This is the Impact Gary Francione and Ruby Hamad’s ‘Moment in Time’ Had on My Engaged Buddhist Practice

[Updated Monday Dec 21, 21:20 PST]




I posted the above last night on Facebook and, at first, was most interested in the focus on my first pregnancy from 2008. At first I was thinking about how a person’s body has frequently been used as a site of ‘moral baseline’ when they are pregnant ( say ‘person’ because not all human persons who are pregnant identify as a cisgender woman). I could go into this in more detail, but I am not going to spend time on that. Instead, I wanted to reflect a little differently on my post above from Dec 20 2015 to talk about the impact Francione’s article had on me (which was impacted by Hamad’s article) and my developing practice of engaged Buddhism  which my anti-racism and Ahimsa are rooted in.

I’m not hurt or traumatized by how Francione is using my work and talking about my lecture or using my pregnancy as an example to explain his moral baseline; I say this first because of how many people contact me about how ‘bad’ Francione is. Secondly, I have written and lectured about, plenty of times, that my 2nd and 3rd pregnancies were vegan. Also, since the last few years, I have offered several vegan pregnancy webinars. I have also publicly spoken about how much my own confidence improved once I was pregnant the second time around and found more support around de-programming my mind. I needed to decolonize/deprogram my mind around “proper omnivorous dietary pre-natal nutrition to not harm your baby” ideologies so deeply entrenched in USA society that I had clearly internalized. I was not scared to openly speak about these conflicts, knowing full well that a lot of pregnant people trying to practice veganism, had gone through or were currently going through similar.
To my fans: No defense of my work needed or labeling Francione as ‘bad’ (or other language that has been used that I won’t repeat). For me, these responses, though well intended, are not in the spirit of the Ahimsa I personally practice. More or less, I am sincerely curious about how these things transpire; the amount of energy and effort expended. For the most part, when these situations transpire, I try to practice this current mantra that I’m continuing to develop:

I can only do my best.

Try to be as mindful as possible with the understanding that that is no ‘guarantee’ in preventing negative impact.

Instead, be open to and learn from that unintended impact.

Understand the impact my ignorances will have.

And not be so focused on pleasing everyone.

Accept how my privileges have negative outcomes if I can’t acknowledge them or consciously dismantle the system that keep them in place.

Be compassionate to myself and to those who experience me as ‘the enemy’.

Be dynamic and non-fundamentalist.

Try not to have reactive responses or be so quick to ‘prove’ how ‘right’ I am and how ‘wrong’ everyone else is.

Keep on working towards what types of actions are needed to create a world with the least amount of suffering.

I know many folk are quick to call someone out as ‘bad’, ‘evil’, ‘horrible’, but I’m not really interested so much in labeling people ‘bad’, ‘good’, ‘moral’, ‘immoral’, as much as i’m interested in how it comes to be that individuals can be so confident that their ‘way’ is the moral baseline (whether vegan or not) ; especially when they have only had the embodied experience of their self and haven’t had the chance of ‘being’ the millions of humans who came before or the billions who are in existence now. I’m not actually targeting Francione; I’m speaking about most human beings who firmly believe that their way is the right and only way. We all have done it/do it. But are we mindful of it and actively trying to not repeat it?
And then throw social media in as a ‘medium’ for [mis]communication, and wow! It gets tough.
If I spent all my time defending myself, that is all I’d be doing. Francione thinks a certain way and I can’t control the impact; I can’t control how he received what I do. I can’t let myself become emotionally and physically unwell from the potential stress that this may cause, along with all the other folk who interpret my work the way they do (remember, I always get anger, vitriol, even death threats from mostly white people who don’t like what I have written and can’t or won’t spend my time consumed with it).  
I can learn from all of these moments, whether I agree or not, and know I have learned that this person (Francione) uses my work in the way that they do; that there are many who support him and many who do not for various reasons I can’t control. The creation of Hamad and Francione’s essays have allowed me to learn a little more about them, but also learn how the dynamics of race, gender, whiteness, ethics, play out  in a system (here in the USA) that generally privileges white able-bodied cisgender men.
I also don’t know Francione and he doesn’t know me; I don’t have an intimate relationship with him (and by intimate, I don’t mean romantic; I mean I don’t have a deep friendship developed over time and trust). What he ‘knows’ is what he has experienced from my blog or lectures (which are videos on my blog). Those are ‘pieces of Breeze’s work’, but not the entirety of Breeze. It doesn’t reflect that Breeze, like all humans, is always transforming, growing, on a continuum to reach some ‘moral baseline’ that will probably always be dynamic and most likely not come from the taken for granted lineage of ‘Eurocentric cisgender men’s canon of morality’ that philosophy in the USA (Academe, at least) is rooted in as ‘common sense’.
Also, I find it pointless to jump on the bandwagon of anti-Francione or pro-Francione, and then start bashing or uplifting Francione. A lot of people do this, but I honestly am not interested. I don’t know how such actions create compassion, solidarity, love and how I personally engage with the concept of Ahimsa. A lot of people take screenshots of certain people or organizations that supposedly ‘bash’ me or simply disagree with me. Although I appreciate folk making me aware of this, I can’t really do much about how I am received; I can’t spend all my time responding to every screen shot that ‘captures’ a moment in time of how someone may not like me (or also may idolize me). I am more concerned about the impact and dangers of doing both, though I know these screen shots are sent to me with the best intentions: Remember, they are moments in time and don’t necessarily define or represent the entire human being that that action is coming from, historically, in the present, or in the future. 
I think there is a danger in taking something out of context, and from one point in time, to ‘prove’ that this is how this person is ALL THE TIME. Please note, I’m not fundamentalist about this belief, as I know there are certain situations when it is more clear that a particular ‘captured’ action in that moment in time is a red flag (and still, that is often difficult to decipher) that needs to have some mindful and strategic intervention.
In terms of taking something out of context or from a single point in time to ‘prove’ how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ something is…. We have all done this before (me too) and often don’t realize that people are dynamic, and what one says or does on March 5 at 6pm in 1976 doesn’t mean that that is how they define their entire existence, how they were in the past, or how they will be in the future. I am more interested in the overall timeline of one’s consciousness, life, actions, and what patterns I do or do not see, what hints of potential change and room for growth I see, and what it could mean for the future of contributing to the alleviation of suffering and pain; what can I learn from it, whether I agree or not? 
So, what I mean is that I like to experience people over time, experience how they may or may not have changed, how their social locations impact that change, etc. I read works from my favorite folk and it’s clear that what they said, did, thought, etc 50 years go, changed, evolved, etc 10 years later, then 10 years later again, etc. To pinpoint one part of body of work without context and then to not bring in the grace and compassion to understand that humans are dynamic creatures on a continuum of consciousness raising and growing is a challenge for most of us to overcome, in my humble opinion– especially when we are speaking from a social location of power and privilege and fear that loss of the power and privilege. 
Also, for context, I come from the spiritual practice and training of engaged buddhism, influenced by Zen Buddhism. Ruby Hamad and Gary Francione, I just wanted to let you know that this blog post is the impact both of you have had on my developing practice of engaged Buddhism and Ahimsa; these  are ‘central’ to my personal ‘moral baseline’ [that will always be on a continuum]. I appreciate it, because what it has done is allowed me to practice responding to actions and impact and not necessarily ‘take the bait’ or be ‘ensnared’ into trying to defend myself or prove myself all the time; it’s teaching me to understand the difference between responding to an individual vs. understanding actions and their impact.
I think for me, most importantly, it’s taught me how much fear plays into why so many of us respond in individual attack (consciously or not) if or when our privileged social locations are questioned. Fear + being in a privileged social location + anxiety around losing that privilege and power (conscious or not)  is real and its negative impact is significant. (Fear + being subjugated by those in a privileged social location + anxiety and suffering around being hurt by that person  in a privileged social location from benefiting from systemic oppression is real and I am not ignoring that. The latter is a very different dynamic than the former).  I am still working very hard on how to respond to the former. I attempted to do similar a few months ago (though not perfect example) in a different situation, when trying to understand how fear and hurt emotions from someone in a privileged social location, potentially impacted a response that intended to be rational
To those who are reading this blog post:

What are your thoughts on Ruby Hamad’s letter and Francione’s response?

What was the immediate impact this ‘moment in time’ had on you?

Can you speculate what the long-term impact could be?

Is there a way to answer the questions above that I am asking without instantly labeling each individual who wrote their articles as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but talking more about how they ‘frame’ it within particular systems of [human] based power and privilege (or lack there of)?  

Is there a way to engage and answer with compassion and unconditional love, with mindful critique and appreciation– even if you don’t agree with me, Hamad, and or Francione?

Or, is that request too traumatizing and triggering for many of you because of the negative impact Francione’s actions may have had on you? I asked this last question because I got a lot of posts on FB and private communication from people that explained the negative impact Francione’s actions have had on them. 

About the Author and The Sistah Vegan Project

Dr. A. Breeze Harper
Dr. A. Breeze Harper

Dr. Harper currently manages the Staff Diversity Initiative’s Multicultural Education Program at UC Berkeley and is the founder of the Critical Diversity Solutions. Check her profile out on LinkedIn. Inquire about Dr. A. Breeze Harper lecturing or giving a workshop at your organization, school, or business. Find out how you can donate to the Sistah Vegan Project.

16 thoughts on “This is the Impact Gary Francione and Ruby Hamad’s ‘Moment in Time’ Had on My Engaged Buddhist Practice

  1. My perspective is that individual people and groups are neither “good” nor “evil”; rather, they take actions that have the potential to cause more or less harm. I try to criticize the actions and not the person. That said, I have certainly called people and groups good, bad, or evil on occasion, and I won’t tone police an oppressed person who uses those words to describe a member of a dominant group.

    I read Hamad’s essay and read part of Francione’s, but didn’t finish as I find his utter lack of humility and refusal to acknowledge his privileges seriously disturbing. (I’ve written about my own troubles with him previously: I’ll try again later, and likely write a blog post of my own in response.

    Re Buddhism and ahimsa, Francione identifies as a Jain, for what it’s worth.

      1. Dear Pax Ahimsa Gethen,
        As a longterm vegan and vegan mother of my lifelong vegan daughter I am immensely grateful for Professor Francione’s decades of consistent, logical and unwavering body of knowledge which manifests in his inspiring work, namely the Abolitionist Approach. I am sincerely perplexed how anyone may have perceived his latest essay as “embarrassing, ego- ridden display of white fragility.” After all Professor Francione has been speaking up against all forms of injustice, including racism, for long decades..
        His voice is loud and clear. Certainly someone whose name has “Ahimsa” in it would not intend to put down an essay which speaks eloquently and logically on the behalf of the nonhuman animals, right? I feel that in our efforts of not hurting anyone our political correctedness may have created an intellectual climate where saying if as it is considered “ego-ridden” somehow. However, in my opinion it is exactly the moral relativity which is a root issue of many forms of injustice in society.
        Once again, I am grateful for the essay by Professor Francione, regardless of the “color of fragility” it might have “displayed ” to some of us. If I were a nonhuman animal I sure would prefer his straightforward vegan education to the world versus anything else.

  2. So sorry this happened to you Breeze. Your blog and his are actually the only AR blogs I subscribe to and when I read his post yesterday I was shocked. I follow your work so I knew his interpretations were completely off and offensive as they were obviously based on very limited exposure to what you do. The way he went about proving that white males just sometimes (or in this case, all the time, as he couldn’t provide any positive examples of intersectional work from anyone else) are simply better experts on intersectionality and veganism was so uncritical and surprising. I can understand how conflict might arise between his view that veganism should be a universal moral imperative and the view of many feminists that attention to context matters. But he himself illustrates how attention to the contexts of racism and Islamophobia reveal how this ‘universal rule’ can be discriminatorily applied and might have differential impacts.
    Your response is so lovely and insightful and influences me to be more compassionate in how I come to view things.

  3. Though I am no longer vegan I do appreciate the work that you do. How do you feel about the vegan community splitting into different sectors? When I was a vegan though this may not be everyone’s experience many of the vegans had far more compassion for animals than humans. They truly felt that human suffering and human rights shouldn’t even be talked about because it’s takes away from they animals. I honestly don’t see this mindset changing from many vegans anytime soon. Most of the well know animal rights activist feel the same way. Some even encourage misanthropy.

  4. I am aware that this is a fairly late reply, but I have spent a while considering everything that transpired on social media recently. Watching this all play out has shifted something in me. I have read this response many times, and each time I read it, it speaks more and more truths. Your response is both moving and commendable, and I have much to learn from it. thank you.

  5. I’m going to focus on one phrase that Ruby Hamad wrote at the end of her essay that seems to me to be very meaningful. She wrote that you can’t end an injustice by replicating the conditions that created it…which I relate to Audre Lorde’s often quoted phrase about not using the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house. Ms. Lorde’s full quote goes on to urge each of us to reach down into that place inside ourselves where deep knowledge resides and to touch the terror and loathing of any difference that’s there…and to see whose face it wears. She tells us that’s when the personal as the political can begin to provide illumination for our choices. Those are (to me) profound and excellent words/thoughts.

    Anything that leads me to spend time hanging around Audre Lorde’s writings/thinkings/wisdoms is welcomed and embraced.

    I was intrigued by your writing about the differences in the dynamics associated with fear emanating from someone possible losing privilege versus fear arising because of possibly being subjugated by someone with privilege. Excellent and provocative observations…thank you!

  6. Our bodies are the means by which we act, so it is inevitable that our bodies are used in arguments as sites of moral baselines. With regards to your diet during pregnancy, was he using your pregnancy in such a way as to deny you rights, analogous to the way that anti abortion campaigners deny women rights? In my opinion, no, he did not. He brought it up because it was mentioned by yourself about how it is contended you believe a vegan diet was not right for everyone. People do not have a right to eat what they want, if in doing so they infringe the rights of others.

    Now, Francione does believe in the universality of his ethics. You ask why anyone could believe this. I suspect it is the same reason most people believe that racism or sexism is universally wrong, the counter arguments are filled with logical fallacies.

    Finally, mindfulness. It might help you feel more relaxed but it is not going to help you see through your biases. Look at all the Buddhists who continue to eat meat. If anything I think it allows people to avoid that aching feeling of inconsistency in ones beliefs, and project such feelings externally. It sounds all very nice asking about how to act with compassion without labelling people as good or bad. Well I disagree completely, people are their actions. We are our beliefs. Through critical discourse we can change these things though, and by sitting back and meditating on not self ect all you will be left with is the complacency that allows millions of Buddhists to pretend they are living lives of compassion, when they are in fact contributing to a system that brutally murders and tortures billions of animals a year.

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