Here’s the deal with racism:
Racism is an insidious cultural disease. It is so insidious that it doesn’t care if you are a white person who likes black people; it’s still going to find a way to infect how you deal with people who don’t look like you. Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another. And so on. So while I agree with people who say no one is born racist, it remains a powerful system that we’re immediately born into. It’s like being born into air: you take it in as soon as you breathe. It’s not a cold that you can get over. There is no anti-racist certification class. It’s a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world. It is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work, but it’s the price you pay for owning everything.
What we should all be doing is differentiating between someone who makes a mistake (which, yes, is due to some ingrained, systemic racism) that might be redeemable, and someone who thinks blacks are inferior monkey people. I’m more concerned with what DiFranco has done (that which I can see and judge). That I can do something about. I have seen no evidence that booking slave plantations for hippie drum circles is her standard operating procedure. That said, she certainly committed an act even she obliquely lays at the feet of inherent racism. So the question might sound like “Is DiFranco a racist?” but what it should probably be is, “Is DiFranco prone to racist behavior?” not because she’s ever going to be incapable of racism (if it’s not clear by now, no white person is), but because we need to know what line to put her in.
The Great Ani DiFranco Plantation Kerfuffle of 2013 has been something of a boon to people who debate and study race in America. In DiFranco, anyone who’s ever cared about race or Birkenstocks has had a light cast on the perception of just how far race matters have really progressed, which is to say, not as far as we thought. DiFranco is progressive and hip and down for the cause…and, as it turns out, completely full of white privilege. She rolled with booking a plantation for a retreat, then faux-apologized (poorly) for that decision, then a couple of other notable friends defended her abysmally, and finally she issued what most people consider a more genuine – if late – apology with all the appropriate feels (and 80% less foot in mouth). So while she isn’t Michael Fassbender from 12 Years a Slave, it turns out she might be kicking…
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