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.

More articles by:

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.

January 23, 2018
Carl Boggs
Doomsday Panic in Hawaii
Mark Ashwill
If I Were US Ambassador to Vietnam…
Jack Rasmus
US Government Shutdown: Democrats Blink…Again
Nick Pemberton
The Inherent Whiteness of “Our Revolution”
Leeann Hall
Trump’s Gift for the Unemployed: Kicking Them Off Health Care
Dean Baker
Lessons in Economics For the NYT’s Bret Stephens: Apple and Donald Trump’s Big Tax Cut
Mitchell Zimmerman
Law, Order and the Dreamers
Ken Hannaford-Ricardi
The Kids the World Forgot
Dave Lindorff
South Korea Slips Off the US Leash
Ali Mohsin
Extrajudicial Murder of Pashtun Exposes State Brutality in Pakistan
Jessicah Pierre
Oprah is No Savior
John Carroll Md
Keeping Haiti in Perspective
Amir Khafagy
Marching Into the Arms of the Democrats
January 22, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
It’s Time to Call Economic Sanctions What They Are: War Crimes
Jim Kavanagh
Behind the Money Curtain: A Left Take on Taxes, Spending and Modern Monetary Theory
Sheldon Richman
Trump Versus the World
Mark Schuller
One Year On, Reflecting and Refining Tactics to Take Our Country Back
Winslow Wheeler
Just What Earmark “Moratorium” are They Talking About?
W. T. Whitney
José Martí, Soul of the Cuban Revolution
Uri Avnery
May Your Home Be Destroyed          
Wim Laven
Year One Report Card: Donald Trump Failing
Jill Richardson
There Are No Shithole Countries
Bob Fitrakis - Harvey Wasserman
Are the Supremes About to Give Trump a Second Term?
Laura Finley
After #MeToo and #TimesUp
Howard Lisnoff
Impressions From the Women’s March
Andy Thayer
HuffPost: “We Really LOVED Your Contributions, Now FUCK OFF!”
Weekend Edition
January 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Dr. King’s Long Assassination
David Roediger
A House is Not a Hole: (Not) Caring about What Trump Says
George Burchett
How the CIA Tried to Bribe Wilfred Burchett
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Plan B for Syria: Occupation and Intimidation
Michael Hudson – Charles Goodhart
Could/Should Jubilee Debt Cancellations be Reintroduced Today?
Marshall Auerback – Franklin C. Spinney
Boss Tweet’s Generals Already Run the Show
Andrew Levine
Remember, Democrats are Awful Too
James Bovard
Why Ruby Ridge Still Matters
Wilfred Burchett
The Bug Offensive
Brian Cloughley
Now Trump Menaces Pakistan
Ron Jacobs
Whiteness and Working Folks
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Keeper of Crazy Beats: Charlie Haden and Music as a Force of Liberation
Robert Fantina
Palestine and Israeli Recognition
Jan Oberg
The New US Syria “Strategy”, a Recipe For Continued Disaster
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
The Return of the Repressed
Mel Gurtov
Dubious Partnership: The US and Saudi Arabia
Robert Fisk
The Next Kurdish War Looms on the Horizon
Lawrence Davidson
Contextualizing Sexual Harassment
Jeff Berg
Approaching Day Zero
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail