What kind of culture do we really want?

If you aren’t a fan of Ani Difranco, or don’t follow pop-culture (especially left-leaning pop culture) closely, you might have missed the brou-ha-ha around her now cancelled retreat in Louisiana, you can read about it here. The short version is: a promoter asked her to run a retreat in Louisiana, and it turns out it was at the site of an old plantation. People (not sure how many were her fans) got really upset, and she cancelled the event.

What I’m trying to examine here is how this all played out, and what it tells me about the emergence of what I think is pretty troubling: racism-shaming. (New term, coined by moi. There is also homophobia-shaming, classism-shaming, etc.) There was no question that there was little or no consideration (by Ani’s promoter, and/or Ani herself) about the location of the event. Her subsequent actions were also¬†lame¬†less than ideal. But I don’t think those mistakes deserved the vitriol directed at her. (Just a note, I basically like her music, but I would not consider myself a fan. Never been to a concert, and wouldn’t plan to go to one.)

Now first, let me start by saying this not about people with real clear racist intent. I’m not even talking about Paula Deen. I’m talking about people who have already shown themselves to be, in some senses at least, allies. I’m talking about people who we want to be allies, and whose perspectives, points of view and position makes them seem like clear allies. I’m talking about people who care.

Shame is a powerful emotion. When you feel shamed, how do you react? I completely shut down. I get defensive. I can’t listen. I get scared. Being shamed by people I respect and love is even worse. And, it actually doesn’t help me examine what happened. Almost the opposite happens – I don’t ever want to think about it again.

Those of us who think of ourselves as being willing to examine our own privilege, and look at the ways we act in the world want the world to be a kinder, gentler place. We want people to be loved and accepted, no matter who they are, what their skin color, or sexuality, or gender presentation, or class, or ability, or any of the other 12 dozen ways people categorize themselves and each other. We want more openness, more conversation, more love.

But attacking allies is moving us in exactly the opposite direction. People are getting closed down, defensive, and are unwilling to take risks, because of the fear of being shamed by the community for mistakes they might make. And just witnessing the shaming shuts people down. Yes, the whole thing was a big mistake, but you know what? Ani gets to make it. We all get to make mistakes. None of us with any degree of privilege can live in this patriarchal white-supremacist culture without fucking up now and again. It’s just not possible. Being gently prodded to understand our mistakes, rather than shamed, is what’s going to move us toward a kinder, gentler future. Anything else is simply more of the same, with different people on top.