Ani DiFranco’s recent cancellation of a workshop/performance at Nottoway Plantation in Louisiana has raised the question of whether it is appropriate to hold certain types of events at these sites. [Click here for a thoughtful response from Nicholas Redding.]
In Salon, Koa Beck goes after plantation homes that open their doors to weddings:
Just as problematic as the use of plantations in the burgeoning “dreamy” and “romantic” Pinterest wedding sphere is the growing archive of these images: white and affluent affairs on historic landmarks that are entirely divorced from the atrocities of slavery. The developing virtual trough for young and eager brides looking to pin their way to the perfect day reduces plantations to mere backdrops, stages for white and privileged love and commitment. And they are absolutely eager…
Furthermore, the sentimentalizing of plantations engenders a dangerous and selective nostalgia, which omits the monstrosities of rape, abuse and dehumanization of African Americans and replaces them with the commercial gloss of a big white wedding. The severely edited narration also underscores the continued devaluation of an entire people, the continued erasure of a part of history that needs to be recognized.
This comes after surveying a number of plantation homes that, in fact, do acknowledge the history of slavery. I think we can all agree that it is important for these sites to properly document their history for the general public. Apart from the question of confronting the past I don’t see what is necessarily wrong with holding weddings, concerts, and other events on plantation grounds. Why must slavery be front and center of every activity? No doubt, some of these sites rely on the income just to stay open.
Just as Koa suggests that there is a danger of “selective nostalgia” there is also the risk of engaging in selective outrage.
Movies like Gone With the Wind, Django Unchained and especially 12 Years a Slave reinforce the iconic image of the plantation as central to our collective memory of the horrors of slavery. Anyone who has studied the broad history of slavery, however, understands that these sites represent a small minority of sites (North and South) where the horrors of slavery thrived for much too long. I can only guess at the number of sites where weddings and other ceremonies that bring families and friends together to celebrate life take place that do not correspond to our images of the “Big House”.
Guess what, many plantation homes do provide a beautiful setting for a wedding.