(Note: This is the kind of thing that would definitely have been on my 2013 Sit The Fuck Down list but it came in after the deadline, but before the new year. So while not a proper list, I’m posting it here anyway.)
I don’t know anybody who knows who Ani DiFranco is, likes good political music, and in turn doesn’t like her as a musician. She says what people want to hear emotionally and politically, and she’s been able to make a largely independent career based on being true to herself. DiFranco recently put together a songwriting/poetry workshop (which is cool) and inviting some talented professional friends (also cool) for a four day retreat (very cool) which will be hosted at a former slave plantation (which is an IMMENSELY UNCOOL FUCK UP).
Naturally the world lost its shit in two seconds flat, and rightfully so. This is the kind of thing that we think we’re past as a society until someone does it and we realize how far we still have to go on race issues.
On a related note, feminists have really been going at each other this week over this, as well they should: people are always pointing out how capital-F Feminism largely means “white feminism,” and then white feminists say, “Not true!” and then somebody makes some subterranean point about white privilege that no one wants to dig up, or the whole issue gets white-male-washed, ending the debate altogether (because who doesn’t blame white men?). This is textbook white privilege: the total ignorance of something that should have been blatantly obvious to everyone in the room, but somehow isn’t to white folks by virtue of an inherent value of their whiteness at large.
I don’t read too much into the politics or the philosophical and ethical resiliency of musicians based on what they say in their music. I love Public Enemy, but I never once assumed that they actually broke any of friends out of prison, were going to shoot the governor of Arizona, or never backpedaled on a position.
So I feel sorry for people who are now disappointed and keep saying things like, “I always liked what she had to say” or “I used to quote her music a lot,” like her songs were actual activism. I’m not saying songs have never been activism (I’m the descendant of slaves, so I know better); I’m saying they shouldn’t be considered activism unless you can point to a direct effect of their activism.* Otherwise, it’s just really compelling music and the decisions have been all ours. That’s a different topic, but I just wanted to point out that while I own a few DiFranco albums, I don’t exactly keep up on her activism, if it exists at all. I’m sure it must – or rather, I want fiercely to believe it does – but I am unaware of it. So maybe her activism-that-isn’t-just-a-song exists and maybe it doesn’t. It certainly isn’t making its way to the fore now. I don’t see a lot of people rushing to point it out either way now that her pedestal has tipped over.
Just two days ago I read two separate, fairly viral articles speaking to navigating the re-insertion of people who make mistakes back into the fold (boom and kapow). I’m using some brutal shorthand here, but that was a thread through the unpacking of both articles. They’ve generated lots of timely discussion on the heels of Duck Dynasty’s recent brouhaha. I guess I hoped I would see some of that temperance in action now, especially since Ani DiFranco is someone a lot of these people really, really LIKED. I don’t think Ani DiFranco or her organizers or the other artists (singer Toshi Reagon, poet Buddy Wakefield or musician Hamell on Trial to date) meant any harm. I don’t think they gave it any thought at all (and in the case of at least Reagon, didn’t know the venue at all upon receiving the invite, about which Reagon has posted a note). Also, I’m calling bullshit on anybody who says the choice of this location is some kind of appropriation, since nothing about the selling of this event suggests race issues was in any way on the agenda.
(Speaking of agendas, nowhere on the websites for this retreat are the words “feminist retreat,” and yet I am seeing over and over again how this event is an affront to feminism. Not my fight; just saying that I don’t see where this is supposed to be anything more than some artsy-fartsy engagement. Apparently, it’s a BYOP(olitics) affair.)
Soon (not now, but hopefully soon. It’s too soon now), we will be in one of those moments when we can be bigger than our initial reactions with our allies or partners or friends or whatever you want to call the person who has been seemingly walking next to you politically and tripped over a stick of privilege/ego/misinterpretation/flat-out-wrongness in the street. What we’ve been doing is picking up the stick and beating them with it until they go away, never to be of use to us again. What we should consider – CONSIDER, since some people really do need the stick upside their head – is pointing out that they just tripped over a stick and helping them back up to helping us better.
Bottom line: Ani DiFranco is down, but she’s not THAT down, and now we know. So do we hit her with the stick or do we dust her off and keep it moving based on whatever her track record might be? I’d think that if someone might be redeemable it would be her, but then, other people have a bigger dog in this fight than I do.
P.S.) White Castle, Louisiana? Seriously? Somebody should have stopped right there and said, “We can’t go to a plantation in a town named after sliders.”
* = For the record, I am differentiating between charity and activism to some extent here, but fairly I think.