Ani DiFranco, one of my favorite songwriters, wrote these words:
Privilege is a headache that you don't know that you don't have.As a migraine sufferer, I've long found that idea particularly persuasive as a way to explain privilege. When I don't have a headache, I never think at all about what it's like to have one. But as soon as there's even a twinge of pain, it's all I can think about.
In spite of her many insights, DiFranco recently showed that she still lives out the privilege she enjoys as a white woman when she scheduled a song-writing retreat at a plantation in her adopted state of Louisiana.
The Nottoway Plantation, like many others, is now a place where people have weddings and go for luxurious vacations. Guests get to experience the types of delights the slave-owners enjoyed -- grown, cooked, and served, in those days, by people they owned.
Nottoway, in case you were wondering, is not a nonprofit educational institution or anything like that. It doesn't critique slavery, but instead excuses its slave-owning past by describing how well the owners took care of their chattel. And it's owned by the Paul Ramsay Group, "the investment arm of Australia’s thirteenth richest billionaire Paul Ramsay, a healthcare mogul well known in Australia for donating half a million dollars to conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s election campaign."
Singer-songwriter Toshi Reagon, daughter of Bernice Johnson Reagon, is also listed as teaching at the workshop. Earlier today she posted a statement about it. She had committed to the event before the plantation venue was finalized, and she points out the difficultly of performing anywhere because many parts of our nation were built by enslaved people. But plantations, she says, are a special trigger. Imagine how she feels -- not just being associated with such a location, but being dragged into an Interweb flame war that included a white woman pretending to be a black woman apologist. (Yes, seriously.)
Wow, Ani, what a mistake. I think it's likely that she'll switch locations (possibly making an announcement later today), but the fact that it was ever selected can't be changed.
I hope this is a teachable moment for white feminists. Wake up, sisters. There's a lot to learn about headaches you don't have and don't even know you don't have, but it's not that hard to find it out.
More on the Nottoway Plantation, including its gift shop complete with Confederate flag and books with titles like The South Was Right.
Update, Sunday evening: Ani DiFranco has cancelled the retreat and made this statement.
Update, Monday morning: Jay Smooth responded in a Facebook post, which engendered discussion among his friends, and which he later made public. Much there that I agree with, including this from a commenter: "although she [Ani] said she 'fully understands the mechanism of white privilege,' she can't possibly AND take the stance that she's taken."