No sooner than I announce my intentions to take a break from this space that a juicy story comes across my path that I can’t resist writing about…writers write, no matter how much we try to deny the urge.
Born in the early 1970’s, I guess you could say that I came of age back in the late 80’s and early 90’s when music of angst and thought written by women was all the rage. Women like Liz Phair, Ani DiFranco and Alanis Morrisette to name a few. To be honest aside from Alanis Morrisette whose rage and passion spoke to me on a gut level, most of these gals music left me pretty dry. Yet for many women especially white women in my age group, musicians like Ani DiFranco was the soundtrack of their lives.
Several days ago, DiFranco who has her own label “Righteous Babe” announced plans for a spring retreat to be held at Nottoway Plantation and Resort in White Castle, Louisiana and it is safe to say that all hell broke loose. The Nottoway Plantation is a former slave plantation where on their own website the historical background of the plantation includes telling us how the slaves were treated: “Considering his slaves to be valuable tools in the operation of his business, Randolph provided the necessary care to keep them in good health. He understood the importance of hygiene in controlling the spread of illnesses and disease, so he provided a bathhouse where slaves could bathe daily if they wished. He also had a slave hospital; he paid a local physician to make weekly visits and trained one of the slaves as a nurse to care for his slaves.”
Needless to say many people took to the internet to express to Ani and her handlers their disappointment that an event that was to be a creative coming together would be held at such a space. In the end, Ani canceled but not before writing what came across as an insincere non-apology apology. For some this statement was enough but for many, especially women of color the tone deafness of the apology felt like another slap in the face.
This is where I add my two cents and rather than add on to the dog piling of Ani DiFranco, I think that Ani’s behavior in general is indicative of a generational divide in this country when it comes to race. One that few talk about but as more events of a certain pattern happen lead me to believe that somewhere in this nation true intentionality around race relations has broken down and what we are seeing is a result of what happens when we intentionally stop focusing on creating true change when it comes to race. We end up being surprised and hurt when in fact what is happening is the natural consequence of doing nothing.
For most of us born from the mid-1960s and on, blatant acts of racism are the thing of stories…unless you happened to be a person of color. See in my family, there was no escaping things of the past; racism was still a very real thing. I remember learning early on about my father’s segregated existence in rural Arkansas as the son of sharecroppers who picked cotton until he was 11 years old. I overheard the stories about not getting ahead in the work world; I saw the unfairness that existed even as a child in the 1980s. Yet none of my white peers even as kids ever expressed any knowledge that racism was a thing that existed but among my Black friends we all knew it. In fact we never talked about race, we never talked about how in the last 1980s it was okay for Black and biracial boys to date white girls but that never happened in reverse and on the rare occasions that it did, the white boy who crossed the racial lines was ostracized. It was fine for me to be a part of the white clique as long as I didn’t act like I did when I was with my Black friends. We were all equal and color didn’t matter but us kids who weren’t white knew that wasn’t accurate.
Later on, we grew up and most of the white kids I knew became white adults who lived, loved and worked in predominantly white spaces. Even now thanks to Facebook, I see their very white lives yet they will be the first to assure me that race doesn’t matter. It may not matter to them but I would beg to differ.
Ani DiFranco and I come from that generation where as youngsters we talked a radical game of change but in the end our lives look very much like the generations that came before us. This means my kids learn early on that racism is real and white kids do not, no one is drinking from the colored water fountain or burning crosses but an inability to be intentional in talking about the racism that does still exist leads to moments of disconnect. It means planning retreats on the grounds of a slave plantation and being surprised that there is outrage. In some ways my generation did not build on the work of racial equality that was done by our predecessors and now we come to this point. A place where we want to fast forward to a racial utopia when we haven’t done any of the work but where upset and tensions are the norm because of a refusal from all parties to not only acknowledge injustice but to actually do the very real work of creating change. Change however requires more than an occasional conversation or online reading, it requires intentionality, it’s the work that people of color rarely get to avoid yet few white people in the US rarely participate in. Such a situation continues to perpetuate the injustice that is as common now as it was decades ago, it’s just that modern day racial inequality has taken a different form than injustice of the past.
So while Ani is in the doghouse at the moment, the truth is our culture and fear of heavy lifting helped shape Ani and millions more just like her.