Ani DiFranco Cancels Plantation Retreat After Sparking Outrage

Ani DiFranco performs with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans, Sund
Ani DiFranco performs with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans, Sunday, May 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Ani DiFranco issued another apology on her Facebook page on Thursday, Jan. 2:

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.

Singer, songwriter and feminist Ani DiFranco ruffled quite a few feathers over the weekend when she announced her plans to host a "Righteous Retreat" where lovers of songwriting, poetry and performance could indulge in days of relaxation and creativity. Sounds like a great idea, right? Wrong.

Critics were outraged after learning the event would be hosted on a former slave plantation in Louisiana -- whose website boasts about the historic bell still present on the premises that "was rung by the overseer to announce the time for [slaves'] rising, meals and retiring" -- causing DiFranco to cancel the retreat.

According to the event website, the purpose of the retreat was to foster creativity and unite people of all backgrounds. The site encourages attendees to "bring your guitar, your journal, your kazoo or just your curiosity and come join us for some mind expanding fun! We have room in the circle for everyone."

But everyone didn't share the same inclusive sentiment. Some people felt the venue alienated women, queer women and feminists of color. Sara Starr started a petition on that garnered 2,500 signatures. Starr explained her opposition to the event:

Ani DiFranco, a well known white "feminist" and queer singer songwriter, is holding a workshop event on a plantation in a town founded by racists. This is insulting to black feminists and black queer individuals and is a very blatant display of racism on her part. In order for this event to be canceled, this petition has been formed so that feminists and queer individuals of all races can express their disdain for DiFranco's racist and oppressive gestures, not to mention the obvious exclusion of/disregard for her black fans. Holding an event on the site of the genocide of black people is no way to show inclusion and intersectionality, both of which are important tenets of feminism.

But insult was added to injury when a debate on the event's, now removed, Facebook page turned ugly. After some women on the social network site dismissed black commenterss critiques of the venue, one user created a fake account pretending to be a black woman named LaQueeta Jones. Not only did the woman create an imaginary person, she went on to comment as Jones using urban vernacular:

As a black, I'm gonna say dis... We cannot keep on digging down into the trenches of history to stab those who live amongst us today! I love my friends and my friends be everybody, including people who happen to be white. When I read some of the stuff on this thread and see that people of MY OWN COLOR are making racist remarks against white people it makin...

See screenshots of the conversation here.

DiFranco announced the cancellation and issued a statement on her site last night:

my intention of going ahead with the conference at the nottoway plantation was not to be a part of a great forgetting but its opposite. i know that pain is stored in places where great social ills have occurred. i believe that people must go to those places with awareness and with compassionate energy and meditate on what has happened and absorb some of the reverberating pain with their attention and their awareness. i believe that compassionate energy is transformative and necessary for healing the wounds of history. … i obviously underestimated the power of an evocatively symbolic place to trigger collective and individual pain. i believe that your energy and your questioning are needed in this world. 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. i cancel the retreat now because i wish to restore peace and respectful discourse between people as quickly as possible. 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.

Read the full statement here.