Friday, January 3, 2014

The Most Important Question Surrounding the Ani DiFranco Plantation Retreat "Controversy": Are White Women the Natural Allies of People of Color in the Struggle Against Racism?

Ani DiFranco cancelled her "Righteous Retreat" for artists which was to be held at a former New Orleans slavery plantation.

She is very upset and hurt by how the public through social media condemned her choice of venue. Tim Wise and Brittney Cooper have done a thorough and precise job of eviscerating Ani DiFranco's white privilege stained faux-apology for making such a choice.

Moreover, there is no need for hundreds or thousands of words to describe Ani DiFranco's white privilege fail.

It is much more efficient, and easier, to watch white anti-racism activist Sister Jane Elliot bring an entitled young white female college student to tears in the documentary The Angry Eye.

That young woman and Ani DiFranco are not too different in their responses to a critical engagement about their relationship to supporting and sustaining systems of white supremacy. Literal and virtual white women's tears have a ton of cultural power in the United States. White women's tears have gotten black men hung from trees. They command TV viewing time and shows. White women are a protected class in the United States. When white women's tears and pain are ignored, even more upsetness naturally ensues.

In her apology, Ani DiFranco is deflecting. Instead of offering up a simple "my bad", the default is a long-winded essay that is more defensive and deflective, with the emphasis being on how her critics are overly sensitive, than in owning her mistake. If she so chose, Ani DiFranco could have written two sincere sentences that would have done much more work in her favor than the many sentences and words she offered.

Excuse-making uses many more words than acts of contrition, transparency, and vulnerability.

Ultimately, and as is often common when well-intentioned liberal and progressive white folks are criticized for their racist behavior--intentional, passive, active, accidental, mistaken, or otherwise--Ani DiFranco's rebuttal to her critics is tone deaf. She knows the lyrics, chorus, and verse of the metaphorical songs that are in the anti-racist white folks' musical catalog. However, Ani DiFranco does not sing those songs with any soul or heart. She is a lounge singer, hitting the notes, but ultimately lacking the heart or the pipes.

The more important question about Ani DiFranco's plantation retreat controversy is a simple one: What is it an example of? How can we relate Ani DiFranco's faux-apology to larger and more important concerns about white supremacy and white racism?

Ani DiFranco is a white woman. I would suggest that much of the public's surprise at her plantation retreat and defensive apology is centered on how a "good" liberal and a woman can exhibit such acute white privilege and racist entitlement.

If we drill down to the essential essence of the surprise and shock by some at Ani DiFranco's faux-apology about her slavery plantation retreat, gender is revealed as a core and basic issue--how can a white woman, one who is a progressive and liberal, and one that should know something about marginalization through systems of sexism and gender discrimination, be so blind to racial privilege?

This surprise piggybacks on another assumption held by some folks in Left, post civil rights, activist communities: white women are assumed to be the "natural" "allies" of people of color in the latter's struggle against white racism and white supremacy. Of course, this is an ahistorical conclusion. White women were members of the KKK. White women owned black people as slaves. White women raped, tortured, and abused their African-American human property. White American women struggling for the right to vote in the early 20th century leveraged their status as "white" citizens, and the "offense" to the white racial order that were (ostensible) black male voting rights, in order to win the franchise.

White women are not the absolute natural allies of people of color in the United States. Of course, there has been brilliant and great scholarly work examining the ways in which systems of racial domination and gender domination are complimentary, at times separate from one another, and can simultaneously inform each other.

But the fights against white supremacy and white privilege are not perfectly congruent with the struggles by white women against the sexism faced by their group. Here, Third World Feminism, Womanism, and "White Feminism" are not always the same struggles.

The nomenclature and broader language attempts to capture that reality. The language of "allies" and "natural" must also be deconstructed and challenged. Would white women see their struggle as more aligned with people of color than with white men? And would they make that choice--again emphasizing the word "natural"--as a given and a default against the collective and group self-interest of Whiteness as a political and social force?

Among anti-racists, progressives, liberals, as well as those who are invested in "social justice" in the United States and elsewhere, one of the standing rules is that we are not allowed to "rank oppressions." Sexism, racism, homophobia, able-ism, classism, and other types of inequalities and discrimination are all considered equal.

