This might be a little rambling, but I’ll try my best to be clear and concise and kind.
When I was in my college years, I listened to a lot of Ani Difranco. My friends and I even painted her name on a van and crashed a wedding to see her* perform, and afterwards, we sat on a summer’s beach with Ani and the wedding party, chatting about goddess-power and menstruation and spelling womyn with a ‘y’. Yes, that was my 20s. They were crazy fun wonderful joyful empowering liberating wonderful years, when I wore a lot of crystals and tie-dyed skirts. I remember there being a lot of self-righteous rage at fighting The Patriarchy, as if it was a well-organized corporation whose express mandate was to keep womyn subservient, rather than just a bunch of assholes misrepresenting a wide range of human beings who all happen to have a penis.
(Since those heady days, it’s been my experience that the world does not exist in diametric opposites, but in endless branches of options. The dichotomy of female/male, black/white, good/evil appears to be a framework constructed by human brains that can not comprehend the sheer vast infinite number of variations on a theme. That’s what I figure, anyway.)
So, yeah, that was bloody decades ago, and I haven’t thought much about Ani Difranco since graduation. I was surprised when Facebook recommended that I ‘like’ her page. How weird is that? Ani Difranco has a Facebook page! It was like taking a ghost of my past and making a profile for it**.
So I clicked on the link, just to see what she’s up to, and I discovered a whole brouhaha of a storm a-brewing, because Ani will be hosting a song-writing workshop… at an old plantation in Louisiana. I did one helluva double-take at that. I think I even cricked my neck.
Long story short: It seems that Nottoway Plantation was one of the largest plantations in the South, with over 150 slaves picking cotton. It is now owned by a very wealthy Australian businessman who contributes millions of dollars to anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-immigration movements in his own country. The whole thing seems like some weird clash of ideologies taking place over the graves of the oppressed — the symbolism couldn’t be more blunt if it was co-written by David Lynch and T.S. Eliot with a hammer and a blowtorch.
Of course, many of Ani’s fans are up-in-arms over the affair, and rightly so, but the ratio of outrage to dialogue is high. People are mad, feeling betrayed, questioning their alliances. Ani has always encouraged her listeners to be vocal and passionate, so it’s no surprise to see such a polarized group demanding answers and calling for accountability. Did no one on Ani’s team notice how cringe-inducing it is to ask guests to pay thousands of dollars to make music in a place where women were raped, tortured, forced to labour, and have their children torn from their embrace? Is this poor planning on the part of a tour organizer, or just a loosening of a performer’s ideology?
There are very few places in North America that are untouched by racism, greed, colonization and the lingering sorrows of tyranny. Every place here has long shadows, if you look deeply enough – none of us, no matter what our genetic background, can escape it. As someone who digs into historical documents on a routine basis, I am constantly surprised and dismayed by the blatant racism and lack of compassion exercised by the caste systems of European colonists, with each level above treating the ones below like shit. And I’m not so ignorant to think it isn’t still happening today. Every piece of electronic equipment I own was made in a factory in some distant country, from materials mined in yet other distant countries, and none of those places have stellar track records for treating their employees with dignity and respect. Our civilization is built on the labour of the oppressed. The only way to move passed it is to recognize it and do what we can, in our own small way, to show compassion, find kind alternatives, and not drown in the sheer magnitude of it all.
As of writing this post, Ani Difranco has not yet made any announcement to explain her position, and I wish dearly she would, because in a strange reflection of her fans, ignoring the ghosts won’t make them go away. It just makes them more furious than before.
*not ‘crashed the van into the wedding’ though, because that would be just tragic.
** Facebook keeps recommending people who have died, too. It’s really unnerving. Friends who have been gone for years, but whose Facebook profiles are still around, still networking, still connecting. *shudder*