Ani DiFranco Fans, Duck Dynasty, and Racial Privilege

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You either laugh, smirk or roll your eyes, but it could happen.

After all, a month ago, did you think one of the most beloved icons of feminist queer music folklore, Ani DiFranco, would organize a (really expensive) retreat on a plantation? Yes, a plantation -- as in the antebellum Louisiana South.

Jan. 8, 2012 - Brighton, England, United Kingdom - Ani DiFranco performs at the Concorde 2 Brighton. (Credit Image: © Andy Sturmey/UPPA/ZUMAPRESS.com)

I learned about this earlier in the week, and have watched with horror as feminists beat the fucking shit out of each other on the Facebook event page and Twitter. It is like an SNL skit about a feminist “girl fight,” with all sorts of tangential discussions as to whether someone who is Sicilian is white or not. It is terrible. A terrible display of white privilege -- it is filled with the fury and outrage and pique of a thousand white women who otherwise keep their evident racism in check.

Many women of color are speaking out, some asking DiFranco to explain what she’s thinking, and others asking her to explain the torrent of racism she’s unleashed. I can’t speak for them. Go read the comments or the Twitter feed (under her hashtag, #righteousretreat) and listen to their own voices.

But I can speak for myself as a white queer feminist. I also happened to have lived in Louisiana for three years. Plantations are not educational centers dedicated to creating healing spaces. They exist to make money on the mythology of Southern folklore. That’s all. You pay a fee, you get a tour, you buy some gifts. That’s it. If you want to walk away with your Gone With the Wind notions reinforced, you can. If you want to admire the architecture, you can. If you want to engage the tour guide in a deconstruction of these things, you get shushed and moved along. Plantations represent slavery. Like Confederate flags represent slavery. Period.

It is hard not to make the leap from DiFranco’s apologists to those who so quickly rushed to defend Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty when he was called out as a racist homophobe. In both cases, we are expected to overlook the offense because of the “good heart/intentions” of the individual. Phil Robertson is a Christian who just follows the Bible, but he loves people. Ani DiFranco is a freakin' feminist goddess who can’t do wrong things. Surely, it is all just a big misunderstanding?

But it’s not. And DiFranco’s choice to let the voices of a thousand women of color rising in a chorus of protest and outrage and righteousness -- her choice to ignore their voices, to ignore them -- reflects feminism’s ongoing distaste for real conversations about racial privilege.

Phil Robertson/Ani DiFranco
Images L-R: © Andy Sturmey/UPPA/ZUMAPRESS.com, © Michael Goulding/The Orange County Register/ZUMAPRESS.com

Now I’m one to levy criticism at our allies when I believe warranted and I am often chastised for airing dirty laundry. So just to be clear, DiFranco should have known better and her team should have known better. But not responding to the first person who pushed back on the idea – that shows to me that she doesn’t fucking care. Just like Phil Robertsonare more charitablewith their time frame, but I say if people in the community like us -- all of us -- can take time from our holidays to research this location, read the comments, have the conversations, etc surely someone from Righteous Babe (DiFranco's label) could do the same.

According to Google, Ani DiFranco is worth $10 million. Phil Robertson is worth $15 million. The demarcation for the 1%? $8.4 million.

Ani DiFranco has more in common with Phil Robertson than she has in common with me. Or you (probably). And we shouldn’t be surprised by that fact. I’m sure Phil would be fine inviting Ani over for some down-home country charm. He probably wouldn’t care that she’s bisexual -- or at least not care enough to hold it against her.

I”m being facetious, but am I? Maybe Righteous Babe will have a thoughtful response, rather than a kneejerk reaction like A&E which was rescinded days later. Or maybe not.

The much larger issue is the overt racism and petulant displays of privilege by white women who want to rock with their icon, regardless of what impact that has on women of color. It reinforces my skepticism about the ally concept. That is reinforced by the radio silence from feminist media sites like Bitch Media. Oppression doesn’t take a holiday.

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