Such a rubric is a practical concession; in many ways it is also rooted in lazy thinking.

Based on empirical data, we can most certainly rank oppressions. Race and gender are social constructs that do not necessarily reveal with any precision or truth a great deal about how individual people fully locate themselves in society, approach politics, or go about their daily lives. Of course, race and gender remain real. Yet, this is true in relative, local, and absolute terms.

Ani DiFranco is a white woman who enjoys the benefits of both racial and class privilege in the United States. What does her plantation misstep tell us about sexism and racism? And as I signaled to above, are white women as a group any more (or less) committed to anti-racism, and fighting white privilege, than are white men?

The answer is no. There are exceptional white women who have fought, and continue to fight, white supremacy in the United States and the West. There are white men who have done the same. Whiteness remains a powerful social drug which promises unearned material, psychological, and economic privileges for its signatories and beneficiaries.

White women have signed that contract in much the same way as white men.

Ani DiFranco is not an aberration from that historical pattern; she is simply its latest example.

An allegiance to white privilege and white racism (more often than not) unites white men and white women together This is one of the ugly, dirty, little secrets that those on the anti-racist Left are afraid to confront.

White conservatives are deeply invested in white supremacy. They are honest about it. By comparison, there is an ugly strain of white Liberal Racism, that while in comparison to the Right, is very different in how it is expressed. But Liberal Racism shares many of the latter's racist assumptions about people of well as an investment in maintaining and protecting white privilege.

Liberal and Conservative racism both do the work of white supremacy in the United States during the post civil rights era. Unfortunately, the public discourse in the United States has not matured enough to confront such a troubling and challenging social fact.


Shady Grady said...

I've always thought that the post 60s phrase "white male power structure" was a bit of a copout. Racism is not gender specific. It's kinda funny to me that evidently DiFranco can't just say it was a bad idea and move on nor evidently did she have anyone around her that would have pulled her coat about this.

KissedByTheSun said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Debating if conservatives or liberals are the biggest racist is like debating which of two men can urinate the farthest.

Buddy H said...

I remember a few years ago, I invited a co-worker and his wife into my home. He is an artist (although to earn a salary he designs newspaper advertisements) and considers himself a liberal. Actually, beyond a liberal. He is a progressive. His personal website features his cutting-edge artwork, his various philosophies on ART, FILM, MEDIA, etc. Interesting dude, so I invited him and his liberal schoolteacher wife to our house. First thing he says when he sees a framed photo of my wife's father: "He looks smart!"

Bryan Ortez said...

I've learned a lot since coming to this blog, which is why I thank you for helping me feel comfortable to share and comment.

Allyship is another reason I am honest about who I am and choose to not use an anonymous name and avatar.

Can white people really be allies? This is something I read from a commenter somewhere else: Allyship denotes equality in experience. To be a white ally is then impossible as we are seeking to highlight white privilege and lift marginalized voices out of silence.

This was something I was linked to from BrothaWolf's blog: White anti-racism is an oxymoron.

Are you familiar with the QTPOC work offered by Mia McKenzie at Black Girl Dangerous? They publish some great stuff. Their conclusion in this piece is that instead of considering ourselves allies, we should refer to the marginalized group we are standing with by stating, "currently in solidarity with..." If you cannot identify the group you are trying to be in solidarity with, then you might be exercising some privilege.

I have seen so many folks fail at recognizing how their actions are more harmful than helpful. Who create scenarios in which they are then the victims and fail to see how they are still the dominant person and are not really being marginalized.

It hasn't been an easy thing to fully reflect upon. I know I have said the wrong thing in the past or put myself out there where I didn't belong. I try to continue being reflective and take criticism as it comes.

This is also a great piece that I think is relevant and related about cultural exchange versus cultural appropriation.

E Raye said...

Yet another glaring example of intertwined systems of racialized and gendered oppression emerge in the comments section of Brittney Cooper's Salon piece you've linked, with idiotic commentators calling her a "whore". A slew of others jump to DiFranco's defense, calling her apology "thoughtful" and earnest, clearly missing the entire point (as white apologists always do).

jaymz said...

The most important question is why do grown-assed negroes sincerely or disingenuously pre-occupy themselves with such pearl-clutching nonsense?

The only thing to be said for this pathetic dribbling is that at least "chaunceydevega" doesn't occupy a high-profile pulpit like Peniel Joseph (one of the most profound disappointments of 21st century race studies) or 20th century's worse still tailings, the english teacher Skip Gates - who trafficks in this exceedingly weak gruel as the house negroe for the Washington Post.

Good money if you can get it, serving as a race traitor on the deck of the Titanic.

Back Sci-Fi said...

Basic lesson for those who seek equality: "Power cedes nothing". This struggle is manifest among white feminists who don't consider women of color their equals and are really fighting for different results. Maternalism among POC, because of Old World heritage and New World economics, has led to gender/power confusion among POC in the New World and specifically WOC. I grew up in a maternal-led family and never quite understood the gender inequality espoused by white feminists because most WOC I knew of were able to get jobs and higher education and became defacto leaders in their homes and larger families. Resentment among black men was the natural offshoot of being denied the ability to make a "menaingful contribution" to the well being of their families. It became normal for Blue collar AA males to marry White collar AA females. White men have never had a problem embracing black women in the workforce. The distance brought about by that white cultural embrace and the class disparities in our homes over time made it difficult to sustain respect between the genders in minority households. Divorce started to run rampant and was encouraged by popular (Hollywood lifestyle = ultimate success) culture. We now embrace all manner of compromises to explain away the destruction of the black family when education/economics is really the leading cause. Paternalism seems to be a white thing and the oppression of women, among whites, is manifest in their culture as a sign of status and power. Like so many other cultural (blonde hair coloring, blue contact lenses) adaptations that lead to resentment, black men have been led to embrace paternalism (sometimes through the embrace of Arabic or Eurocentric religions) and ignore their traditional heritage of gender "cooperation". I hold out the hope that we will become more "gender-cooperative" as education and economic divisions mitigate our cultural surrender to the fear of racism and we become less willing to embrace class and gender dominance as the measure of success. As always, sometimes you have to look back in order to move forward". I do not reject feminisim, I embrace and espouse "familyism". And in doing so I reject any civil or religious laws to the contrary.

chauncey devega said...

Brittney Cooper always draws the trolls. They deny their racism and sexism all the while being racist and sexist. Comedic actually.

j.ottopohl said...

True and sexism is not race specific. Living in Ghana I see a lot more sexism than I do racism. In fact unless I look at the internet to see just how grotesquely stereotyped US and European views of Africa remain I don't see much racism at all here. Although to be honest the thing you really see a lot of in Ghana and other parts of Africa is homophobia.

jonathen said...

if white men are the devil, what does that make the white women that gave birth to and raised them?

Gable1111 said...

As Wise has often pointed out, "white" is the default social "norm" in America, and one's political persuasion, as it is taught to them per their upbringing and socialization, tends to be secondary to that. Whether progressive, feminist, (and all the rest) women like DiFranco admit it or not, they orient themselves as "white" first in thought and interactions.

That DiFranco doubled down on her "mistake" only exposes the level of superiority white progressives tend to assign themselves within the leftist/progressive power structure, one in which it is the opinion of the white progressive that is *required* to validate traditional issues of racism and segregation that blacks have dealt with for centuries, long before there was such a thing as a "progressive movement" as it is known today. Such validation tends to be defining, and for them needs to be, in order to co-opt these issues for the purpose of adding them to the "leftist/progressive movement" in such a way that the Ani DiFranco's of the world can wax superior when they put their collective "foots" in their mouths.

Black Sci-Fi said...

Gable 1111, Great comment. Right on the money.

j. ottophol, Were you born and raised in Ghana?

Is the sexism you encountered a reflection of their traditional culture or is it a reflection of an adaptation of a Eurocentric culture post colonialism? Would you consider a family of lions as being sexist...or would you understand them to be cooperative a time tested way in order to survive? I often wonder if homophobia in Africa is traditional or a reflection of a more modern fear of AIDS. Ancient Greeks and Romans seemed to embrace homosexuality as a more or less expression of the diversity of our species and most of all as demi-gods or an eroticcurosity available acoss class lines but more often embraced by both the military and the ruling classess. In Africa, traditional gender roles (think lions) may not have allowed for any deviation that would weaken their society. What role would they assign to homosexuals within a subsistance based community? Warrior? Farmer? Food preperation? Child rearing? Progeneter? I may be overly simplifying the situation and maybe even projecting nonsense out of ignorance, but I find that tolorance and diversity are more welcome in larger populations with large budgets for a big militiary, available higher education and a large middle class with enough lesiure time to contemplate the benefits of diversity rather than in smaller groups trying to scratch out an existance in a hostile (people and critters) environment. Before I project my values on another culture I try and understand the difference between going on safari and living next to a lion preserve.

j.ottopohl said...

