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.

Weekend Edition
February 5-7, 2016
Jeffrey St. Clair
When Chivalry Fails: St. Bernard and the Machine
John Pilger
Freeing Julian Assange: the Final Chapter
Garry Leech
Terrifying Ted and His Ultra-Conservative Vision for America
Andrew Levine
Smash Clintonism: Why Democrats, Not Republicans, are the Problem
Leonard Peltier
My 40 Years in Prison
William Blum
Is Bernie Sanders a “Socialist”?
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
We Can’t Afford These Billionaires
Enrique C. Ochoa
Super Bowl 50: American Inequality on Display
Jonathan Cook
The Liberal Hounding of Julian Assange: From Alex Gibney to The Guardian
George Wuerthner
How the Bundy Gang Won
Mike Whitney
Peace Talks “Paused” After Putin’s Triumph in Aleppo 
Ted Rall
Hillary Clinton: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gary Leupp
Is a “Socialist” Really Unelectable? The Potential Significance of the Sanders Campaign
Vijay Prashad
The Fault Line of Race in America
Eoin Higgins
Please Clap: the Jeb Bush Campaign Pre-Mortem
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Invisible Epidemic: Radiation and Rising Rates of Thyroid Cancer
Andre Vltchek
Europe is Built on Corpses and Plunder
Jack Smith
Obama Readies to Fight in Libya, Again
Robert Fantina
As Goes Iowa, So Goes the Nation?
Dean Baker
Market Turmoil, the Fed and the Presidential Election
John Grant
Israel Moves to Check Its Artists
John Wight
Who Was Cecil Rhodes?
David Macaray
Will There Ever Be Anyone Better Than Bernie Sanders?
Christopher Brauchli
Suffer Little Children: From Brazil to Flint
JP Sottile
Did Fox News Help the GOP Establishment Get Its Groove Back?
Binoy Kampmark
Legalizing Cruelties: the Australian High Court and Indefinite Offshore Detention
John Feffer
Wrestling With Iran
Rob Prince – Ibrahim Kazerooni
Syria Again
Louisa Willcox
Park Service Finally Stands Up for Grizzlies and Us
Farzana Versey
Of Beyoncé, Trudeau and Culture Predators
Pete Dolack
Fanaticism and Fantasy Drive Purported TPP ‘Benefits’
Murray Dobbin
Canada and the TPP
Steve Horn
Army of Lobbyists Push LNG Exports, Methane Hydrates, Coal in Senate Energy Bill
Colin Todhunter
“Lies, Lies and More Lies” – GMOs, Poisoned Agriculture and Toxic Rants
Franklin Lamb
ISIS Erasing Our Cultural Heritage in Syria
David Mihalyfy
#realacademicbios Deserve Real Reform
Graham Peebles
Unjust and Dysfunctional: Asylum in the UK
Yves Engler
On Unions and Class Struggle
Alfredo Lopez
The ‘Bern’ and the Internet
Missy Comley Beattie
Super Propaganda
Ed Rampell
Great Caesar’s Ghost!: A Specter Haunts Hollywood in the Coen’s Anti-Anti-Commie Goofball Comedy
Cesar Chelala
The Public Health Impact of Domestic Violence
Ron Jacobs
Cold Weather Comforts of a Certain Sort
Charles Komanoff
On the Passing of the Jefferson Airplane
Charles R. Larson
Can One Survive the Holocaust?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail