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Ani DiFranco Hosts, Then Cancels Songwriting Retreat At Former Slave Plantation

Ani DiFranco Nottoway Plantation

Bisexual singer Ani DiFranco had originally planned to host a songwriting workshop retreat for women, wanting a setting that would "become a participant in the event," so she decided on Nottaway Plantation. The problem is that Nottoway is not just a plantation, but a former slave plantation. What's more, as Callie Beusman at Jezebel points out, it is a particularly unapologetic plantation that does its best to whitewash its history of slave labor. Nottoway's website states:

Ever the astute businessman, Randolph [Nottoway] knew that in order to maintain a willing workforce, it was necessary to provide not only for his slaves' basic needs for housing, food and medicine, but to also offer additional compensation and rewards when their work was especially productive.

For those unclear on how the English language works, slaves are by definition the polar opposite of a "willing workforce."

When DiFranco received backlash for her choice of venue, she took to social media to "apologize", saying (sic throughout):

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. 

How someone who claims to be a feminist and thus in tune to the plights heaped upon a discriminated class could not have predicted a toxic backlash to patronizing an institution that celebrates its own black mark on U.S. history is mind-boggling. DiFranco ultimately canceled her event.

Image via Our Legaci.

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Comments

  1. Way to take things out of context. Did you read the entire History page? They discuss slavery and the slaves' lives in some detail.

    Posted by: Dave in NYC | Jan 2, 2014 3:10:30 PM


  2. "The problem is that Nottoway is not just a plantation, but a former slave plantation."

    What the hell other type of "planation" do you think there was. 90% of the historic homes in the south had slaves, or were built by slaves.

    Posted by: matt | Jan 2, 2014 3:11:07 PM


  3. This upsets me because, again, reactionary backlash is allowed to dictate a negative outcome. This could have been positive. If she wanted a location that could, in essence, become a participant in the workshop, this could have been ideal. Writing about the place, its history, the melancholy reality of it could have been tremendous, and further, their presence there could have sparked a greater debate on the issue, but instead an apology and backtracking.

    Political Correctness is so destructive.

    Posted by: Hector | Jan 2, 2014 3:19:30 PM


  4. Oh..at first i thought it would sort of be a rather apt and emotional place to write song, given the history of oppression and all. You know, calling on the spirits of the Past and all that sorta deal....

    not celebrating the plantation, but honouring those trapped by it.

    i was with a dance group when i was a teen, we toured the world, and did an outdoor performance at an old plantation in Tennessee - included in our repertoire was a 20-minute modern dance suite about the Underground Railroad. you could cut the tension in the air with a knife. but....the response afterward? astounding...from those who were capable of looking at their collective pasts with awareness and honesty.

    Posted by: Little Kiwi | Jan 2, 2014 3:22:31 PM


  5. Those places were open-air torture chambers, the effects of which still play out in our society every day. Today, they're operated as "resorts" and tourist destinations where inside you can admire the china and silver and high ceilings and fine materials shipped in from all over the world, and outside the neatly maintained quarters look like a rustic summer camp where you can so easily imagine the well-treated workers cooking around a fire and singing and dancing without all the stress of providing for themselves or, God forbid, still living in an African jungle. I doubt you all would be quite so sanguine about the artistic melancholia if we were talking about some place where a mere 150 years ago gay people were being institutionally forced to work without compensation (except for the frequent motivational "rewards")and routinely ripped from their families, beaten, raped and killed. What a lively debate we could have about that, and what songs we could write!

    Posted by: Patrick | Jan 2, 2014 3:45:21 PM


  6. "How someone who claims to be a feminist and thus in tune to the plights heaped upon a discriminated class ..."

    You're making quite the assumption there, Christian.

    Posted by: Randy | Jan 2, 2014 3:47:52 PM


  7. It's not like they still have slaves today. That was over a hundred years ago. Are we supposed to just rope off all the land where slaves served in the 1800s? Because if that's the case, then basically half the country would be quarantined.

    Posted by: Bradford | Jan 2, 2014 3:53:11 PM


  8. I just read through the Nottoway site and, as of today, they are upfront about their shameful history regarding slavery. They also use the phrase "compliant" rather than "willing" workforce.
    But I don't get the sense that they are trying to whitewash or hide their past.

    As for the comments above, most plantations, as well as many of the grand estates throughout the world, were built and run on the backs of others, whether they be slaves, indentured servants, or servants. As long as we highlight and include the awful aspects of these societies of the past, I don't think it's inappropriate to open them to public use. Tho a spa is perhaps not an ideal way to honor the slave trade, so to speak, we cannot turn all of these plantations and estates into museums. Remember, all of America was built on land stolen from Native Americans. History is full of shameful acts of man against man.

    Posted by: Gayvirgo | Jan 2, 2014 3:57:47 PM


  9. I love how whites are still in major denial about the atrocities of slavery. I wonder if she had chosen a Nazi death camp would you still be singing the same tune? Men, women and children were enslaved, tortured, raped, brutalized and murdered and it was all LEGAL! So please tell me what good could possibly come from this? Entire facilities were ripped apart and sold off as POSSESSIONS! Imagine someone raping your mother, sister and wife in front of you. Imagine them giving birth and the baby being taken and killed because it was of "mixed race". NO, see you can't imagine that because YOU have never had to live with the fallout of slavery. You have only benefitted from it. You scream of equality, yet you know very little of how it works.

    Posted by: FootBaller | Jan 2, 2014 3:59:44 PM


  10. FOOTBALLER. You are missing the point of death camps. Which is odd since it is right there in the name. DEATH. They were designed to kill, if they got some labor out of the inmates that was just an added bonus. Plantation did not set out to kill anyone. Slaves were valuable and crops quite uncertain. Killing the slaves would make about as much sense as burning the crops. History is never simple.