No, I was not raised in Ghana. I am a straight White American man who moved to Ghana to work three years ago to work in the history department at the country's flagship university. As a man I haven't encountered sexism so much as observed it. There is greater gender inequality here than in the US. For instance over 2/3 of students here at the university are men. Something that has prompted the administration to institute affirmative action programs for women to remedy this. There are other instances as well. There are more illiterate women than men. Women generally have lower paying jobs. Taxi drivers for instance are one of the better jobs here. But, in greater Accra I have only encountered one woman taxi driver. She informed me that she was one of three in the city. The city has five million people. When I walk on campus students yell at me. They call out, "Dr. Pohl." When my female colleague from the UK walks on campus they call out, "Hey, Obruni Chick." How such inequality developed I am not sure. But, I doubt that it is entirely indigenous or completely a result of Europeanization and now Americanization.

Homophobia and AIDS are not related in Ghana. The fact is that AIDS in Ghana is spread almost entirely by heterosexual sex. While the AIDS rate in Ghana is low compared to Southern Africa (1.5% of adult population under 50) it is a concern. However, there are strict laws and government campaigns prohibiting discriminating against or stigmatizing people who are HIV positive. In contrast male homosexual acts are punishable by up to six years in prison and politicians routinely stigmatize them.

Ghana has a rich tradition of theater, music, and dance. I am told by graduate students that the very well respected School of Performing Arts is where one might find Gay Ghanaians. But, I haven't confirmed it. Since such activity is illegal, people are not as open about it as in the US and Europe. The preachers claim homosexuality was introduced into Ghana by foreigners. My graduate students claim that homophobia was introduced into Ghana by foreign preachers.

In terms of ethnicity and race Ghana is the most tolerant and diverse society I have ever lived in and I have lived in Europe and Asia as well as the US. There is a growing middle class in Ghana and it has a lot of highly educated people. Officially Ghana is now ranked as a middle income country.

Bryan Ortez said...

Those are some great thoughts about sexism and homophobia in Africa.

I gave a quick google search and found this interesting article stating America has been exporting homophobia to Africa from a person who has reported on the death penalty law in Uganda:

I have also been looking up sodomy laws in the United States for the past few months. In 2003, Lawerence v. Texas prohibited sodomy laws federally, which took sodomy laws off the books in 12 states. Wikipedia says Idaho had one of the harshest sodomy laws, meting a life sentence for a violation. Michigan had a 15 year sentence, as recently as 2003!

Most other states had sodomy laws until the 1970's, then slowly from the 80's to 90's other states decriminalized homosexuality.

Thomas Jefferson actually wrote a progressive law for homosexual behavior for Virginia in the 1790's. At the time homosexual offenders faced a death sentence if they were caught. Jefferson's new law required castration as opposed to the death penalty.

skilletblonde said...

When I hear someone use the term, "White Feminists" in an accusatory manner, I have a suspicion they haven't read one book authored by white feminists. Some very good work on race has been written by white feminists. I appreciate their contributions. They are despised by white males because they know exactly how the white male, racist, chauvinist mind, works. After all they've lived with them.

Certainly they have figured out that the misogynist is usually a racist, and the racist is typically a misogynist. Just as he loves to see pictures of naked women being torture, he loves pictures of black men hanging from trees. Both are acts of pornography. And that it why they work so well. Racism is pornography of the human race. It takes what is natural... skin color, hair texture, or eye shape and ridicule, devalue, and soil it.

It is the most successful form of warfare in the history of the world. As a matter of fact, it's been so sucessful the entire planet is infected by it. It's like a damn virus. A gun is no longer needed to convince people of their inferior status. All one needs is satellite televison, white Jesus, and pictures of naked, surgically enhanced white women.

