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Feminspire | April 17, 2014

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Ani DiFranco Isn’t the Problem – Whiteness Is

Ani DiFranco Isn’t the Problem – Whiteness Is

| On 03, Jan 2014

On Thursday afternoon, Ani DiFranco posted another apology for the “Righteous Retreat” location drama (in which she planned a feminist retreat to be held at a former slave plantation) on her Facebook, and this time, it’s actually a decent one. Sincere and short with no excuses, no derailing, no tone policing, no white savior complex posing, it is what I wish she had said the first time around. She ended it by saying she was “digging deeper”. Unlike how I felt about her last side-eye inducing, non-apologetic open letter, I acknowledge and accept this “Sorry!”, and appreciate that she is taking the first steps to make up for her insensitivity, and the toxic way she initially responded to the criticisms. I look forward to the platform for an open dialogue this will potentially create, and real engagement on her behalf.

Ani’s fans, however, are having a harder time of it all. They’ve come at this situation with ignorance and vitrol of their own. So I’d like to say a few things to them in particular:

1) I won’t repeat myself about why Ani and this event location were wrong and why a good apology was rightfully deserved. So many feminists of color have already spoken up and dissected the racism in the event and ensuing backlash beautifully-LISTEN to us! The criticisms are legitimate, even if you do not yet know or understand them.

2) You need to stop centering Ani in this fiasco. The people of color criticizing her are not “haters” trying to “bring her down”. She is not the offended party, she is the one who did the hurting, regardless of intent. Racism and the people it marginalizes are the focus. Not engaging in racist behavior is not about white people looking good or progressive, it is about not hurting or victimizing people of color.

3) So it follows, Ani isn’t some great hero for showing face for how she hurt or offended people-she is doing the bare minimum in taking responsibility for her own mess. The people who should be given pats on the back are the Black activists and writers and fans who spoke out against her. We are the ones who endured dismissal and mockery and belittlement.

4) “Feminist” doesn’t mean “perfect”, “beyond criticism,” or “Not Racist.” Ani may have many years of powerful outspoken women and feminist-centric music under her belt, and it might resonate with you greatly. It might have taught you a lot about the the real world, social justice, and yourself, and have you believing someone like that would know better, or couldn’t possibly engage in bigotry. But for all her feminist history, Ani has no cache as a Black woman, and tons of privilege and miseduation as a white one. Given this, she misstepped and then dealt with it poorly. People-specifically ones with cache in the identities she disrespected-are right to point that out, no matter how many years of “Rah Rah Sisterhood” music-making she has under her belt.

5) “Peace,” “Love,” “Nonviolence,” and all that other yogachakra white hippie buzzword nonsense you’ve been throwing around in comments is often manipulation and used as a way tone police and to silence marginalized people or insult and belittle them in their righteous rage and anger. I will have you know that in and of itself is violence, a method of abuse. We are not wrong in our rage. I will be peaceful-at rest, healed, happy-only when I am respected and have justice, not a moment before. I am not here to crucify anyone, but my anger and hurt is legitimate and I will not be shamed or distanced from it by someone who thinks I need to “do more productive things” with my hurt. What you’re really saying is “Please don’t accuse me and hold me accountable!”. Enough with this condescending attitude about how people of color should feel about marginalization, supremacy, and abuse. WE will tell you, not the other way around.

6) Ani posted this event up on the internet, which is also where you expressed love for the idea then registered and bought tickets, then the event blew up on the internet and people spoke up against it on the internet, and Ani read and listened to criticisms from the internet and CHANGED her behavior and cancelled the event and apologized over the internet. Yet the only people you’ve been mocking for using the internet to communicate, saying ‘it is just the internet! Go outside and and be more productive,’ with no sense of irony over the act that you’re saying so on the damn internet, have been feminists of color. How can you truly believe that when you just saw ALL the things that just happened over the internet with this situation? 90% of it was online! The internet is not a separate world from the meatspace one, it is not a vacuum. It is a huge part of the real world, a medium though which the real world is communicated and even shaped and defined. It is a powerful tool and people – Ani, feminists of color, you – are using it to get different sentiments across. “It’s just the internet!” is just more cheap tone policing and we see you.

