In 2005, when I first proposed to embark on my Black feminist vegan journey to learn how being racialized as Black women affected Black women vegans, I got a significant number of white vegans furious with the idea; an idea that eventually became the Sistah Vegan anthology, published in 2010.
In 2007, I completed my Masters Thesis at Harvard University that earned the Dean’s award for interrogating how covert whiteness operated amongst ‘well intended’ and ‘but I’m not racist’ white vegans on an internet site.
A few days ago on Facebook, it was posted that VegFest UK would be having their first ever conference on “intersectionality” within veganism. Shared on someone’s page, there were 5 comments– all negative and all written by white men (at least that is how I read them) who were obviously furious with the idea of ‘intersectionality’ being applied to veganism…and thought it implied that speciesism would not be part of the conference. Essentially, their responses implied that talking about how racism and sexism operate within veganism having nothing to do with veganism. They made a lot of assumptions and it was clear none of them had picked up Kimberle Crenshaw’s publications on intersectionality (nor picked up any other POC scholar engaged in holistic and intersectional approaches to racial justice, social justice, environmental justice, etc over the last 30+ years)… but these men were confident that they knew that ‘intersectionality’ has no place in veganism and that it was erasing engagement with speciesism.
It made me think about Trump and his, “Make America Great [and White] Again” rhetoric. These comments from these white vegan men made me think they were essentially saying, “Make Veganism [White &] Great Again.” This framework is cut from the same cloth, though I’m quite certain these men would never want to associate themselves with such fabric…
….that cloth is from the fabric of a white supremacist racial caste system. Really, it is no surprise that the same foundational thoughts I witness from Trump and his supporters can easily be found in the mainstream white vegan movement amongst well intended, mostly white, people who become upset and furious that “their” veganism is being “tainted” by folk like me/us (i.e. those non-white people crossing into your philosophical borders that you supposedly own as intellectual property and have always had the power to define). Aph Ko spoke about similar ‘border crossing’ within vegansim at the Whidbey Institute’s Intersectional Social Justice Conference in March of 2016.
I responded to the comments. I explained what intersectionality is and referred them to Kimberle Crenshaw (the woman who coined the term, though many people of color were engaged in the concept, long before). I then asked those who commented, what they thought about this literature and the canon developed from this. I asked them if they could tell me more of what they have learned from critical race feminism and critical animal studies which should enable them to tell me how they concluded what they have concluded about how ‘damaging’ intersectionality is, when applied to veganism … (Of course they haven’t read this canon, but I’m asking them to respond and engage because if you’re going to white mansplain ‘intersectionality’ to a Black woman with a PhD in it and a Black woman who is a vegan, you’d think you would have done some of the foundational readings to have a valid argument on why you disagree. For example, I would never jump into a conversation about a topic or discipline that I have NO FOUNDATIONAL knowledge in– just assumptions– and then confidently DEFINE what it is and should be.)
Just a reminder: You can have a vegan conference that successfully focuses on anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-classism, etc., without damaging veganism. Intersectionality (within the context of Crenshaw and similar scholars) is an enhancement to non-violence, compassion, and justice.
I personally have been written by countless numbers of non-white people over my last 10 years, who have told me that the reason they went vegan was because of how my fusion of anti-racism, critical race feminism, critical whiteness studies, and critical animal studies was more relevant and aligned more with their racialized embodied experiences; it helped to get them ‘woke’ about the importance of veganism as a “decolonizing” method within a racist and speciesist based USA capitalist system. That is what my intersectional scholarship and activism has done and continues to do: frame veganism in an intersectional way (using critical race feminism and critical animal studies– but not limited to) that is inclusive and inviting to a majority of non-white people who are trying to survive through and fight against systemic racism.
Like what you read? Join the online talk by Dr. A. Breeze Harper on October 7, 2017. Spaces are going fast so sign up soon. See below for more details.