    Posted by: Diogenes | Jan 2, 2014 4:07:59 PM


  11. I'd say most Americans have had to deal with the fallout from slavery, though obviously African-Americans have had the most.

    Also, Footballer, you're making it sound like those atrocities happened to you personally. They didn't. So, believe it or not, some of us can imagine them and are more than sympathetic to the evils perpetuated by slavery, the Holocaust, in Syria right now, and countless other events throughout history. People scream about equality because they realize it hasn't been achieved in the US or most other countries.

    Posted by: Paul R | Jan 2, 2014 4:19:32 PM


  12. This is ridiculous. A missed opportunity to make a positive from a negative. Slavery is part of our history and we can, and should not try to wipe its memory away anymore than try to white wash it.

    Posted by: Felix | Jan 2, 2014 4:21:36 PM


  13. I think it's far worse to ignore that such atrocities were committed than to acknowledge it and give those poor souls a voice in some way. These places should stand as a testament to what everyone suffered and be open to the public for educational purposes. We have a habit in this country of forgetting the past. Some plantations gloss over Alavert, but Nottaway is not one of them.

    Posted by: AJ | Jan 2, 2014 4:22:50 PM


  14. I agree, at first, I thought, "What a cool, but risky idea" when the idea of having the plantation be a "participant" in the songwriting was mentioned. There'a a lot of powerful imagery there, possibly even to let women speak powerfully about privilege and oppression, beauty and cruelty, and redemptive action in the face of insupportable history.

    In the very act of canceling it, she seems to be saying that the "participation" of the plantation was merely that it was pretty, regardless of its actual past. THERE'S a powerful feminist message.

    Posted by: Lymis | Jan 2, 2014 4:32:13 PM


  15. @ "Also, Footballer, you're making it sound like those atrocities happened to you personally. They didn't."

    PAUL R, it's not that difficult to imagine and suffer.


    @ "Plantations did not set out to kill anyone. Slaves were valuable and crops quite uncertain"

    Which meant the torture lasted longer on the plantation. Torture is torture whether at Auschwitz or Nottoway.

    For me it depends on what the theme of the songwriter's workshop (or retreat) is going to be. If it was about American Folk songs and the origins of African American music, or even American dance music--I could deal with the location.

    Posted by: Derrick from Philly | Jan 2, 2014 4:32:13 PM


  16. Ani Di Franco is not bisexual in my opinion. Female bisexuality is a gimmick designed to assert female superiority over men, including gay and bisexual men. Feminism itself has become a gimmick which is anti-gay and anti-bi male.

    Posted by: mick | Jan 2, 2014 4:45:43 PM


  17. Plantations =/= concentration camps. Troll.

    Posted by: Lucas H | Jan 2, 2014 4:45:54 PM


  18. i highly recommend reading Ani's original responce, direct and in her own words. this report is grossly oversimplified and reads incredibly wrong.

    Posted by: michael | Jan 2, 2014 4:50:07 PM


  19. @ "Plantations =/= concentration camps. Troll"

    Hey, LUCAS H, I betcha' I know more about the Holocaust than you do about American slavery.

    I did some reading which included personal histories of suvivors, and I sat through all 9 hours of "Shoah" ( not all at once, of course). And ofcourse, I appreciated Speilberg's "Shindler's List" and long before that "Sophie's Choice" and the TV movie "Holocaust".

    I solemnly respect the horror, pain and suffering that your people went through. And I admire their resilence.

    What do you know about American slavery? Gone With The Wind?

    Posted by: Derrick from Philly | Jan 2, 2014 5:22:20 PM


  20. Luca

    contasting atrocities is never good

    they are both atrocities

    But if you wish to contrast such then the genocide in uganda by King Leopold trumps nazi concentration camps with the Uganda genocide up between 10-12 million and those that weren't killed having a hand chopped off where as the nazis killed 8 milion jews

    see, contracsting atrocities is foolish

    slavery and nazi concentration camps were both horrid with neither 1 nor the other ranking more reverence than the other


    Posted by: Moz's | Jan 2, 2014 5:26:23 PM


  21. I don't know what bothers me more: leaving out the "c" in the name Schindler or leaving out the "i" in the word reslience.

    Kinda' what this discussion has devolved into: which is worse?

    Posted by: Derrick from Philly | Jan 2, 2014 5:27:55 PM


  22. ok..i don't understand this pearl clutching post.

    I can see how this would be an issue if they "celebrated" it. Like that confederate ball they have in South Carolina or somewhere. But their website doest seem to be glorifying the "old South" or "whitewashing" anything. Now maybe they have changed it since this hoopla started but I cant say.

    When they decide to have darkies dressed and footman and mammies working the front desk, I think then we can have some outrage.

    Posted by: Homo Genius | Jan 2, 2014 5:46:25 PM


  23. So many people are just offended by everything.

    Posted by: Ted | Jan 2, 2014 5:50:37 PM


  24. @ "When they decide to have darkies dressed and footman and mammies working the front desk, I think then we can have some outrage."

    Oh, my. You never know when Miss Paula Deen is going to show up. She's so computer saavy for an old b.tch....I mean, old broad.

    Well, atleast Miss Paula Deen gave us the most important and impressive line of 2013:


    Ah Is What Ah Is....(with tears, honey)

    Posted by: Derrick from Philly | Jan 2, 2014 5:56:00 PM


  25. Imagine an artistic retreat at a concentration camp. Same thing.

    Posted by: t2 | Jan 2, 2014 6:03:58 PM


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