I was never a huge Ani DiFranco fan, but I loved (and still do love) her song “32 Flavors.” DiFranco, a feminist (some would appendage the word “icon” in front of that “feminist”) was set to hold a songwriting retreat at Nottoway Plantation in White Castle, Louisiana, a small town just outside of her hometown, New Orleans.
Some people caught wind of where the retreat was to be held and demanded DiFranco cancel the event. Eventually, after enough of a kerfuffle, the event was cancelled, and DiFranco wrote an open letter explaining why the event was originally scheduled to take place at Nottoway, how she discovered the history of the location, and why she didn’t immediately cancel the event.
When I first heard about the vitriol being directed at DiFranco, I was surprised–it’s pretty common in the South to hold events at former plantations. When most people think of the word plantation, I think they imagine a huge, historic home with hundreds of slaves working as field hands, and a smaller group of slaves working in the home as personal servants, cooks, etc. But in actuality, many plantations were single family homes with a smaller home or cabin in the back for the slaves; most slaveholders had less than 10 slaves. So it’s very common to drive down a road in Louisiana and pass by numerous plots of land that were formerly plantations.
After reading a bit more about the event, and seeing the name Nottoway over and over again, I came to the realization that I had actually been to White Castle and, specifically, to Nottoway. My best friend grew up in White Castle, her family still lives there. When I went to go visit my friends’ family in college she took me around her small hometown–home to less than 2,000 people; 85 percent of residents are black; most residents are poor–and we visited Nottoway, which is now a gorgeous old home and hosts wedding parties and other special events.
If DiFranco had been considering holding a danceathon on a slave graveyard, that would be one thing; but visiting a plantation in the South and holding an event there didn’t bother me at all. There are communities in the South where hardly any building or plot of land has been left untainted in some way by the touch of slavery–a fact that DiFranco touches upon in her letter:
my focus for the righteous retreat was on creating an enriching experience that celebrated a diversity of voice and spirit. i invited my friends Buddy Wakefield, Toshi Reagon and Hamell on Trial to impart their particular brands of spirit and wisdom to the conference attendees. i also planned to take the whole group on a field trip to Roots of Music, a free music school for underprivileged kids in New Orleans. Roots of Music is located at the Cabildo, a building in the French Quarter which was the seat of the former slaveholder government where all the laws of the slave state were first written and enacted. i believe that the existence of Roots of Music in this building is transcendent and it would have been a very inspiring place to visit. i also believe that Roots could have gained a few new supporters. in short, i think many positive and life-affirming connections would have been made at this conference, in its all of its complexity of design
So I’ll let you be the judge: Was Ani DiFranco being insensitive or hostile to black people by planning to hold a retreat at Nottoway Plantation? It this another example of #solidarityisforwhitewomen, or are some people (both black and white) being too sensitive?