ani difranco. From the start, I was captivated by her kind of strange and funky, modern folksy, punk rock original sound. Initially, as a teenager, her music was sparse and, as a guitarist, her weird alternate tunings and unique percussive attack on the strings were creatively used to make up for the lack of accompaniment. Her lyrics, however, were always right up there, the content and quality bolstering the thin instrumentation and that young, quirky, “learn to appreciate it” voice.
Following her progression from her teen years, as she pushed cassette tapes from the back of her car and got booted from New York cafes for being too quirky and political and being rejected by every record label in existence…she grew. She made her own label – and it’s the most successful independent label in history (my young musician peeps…read her story for inspiration). Her music became lush, dynamic, and diverse. Interwoven with jazz flavors, hip hop, funk. Her collabs include everyone from folk narrative legend Utah Phillips, to jazz legend Maceo Parker, to our favorite royal, Prince, himself.
She was one of the original riot grrrls….fierce, brash, unapologetically bisexual, an unrepenitant feminist. Every flavor of -ism has been attacked, dismembered, and analyzed in many different ways throughout her immense library of songs.
Ani is an example of woke with a capital W.
She was also my first and most extreme lesson in white fragility.
Check it out.
Back in 2013, after her move from New York state to New Orleans, she had an idea. She wanted to throw a four-day feminist artist’s retreat called the “Righteous Retreat” (her label is called “Righteous Babe Records”). As it turned out, the retreat was to be held at the Nottoway Plantation down there in Louisiana. There was some really tone deaf, glib promotion that invited creative women to spend upwards of $1,000 to sit on the historic patio of the plantation, sipping lemonade, and giving a finger to the patriarchy. (Please understand that I’m paraphrasing here – the original material has been scrubbed from the interwebs.)
So there are two kinds of fans…there are those that sheepishly follow their leaders with no question…then there are woke ass fans, the types that call out the bullshit for what it is.
And this is when ani difranco, the darling of the super left landing musicians, found herself effectively canceled by her fans — and it was BRUTAL, just as a call out for blatant, blind hypocrisy should be. Just like ani taught us.
I wish I could say that she did the right thing. That she immediately recognized how stupid, privileged, and ridiculous that location was, but she didn’t.
She got way fragile and issued this brittle unapologetic apology…
“When I found out it was to be held at a resort on a former plantation, 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,” she wrote on her site.
She then dug in and stated that she did not wish to relocate the retreat. “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.”
Wowsers, white lady! Lol
Instead of relocating the event, she got mad, packed up her guitar, and canceled the event entirely.
This was a serious kick to my gut, personally. I was shocked that someone who was renowned for her awareness, sensitivity, and progressive stance would be so toxic and defensive about this. On any other day, if she saw this happening outside of her goldfish bowl, she would be the first person in line to put someone in check.
I watched this unfold as it was happening. It took a few days, but eventually this little nugget of sincerity appeared on her website:
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.
THIS. Right here. THIS.
This is real. This is humble. It’s sincere. It’s a recognition of the harm done and taking the accountability for causing the harm. It’s also a promise to improve.
Even people who are normally woke can get caught sleepwalking from time to time.
I know that ani, herself, is not a racist person by nature. But what she did was racist as hell. It’s one of those implicit, quiet, acts of institutionalized racism that white folks do all the time without even realizing it. And ani got mighty white in her fragile defensiveness.
She dug deeper. This was one of the best lessons I’ve ever seen in learning how to build bridges. JK Rowling could take a lesson or two here btw.
And with that, folks….I sure hope you enjoy this awesome song and video. I know I did.