FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Ani DiFranco, Slavery and the Subsidy of History

by NATHAN GOODMAN

Singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco recently cancelled her “Righteous Retreat in the Big Easy,” a song-writing retreat hosted at the Nottoway Plantation and Resort, a former slave plantation in Louisiana. The venue choice provoked well-deserved outrage, prompting DiFranco to cancel. DiFranco issued what Callie Beusman at Jezebel called “a remarkably unapologetic ‘apology,’” defending her actions more than apologizing for them.

The Nottoway Plantation and Resort doesn’t illuminate the brutal history of slavery; it whitewashes and glorifies slavery. The resort’s website claims that ”Randolph [Nottoway] knew that in order to maintain a willing workforce, it was necessary to provide not only for his slaves’ basic needs for housing, food and medicine, but to also offer additional compensation and rewards when their work was especially productive.”  Rather than highlighting the rights violations inherent in enslaving human beings, the resort euphemistically calls slaves a “willing workforce” and advertises the supposed benefits slaves received.

The site also brags that “A dramatic, multi-million-dollar renovation has restored this historic plantation to her days of glory.” I wouldn’t call days of slavery, abuse, and exploitation “days of glory.”

The problem here goes beyond sanitizing the history of slavery. We should ask ourselves why this plantation still exists at all. We should ask why wealthy white people still own it. The slaves mixed their labor with the soil, developing it. They, not the slave-owning criminals who retained title after the Civil War, worked and toiled on the land. As libertarian economist Murray Rothbard wrote,

“elementary libertarian justice required not only the immediate freeing of the slaves, but also the immediate turning over to the slaves, again without compensation to the masters, of the plantation lands on which they had worked and sweated.”

But this justice was denied. Black freedmen did not own their own land, and were instead forced to work for those who had unjustly monopolized the land. Slavery gave way to sharecropping, exploitative wage labor, unemployment, and other forms of exploitation of structural poverty. The ongoing structural poverty that plagues communities of color can largely be traced to slavery and the related land monopoly. This is a good example of what Kevin Carson calls “the subsidy of history,” in which historical violence and plunder plays a critical role in the modern economic order.

The plantation lands remained in the hands of slave owners, eventually passing into the hands of wealthy capitalists. Currently, the Nottoway Plantation is owned by the Paul Ramsay Group investment firm. The firm’s owner, Paul Ramsay, is one of the largest political donors in Australia, donating handsome sums to the right-wing, homophobic, misogynistic politicians of Australia’s Liberal Party.

This ongoing legacy of slavery isn’t just apparent in land monopolization and the ruling class’s profit from “plantation resorts.” The 13th Amendment prohibits slavery “except as a punishment for crime.” So after slavery’s formal abolition, Southern states passed Black Codes, effectively criminalizing black people. This enabled Southerners to continue enslaving blacks, using the so-called the “convict lease system.” Some plantations were converted to prisons. The Louisiana State Penitentiary, better known as Angola, is a converted slave plantation where blacks are still exploited for their agricultural labor. The racism of slavery persists; 60% of prisoners are people of color.

From criminal punishment to economic order, our society is pervasively shaped by slavery. This is upheld through an ideology and structure of racism. Kylie Brooks, an activist who organized against holding the retreat at the plantation, put it well:

“The Ani DiFranco debacle is one in a pattern of many, many daily experiences of anti-blackness — a global phenomenon — that Black folks have to struggle through daily. Anti-blackness in particular refers back to the ancestral experiences of enslavement and ongoing current experiences of the prison system, both as genocidal phenomenons.”

Resisting anti-black racism means standing against the land monopoly, the prison system and all other systems of oppression.

Nathan Goodman is a writer and activist living in Salt Lake City, Utah. He has been involved in LGBT, feminist, anti-war, and prisoner solidarity organizing. Goodman is the Lysander Spooner Research Scholar in Abolitionist Studies at the Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS.org). In addition to writing at C4SS, he blogs at Dissenting Leftist.

Nathan Goodman is the Lysander Spooner Research Scholar in Abolitionist Studies at the Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS.org). He blogs at Dissenting Leftist.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 02, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
The Coming War on China
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The CIA’s Plots to Kill Castro
Paul Street
The Iron Heel at Home: Force Matters
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Timberg’s Tale: Washington Post Reporter Spreads Blacklist of Independent Journalist Sites
Andrew Levine
Must We Now Rethink the Hillary Question? Absolutely, Not
Joshua Frank
CounterPunch as Russian Propagandists: the Washington Post’s Shallow Smear
David Rosen
The Return of HUAC?
Rob Urie
Race and Class in Trump’s America
Patrick Cockburn
Why Everything You’ve Read About Syria and Iraq Could be Wrong
Caroline Hurley
Anatomy of a Nationalist
Ayesha Khan
A Muslim Woman’s Reflections on Trump’s Misogyny
Michael Hudson – Steve Keen
Rebel Economists on the Historical Path to a Global Recovery
Russell Mokhiber
Sanders Single Payer and Death by Democrat
Roger Harris
The Triumph of Trump and the Specter of Fascism
Steve Horn
Donald Trump’s Swamp: Meet Ten Potential Energy and Climate Cabinet Picks and the Pickers
Louis Proyect
Deepening Contradictions: Identity Politics and Steelworkers
Ralph Nader
Trump and His Betraying Makeover
Stephen Kimber
The Media’s Abysmal Coverage of Castro’s Death
Dan Bacher
WSPA: The West’s Most Powerful Corporate Lobbying Group
Nile Bowie
Will Trump backpedal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
Ron Ridenour
Fidel’s Death Brings Forth Great and Sad Memories
Missy Comley Beattie
By Invitation Only
Fred Gardner
Sword of Damocles: Pot Partisans Fear Trump’s DOJ
Renee Parsons
Obama and Propornot
Dean Baker
Cash and Carrier: Trump and Pence Put on a Show
Jack Rasmus
Taming Trump: From Faux Left to Faux Right Populism
Ron Jacobs
Selling Racism—A Lesson From Pretoria
Julian Vigo
The Hijos of Buenos Aires:  When Identity is Political
Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano
By Way of Prologue: On How We Arrived at the Watchtower and What We Saw from There
Dave Lindorff
Is Trump’s Idea To Fix the ‘Rigged System’ by Appointing Crooks Who’ve Played It?
Aidan O'Brien
Fidel and Spain: A Tale of Right and Wrong
Carol Dansereau
Stop Groveling! How to Thwart Trump and Save the World
Kim Nicolini
Moonlight, The Movie
Evan Jones
Behind GE’s Takeover of Alstom Energy
James A Haught
White Evangelicals are Fading, Powerful, Baffling
Barbara Moroncini
Protests and Their Others
Joseph Natoli
The Winds at Their Backs
Cesar Chelala
Poverty is Not Only an Ignored Word
David Swanson
75 Years of Pearl Harbor Lies
Alex Jensen
The Great Deceleration
Nyla Ali Khan
When Faith is the Legacy of One’s Upbringing
Gilbert Mercier
Trump Win: Paradigm Shift or Status Quo?
Stephen Martin
From ‘Too Big to Fail’ to ‘Too Big to Lie’: the End Game of Corporatist Globalization.
Charles R. Larson
Review: Emma Jane Kirby’s “The Optician of Lampedusa”
David Yearsley
Haydn Seek With Hsu
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail