The Culturally Competent Racist and Sanitizing White Supremacy

Often, when racism/white supremacy occur at a predominantly white school or in a work environment, human resources bring in “cultural competency” trainings or workshops as well as organize a day of  “Let’s celebrate our differences” .

Let’s be frank: the issue is not “cultural competency” (this is a sanitizing term) or the need to “celebrate our differences.”  Such a response to racist attitudes/behavior simply masks systemic racism and white supremacy; these are the fundamental problems– some happy day of celebrating “all the colors of the rainbow” will not remedy this. First, how about these places use exact and direct language and call it what it is: racism and white supremacy. Bringing in curriculum labeled “Anti-racism training” or “Systemic white supremacy literacy and intervention” unveils the reality of what needs to be dealt with.  Instead of simply focusing on “cultural difference” and/or “cultural competency”, require pragmatic interventions about anti-Blackness and USA’s white supremacist racial caste system, to name a few.

Also, do not tell me that the person who just called me “nigger”, says that “all Black men are thugs,” or has made the claim that I don’t sound “ghetto like most Black people” needs to be taught to have racial tolerance towards me; towards Black people. What I hear is, “Yea, HR knows that Black people are intolerable making it nearly impossible for white people to not lash out with racially offensive words or imagery when they have to be around them. How about we send you to a class so you can learn how to at least tolerate them and to not do anything that is ‘culturally inappropriate.'” 

I know my framing of intervention doesn’t bode well with the mainstream because of ‘white fragility'(white rage), but coddling [mostly] white feelings by implying “it’s just about cultural difference” when it’s about white supremacist racism is an epic fail . You can have a training that doesn’t individually attack white people but rather, shows how racism and white supremacy operate at the systemic and institutional levels. Making sure that the racial status quo “doesn’t feel bad” or “guilty” is ridiculous. Teaching about how a white supremacist racial caste system operates (from the micro to the macro levels) is not about feelings; it’s about justice and doing what is right. I repeat, bringing in cultural competence ‘experts’ is not usually the best course of action. Why…?

If a white person at work or in class calls a Black person “nigger” or posts lynching signs, they are truly culturally competent in the fundamental roots of anti-Blackness and white supremacy that the USA was founded upon. They are very literate in this. They know the right words or non-verbal actions to reinforce the white supremacist racial caste system that the USA uses as a bedrock for normative culture.

Let’s move beyond cosmetic diversity and towards operationalizing racial equity, social and restorative justice in response to racism on every level.

Now for some yummy kale chips to fight against the constant racial battle fatigue symptoms that plague thousands of racialized minorities in the USA that spend oodles of time trying to explain this (sigh). Kale is an amazing nutritional tool that helps me get through my anti-racism work through intense nutritional support. You’ll be hearing more about my project that merges recipes for racial battle fatigue, analysis of the ethical foodscape, and black feminist theory that is coming out next year: Recipes for Racial Tension Headaches….


Dr. A.Breeze Harper (Credit: Pax Ahimsa Gethen 2016)

Dr. A. Breeze Harper is a senior diversity and inclusion strategist for Critical Diversity Solutions, a seasoned speaker, and author of books and articles related to critical race feminism, intersectional anti-racism, and ethical consumption. As a writer, she is best known as the creator and editor of the groundbreaking anthology Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health and Society (Lantern Books 2010). Dr. Harper has been invited to deliver many keynote addresses and lectures at universities and conferences throughout North America. In 2015, her lecture circuit focused on the analysis of food and whiteness in her book Scars and on “Gs Up Hoes Down:” Black Masculinity, Veganism, and Ethical Consumption (The Remix)which explored how key Black vegan men use hip-hop methods to create “race-conscious” and decolonizing approaches to vegan philosophies. In 2016, she collaborated with Oakland’s FoodFirst’s Executive Director Dr. Eric Holt-Gimenez to write the backgrounder Dismantling Racism in the Food System, which kicked off FoodFirst’s series on systemic racism within the food system

Dr. Harper is the founder of the Sistah Vegan Project which has put on several ground-breaking conferences with emphasis on intersection of racialized consciousness, anti-racism, and ethical consumption (i.e., veganism, animal rights, Fair Trade). Last year she organized the highly successful conference The Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter which can be downloaded.

Dr. Harper’s most recently published book, Scars: A Black Lesbian Experience in Rural White New England (Sense Publishers 2014) interrogates how systems of oppression and power impact the life of the only Black teenager living in an all white and working class rural New England town. Her current 2016 lecture circuit focuses on excerpts from her latest book in progress, Recipes for Racial Tension Headaches: A Critical Race Feminist’s Journey Through ‘Post-Racial’ Ethical Foodscape which will be released in 2017, along with the second Sistah Vegan project anthology The Praxis of Justice in an Era of Black Lives MatterIn tandem with these book projects, she is well-known for her talks and workshops about “Uprooting White Fragility in the Ethical Foodscape” and “Intersectional Anti-Racism Activism.”

In the spring of 2016, Dr. Harper was nominated as the Vice Presidential candidate for the Humane Party— the only vegan political party in the USA with focus on human and non-human animals.

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5 thoughts on “The Culturally Competent Racist and Sanitizing White Supremacy

  1. Terrific piece. Calling it “cultural competency” or “celebrate our differences” sets up a false equivalency that the oppressive shit is flying from both directions. It needs to be made clear that the oppression is coming from one racial group and that group needs to be named, not coddled. When it comes to justice, we need to ditch the cliché that the answer is somewhere in the undefined middle—as if justice is to be found mid-way between racism/misogyny/homophobia and an end to all these oppressions.

  2. The objective and evolution of corporate training programs is ‘appealing to corporate management’, which often means ‘provides documentation of how much you aren’t ignoring racism’, ‘reduces the incidence of complaints that working conditions are illegal and/or unacceptable’, and the like.
    Actually making people confront and change their culture fails at those actual goals. People who perceive that their priviledge is being revoked make lots of noise that looks unprofitable because corporate management can’t tell the difference between valid complaints and spurious complaints, only between complaints that can be made to go away and ones that can’t.
    Of course, managers are also people, and diverge from the Platonic Ideal of their corporate role at least a little bit in every actual case. And still their overall incentives push strongly in a perverse direction.

  3. I agree with your article in the context of dishonest training that does not address institutional racism or the accountability of the training participant. But, being racist in an environment that is supposed to be inclusive is actually the highest form of incompetence. That is why I appreciate the term and actually focusing on this as a dissertation topic.

    What I have found most disconcerting on the HBCU campus I work on is the lack of cultural competency among predominately African American staff and faculty towards students from other countries, lower income communities, an adolescent demographic and non-christian environments. I think cultural competency training is a perfect approach for addressing internalized racism and racism by white folks because few are going to acknowledge they are racist and unprofessional from jump. A facilitator who takes participants there unapologetically anf skillfully is the best choice when embarking on providing this type of training, for, not everyone is capable of facilitating this work.

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