Despite having brown skin and being a “melanated peoples”, I burn in the sun in approximately 5 minutes. It can be as ‘cool’ as 69 degrees Fahrenheit and I will burn…My mother used to always joke, “You would have made a horrible field slave”, which kind of makes perfect sense. She has always enjoyed calling me an Oreo since I was a tween. Oreo was then promoted to the affectionate label of Oreo Double Stuff by the time I had graduated from high school in 1994 and I had been accepted into a gazillion PWIs like Smith College, Tufts University, Bryn Mawr, and Dartmouth College. I vividly remember when I first discovered the Four Seasons when I was 14 years old. I asked my mother if she could buy it for me on CD. Boy was she elated that I was inquiring about the Four Seasons…. Except she thought that I misspoke and that I must have meant the Black Motown group The Four Tops (Yes, I meant some music composed by a dead white Italian man). #blackcardrejected #notauthenticallyblack
How did I get from being a white cream filled dark sandwich cookie with two left feet and an unhealthy obsession with Anton Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to being told I’m uber ‘articulate’ and ‘non-threatening’ in post-racial vegan venues? I could tell this story from so many vantage points. I thought long and hard about it, writing draft after draft, dropping some heavy critical theory sh$t from Angela Davis, to Frantz Fanon, to Charles Mills. But every time I tried to do this, it just wouldn’t work out. Critical theory takes deep concentration, plenty of sleep, and mental acuity….
…which is hella blown out of the water when you’ve got 4 damn kids– a 6 month old, a 3 year old, a 5 year old (the middle one with a damn freaking attitude and a propensity for sticking her hand in the monkey jar) and an 8 year old who continuously interrupt your prophetic destiny to be a scholar with such greatness and [can’t think of an intelligent word because my 5 year old just came outside screaming and running towards me, naked, holding a bowl of Cheerios] that would make Sara Ahmed’s rumination on phenomenology and post-colonialism look like simple nursery school rhymes. #badphenomenologyjokes
-Dr. A. Breeze Harper. Draft from her upcoming book Black. Mama. Scholar: On Black Feminism, Food Ethics, and Toddler Tantrums in a ‘Post-Racial’ Era (2018).
In a delightful and humorous, yet deeply critical talk, Dr. A. Breeze Harper will ruminate on the past 12 years of her activism and scholarship as well as read excerpts from her upcoming book Black. Mama. Scholar: On Black Feminism, Food Ethics, and Toddler Tantrums in a ‘Post-Racial’ Era (formerly titled Recipes for Racial Tension Headaches). Get ready for a different side of A. Breeze Harper, PhD, as she uses a fusion of satire and critical race feminism to explore just how “post-racial” we are– in veganism and beyond.
This is a fundraising event for the Sistah Vegan Project. Register for the Live Lecture with Q&A below.
Dr. Harper is the creator and editor of the first of its kind book about veganism and race: Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health, and Society(Lantern Books 2010).
Dr. Harper holds a PhD in social science from University of California Davis (with an emphasis in Black Feminisms, Critical Theories of Race, and Ethical Consumption). She has a Masters degree in Educational Technologies from Harvard University, with emphasis on Black Feminisms. Her thesis earned her the prestigious Dean’s award.
Dr. Harper’s most recently published book, A Black Lesbian Experience in Rural White New England (Sense Publishers 2014) interrogates how systems of oppression and power impact being a Black teenager living in an all white and working class rural New England town. She has taught university staff and students how to use the book as a tool to develop literacy around unconscious bias and understand how deeply impactful systemic racial and socio-economic inequities are.
After observing numerous white vegans making the claim that race doesn’t matter (i.e. the passive-aggressive responses to Black Lives Matter with “All Lives Matter”) , Dr. Harper organized the highly successful professional conference The Praxis of Black Lives Matter. The conference taught participants how to operationalize racial equity during an era of Black Lives Matter with a focus on plant-based foodie culture like veganism and raw foodism.
In 2016, Dr. Harper collaborated with Oakland’s FoodFirst’s Executive Director Dr. Eric Holt-Gimenez to write the report Dismantling Racism in the Food System, which kicked off FoodFirst’s series on systemic racism within the food system. Dr. Harper is well-known for her talks and workshops about “Operationalizing Racial Equity” and “Intersectional Anti-Racism” in ethical consumption, which were given at top universities this past year (University of Chicago, Stanford University, and Penn State to name a few).
You can check out Dr. Harper’s 2016 talk at Whidbey Institute below about Uprooting White Fragility in the Ethical Foodscape as well as the University of Oregon-Eugene talk Reading Food Objects: A Black Feminist Materialist Reading of Scars in Oregon.