Moreover, as far as the bigotry of white liberals, nothing has revealed their racism like the election of Barack Obama. We all knew the right was going to give him hell, I also knew his greatest obstacle would be the 70 to 80 year-old cretin Democrats that run the party. They are no different than the Republicans. They don't want to take orders from a black man either. Most of them are still angry because Hillduggery didn't win. Let's not forget how racist that campaign got?

But what has been absolutely the worst, are the attacks on the first black president by the Left. I was not prepared for this. They began in December 2007. But two months into his presidency it got ugly. The name calling started. Since they didn't want to appear racist, they didn't attack his ethnicity. So they went for the other thing; the genitals. Either he was a dick or he had no balls. It got so viscous, so vulgar, I stop visiting some of the progressive sites.

Right now they are kissing Ed (H.S, Dropout & Narcissist) Snowden's chalky ass, and Rand (I wear a lace front wig) Paul. He filed a suit against The Obama Administration for the NSA flap. Neither one of these people are progressive. Neither is Glen Greenwald. It's is about the black president. It's been nothing else since he took office. It really is time for African Americans to form their own voting block.

The Sanity Inspector said...

As for the plantation itself, it will be unfortunate if this Two Minute Hate harms its revenues. It's a historical site, and it costs money to maintain historical sites. Judging from the About page on its website, it looks like the trustees present that place's history sensitively and accurately.

Gable1111 said...

I'll admit I haven't read any books by any white feminists, however I have read a lot of the writings of Gloria Steinem. This is not to say I am an authority, but just to put into context my comment.

The comment about using white feminist in an accusatory manner implies that being a white feminist means that such a person cannot possibly being wrong when it comes to matters of race. DiFranco illustrates why that is not the case. This also makes me wonder, which part of "white feminist", e.g. the white or the feminist is the driver here in saying that being a white feminist means such a person is therefore beyond reproach on matters of race.

DiFranco, in her comments assumed the same thing, and I think all can agree how her response to being called on this exposed the issues with it.

physioproffe said...

Chauncey, I don't know if you are aware of the recent history of the feminist blogosphere. There have been a pretty continuous series of incidents in which white feminists have reacted very poorly to being called out on their wielding of white privilege and appropriation without due credit of the efforts of black feminists. If you are curious about this history, it all played out in public on blogges such as Feministe, BrownFemiPower, and Pandagon, starting in 2008 and continuing to the present.

physioproffe said...

This post is a reasonable start that links back to some of the history.

chauncey devega said...

I definitely will check that out. How goes things?

chauncey devega said...

I have something on that very issue for next week. This is complicated. How do we balance honoring and respecting sacred sites in a time of diminishing gov't support for them with the practical need to bring in revenue?

physioproffe said...

Things are great. Good career shit happening!

The Sanity Inspector said...

I'll look forward to it. Goree Island in Senegal saw much anguish during its history. But does that mean I shouldn't buy anything from the souvenir stand, or eat at the snack bar, or toss a few bucks into the collection box?

j.ottopohl said...

I have something on this regarding Ghana and its slave castles and forts.

kokanee said...

Good post Chauncey. Learned something again.

As a white male, I instantly winced at Ani DiFranco's insensitive choice of venue.

I personally think racism is all our problem and that we all need to work together to combat it. As someone who identifies with the far-left, I find liberal and progressive racism the most insidious. If someone really hates me, I'd prefer if they were just honest about it rather being two-faced about it.

Not liking Obama is not racist - sorry Democrats.

I've thought of a poll: Ask white men if they had to choose between being black, female or gay, what would they choose? Also, what they would like to come back as in their next life. Could be enlightening.

rikyrah said...

hell no, they're not allies. don't ever forget that. I don't.

nevilleross said...

If you want to read more about this, you can go to this blog and peruse what the blogger has said about how Obama's been treated;

Jore said...

Thank you for this. There's always been something amiss about Ani - recently it occurred to me, that what she is missing is a real oppression. She wants one bad, though. Real bad. But, she's not truly oppressed. Just puts her self out there to be picked on and then she thinks that is oppression. True oppression is exerted upon those who cannot control what they are oppressed for.