January 13, 2014

What I Take Away From Ani DiFranco’s Big Mistake. ~ Keri Mangis

Did you miss it? The public outcry, outrage and battles over AniDiFranco’s choice of venue for an upcoming singer/songwriter retreat?

If you did, go catch up and then come on back!

I have to admit, I’ve only recently been introduced to Ani DiFranco and her work. I don’t exactly know how I got through college without being introduced to her, but I suppose I was more hung up on Depeche Mode, The Cure and Garth Brooks (I know, weird).

Since seeing her in concert last October, I have been absolutely mesmerized by her. I downloaded her music, read her lyrics, “liked” her on Facebook…you get the idea. I find her gritty, brave, real, intelligent, a powerful feminist leader and in my mind the very definition of a revolutionary! I’m totally in awe of her.

The last thing I would ever think, ever, is that she is racist.

Then Ani scheduled a retreat at a southern plantation that has a history of slavery. Her fans (and foes) went crazy, calling her out, calling her names, begging and pleading and asking her to cancel. From what I understand (I wasn’t “in the loop” yet), for a while she didn’t listen to the criticism, but then addressed it with an initial apology and explanation (given in the top link) and cancelled the retreat indefinitely.

This apology, however, did not meet the criteria of an apology in the minds of many (including myself). Any apology that essentially says “I’m sorry, but…” is not an apology. My husband and I have long agreed on that for our own disagreements and trespasses!

After this, her social media pages really lit up: thousands upon thousands of people responding, criticizing, defending, commenting, and of course, name-calling and hate spewing too.

Somehow I was mesmerized. I watched the comments daily. I waited to see how she would respond. I wondered how I would respond. How I would be feeling. I thought to myself, her only option at this point is a simple, no excuses apology. And this is exactly what she did, several days later and many thousands of comments later.

This next apology came with a link to an article entitled Five Ways White Feminists Can Address Our Own Racism and a statement that she “has been thinking and feeling intensely and I would like to say I am sincerely sorry.”

The comments at this point eased off being directed at Ani—it seems people more or less accepted this apology—but continued on, and are still going on from what I can see.

Wow, what a shit storm. And what lessons can we all unwrap from this?

I have no answers, but here are a few things I got out of watching this unfold (after filtering out the hateful and demeaning comments, which we can’t seem to get away from.)

1) All of us make mistakes, even extraordinary people like Ani.

We can be (unknowingly and unintentionally) insensitive to other people’s pain and hurt. I personally do not think this makes us bad (or racist, in this case). I think we all just continue to grow, and learn, and listen, and do better next time.

2) The pain of slavery and racism is still very strong.

We have a long way to go yet to heal. It’s important that we acknowledge this and never assume it’s done until it really is.

It may never be done, because…

3) Not everyone wants to heal.

In watching the dialogue, you can separate the comments from those who really want to learn, forgive, and move forward from those who would rather stay in the argument indefinitely. You can see how needing to be “right” blocks healing (for both Caucasian and African American folks).

4) Caucasian people simply can’t know the extent of the hereditary pain carried in African Americans today.

Perhaps slavery might have been “a long time ago” according to some measurements in linear time, but who is to judge what’s the “right” amount of time to heal anything, especially something as huge as slavery? Who wrote the book on that?

5) Everything can be traced back to slavery.

Not a one of us goes through our day living on this land, eating food, wearing clothes, without something, somewhere that can be traced back to some kind of slavery, extortion, suffering or cruelty. What can we do about this? Avoid as much as we possibly can, something more like Ani said in her first apology, transform the energy into something positive, or something in the middle?

6) There are still many harsh divisions in our modern day society.

While the practices of spirituality and yoga focusing on “oneness” may be growing, the color of our skin is cone example of a way that we remain divided.

7) All of us can benefit from reflecting how we contribute to social problems.

We all may contribute to social issues like racism in some way, big or small. The article that Ani included in her apology is a good start.

During this time, I never commented myself, as I was truly taking it all in, learning, reflecting and asking myself questions.

Instead, I sent Ani love and healing, because I do not believe she had any intention to offend anyone. And truly, “there but for the grace of god go I.” Really, can’t we all be insensitive?

Don’t we all say things and do things sometimes that we don’t mean or didn’t understand completely?

I remember in fifth grade there was a big, scary black dog that lived around the corner from me. He would come running up to the fence and bark loudly at me each time I walked past to my friend’s house. I always thought he’d knock that fence over and eat me.

One day I was talking with the owner of this dog (a boy in my class). I thought I was being funny and said “So when’s your dog gonna die?” Right after I said this, I desperately wanted to reach out and grab those words back. My face turned red, and tears showed in his eyes.

I didn’t mean it, I truly had a lapse in thinking, but it was too late. To this day, I feel regret for that cruel statement (and others I’ve made over my years). I’m just so lucky, I guess, that it wasn’t public.

But for Ani, she is a public figure, and her actions were public. Personally I’d like to see her take all this and grow wider, maybe even write a song about it, and help us all sort this out to the best of our ability and take a giant step toward freeing ourselves from pain, judgement, ridicule, and separation.

I think she has what it takes to help us to come together as one to heal, grow and evolve. And if she really is all those things I said—gritty, brave, real, intelligent, a powerful feminist leader and a revolutionary—she will do just that.

Love and respect to you, Ani.

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Assistant Editor: Renee Picard

Photo: LeeHoffmanPhoto at Flickr



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