In the end, Ani isn’t the only one who has learning, growing , apologizing, and engaging to do. Ani as an individual isn’t the problem here-her whiteness and how it manifested is. So it goes, the whiteness of her fans and how that is manifesting is a problem, too. There is a whole culture of white supremacy, privilege, and dismissal that Ani and so many of her fans come from, a culture and history channeled and reinforced by each fan who is still trying to defend racist and insensitive behavior, who is saying problematic, racist, and dismissive things and attacking feminists of color, and continues to stifle and marginalize people of color at large. One white person may have apologized and be on the road to learn and listen, but how about the rest of you? Ani, I hope you address this with your fans, & Ani fans, I hope you start learning and apologizing, too.

Written by Briana Ureña-Ravelo

Briana is a first generation Dominican feminist activist based in the Mitten state. You can follow her blog here.

  • DukeLax

    White gender-feminists are the most oppressed peoples in the world today.

    • Jarvis

      I hate when people start playing the whole “who is more oppressed than who” game. Can’t we ALL just oppose ALL oppression of ANY kind against ANYBODY for ANY reason?

  • Lavender

    I agree with most of this article and I think it’s very well-written. However, I would like to respectfully ask the following question: How is “whiteness” (i.e. “white” people being “white” through no choice of their own) the problem? Are you referring to white people not correcting their privilege? Can we safely say that not only privilege but also prejudice are problems? I’d also like to address this part:


    This is the first time I’ve seen the term ‘yogachakra’ – and I have a tattoo of the chakras, I’m a yoga devotee (the physical and spiritual elements of practice) and I’m a Buddhist. I find it unfortunate that the concepts of peace, love, and nonviolence are being somewhat dismissed here as the ideals of white, privileged people. Would Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi agree with that? Remember that whole “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” thing? Am I not allowed to say that because I’m white?

    • SgtKonus

      You can say it, just don’t say it as a way to minimize the emotions and feelings of other people or to purport that somehow reacting angry to something is bad. They’re not being dismissed as ideas for only Whites, she against using those ideals to dismiss the ideas and emotions of Non-Whites.

      I believe the article is referring to White people not correcting their privilege,

  • jeff w

    Being white and a man, how would one go about “correcting their privilege”? I ask this honestly. Also how is “whiteness” a problem? thats just as bad as saying “blackness” or “asian-ness” is a problem. I know my thoughts are not seen as “worth anything” on this subject (as i am white and a man), but i find it troubling, isnt there an honest compromise all parties can come to on the matter?

    I myself have issues with the term “white privilege” as the majority of whites themselves do not have access to elite institutions, i have no issue with the term “elitist privilege”. But white and elite are not the same group (although many of the elitists happen to be white).

    • Jarvis

      I, too, must have somehow missed out on my portion of “white privilege” when I was growing up in poverty, or barely scraping by in young adulthood. I never got invited into any kind of magical promised land when someone noticed that I was white, and I am pretty sure I’ve been white my whole life.

      Other groups may still be more oppressed in other ways, but white men are pretty much the only group that is told we’re not allowed to speak on these issues, we have no right to have opinions, and basically, we need to shut up and accept that we are whatever people of color tell us we are.

      Don’t give into that bullshit. Keep speaking your mind. You made salient points.

  • Jamie

    Racism will always exist as long as it continues to be tolerated when practiced by people like Oprah or Eric Holder.

  • Jarvis

    Why is “Black” capitalized in this article? Is “Black” the name of a country or place, or the name of one of the people the article pertains to? Nope, doesn’t appear so. Is the fact that a black person is black so important that it needs to be capitalized as if it’s their name? Nope, it’s just one of many traits making up their identities. And if someone being black really IS so important that we need to break the rules of grammar and call them “Black”, how come “white” is left with a lowercase “w”…in the same article?? Language matters. Little things like this are indicative of much bigger things.