“People are in prison because they make that choice, Animals don’t”: Creating critical race literacies for a ‘post-racial’ USA

I recorded this 6 years ago, but it might as well apply in 2017…..


Dr. A.Breeze Harper (Credit: Pax Ahimsa Gethen 2016)
Dr. A. Breeze Harper has started her 2017-2018 speaking tour. Dr. Harper debuted her thought-provoking yet entertaining talk, “Black, Mama, Scholar: On Black Feminist Geography, Food Ethics, and Motherhood in a ‘Post-Racial’ USA (Before and During an Era of Trump)” at DePaul University for their Department of Geography’s Annual Speaker Series on September 22, 2017.
On September 22, 2017, at DePaul University, Dr. Harper narrated her journey as a Black Feminist Geographer, Black mother, and vegan in the often “hostile” spaces of ‘post-racial’ ethical consumption. Dr. Harper showed how the struggle against systemic racism and white supremacy existed long before Trump came into office; that covert racism can operate amongst the most well-intended white vegans who often “build” [epistemological] “borders” and “walls” through their unconscious rhetoric of “[white post-racial] vegan purity.” Dr. Harper touched upon how the cigar that Michael Brown supposedly stole became an object loaded with meaning around race, humanity, and ethical consumption: what if he had supposedly stolen artisanal vegan cheese or kale? Would this have given him ‘closer proximity to whiteness’?
 
Moving away from critical theory to real life consequences of racial power dynamics in the USA, Dr. Harper analyzed how her experiences with Black motherhood deeply impact how she interrogates the ethical foodscape as well as how she strategizes moving through red counties/state to give workshops and lectures with her baby-in-tow.  The lecture was powerful and thought-provoking.
Dr. Harper’s speaking tour parallels the subject of her third book, Black, Mama, Scholar: On Black Feminism, Food Ethics, and Toddler Tantrums in a ‘Post-Racial’ USA which will be released in 2018.
Dr. Harper has a Masters degree from Harvard University and won the Dean’s Award for her 2007 thesis. This research took innovative and brilliant approaches to excavating how covert whiteness operates amongst well-intended “but I’m not racist” white identified vegans. In 2013, she would later earn her PhD in critical food geographies at the University of California-Davis after investigating how ethical consumption is framed and practiced through the lens of racial power dynamics and green consumerism in the USA.
Her 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. From 2014-2015, her speaking and book tour focused on food objects in Scars and what stories these objects tell about racial power dynamics in the USA as well as within a globalized capitalist economy.
Over the past 10 years, Dr. Harper has been one of the most innovative intersectional Black Feminist scholars and activists within the arenas of anti-racism, food justice, and ethical foodie culture in the USA. Twelve years ago, she was repeatedly told by the status quo that veganism, animal rights movement, and issues of race and whiteness have “nothing to do with one another.” With fierceness and innovation she proved this premise wrong by publishing the groundbreaking anthology Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health and Society (Lantern Books, 2010). The book broke new ground and helped to create a philosophical space; such a space addressed how veganism as well as other forms of ethical consumption in the USA are not in a vacuum but are organized and influenced by a racial caste and capitalist system since the inception of the USA; food ethics are in fact racialized.
In 2015, after witnessing mostly white identified vegans respond to the Black Lives Matter movement with the hashtag #AllLivesMatter, Dr. Harper organized the conference The Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter: Challenging Neoliberal Whiteness While Building Anti-Racist Solidarity Among Vegans of Color and Allies (Before, After, and Beyond Ferguson). The first of its kind, it brought together 16 activists and scholars that creatively and astutely showed how the neoliberal capitalist system (that most vegans in the USA operate within) is bound up in the logics of anti-Blackness and systemic racism.
In early 2016, Dr. Harper gave the much anticipated talk, “Uprooting White Fragility in the Ethical Foodscape.” She premiered it at Whidbey Institute and addressed ways to challenge as well as move beyond collective denial, dismissal, and deflection that many white identified subjects in the USA have when coming to terms with the fact that “race matters”….even within the landscape of food and ethics.
Responding to people’s need for finding tools and strategies to go beyond “conversations about race”,  Dr. Harper started offering the workshop “Operationalizing Racial Equity in the Ethical Foodscape” to non-profits as well as institutions of higher learning like Wesleyan University and Lawrence University in 2016. In 2016, she was a special guest on NPR’s Secret Ingredient in which she discussed how whiteness operates within the ethical foodscape of veganism. After the tragedy in summer 2017 in Charlottesville, Dr. A. Breeze Harper called major vegan and animal rights organizations and businesses to task in demanding they issue an anti-racism and anti white-supremacy statement and action plan.
Interested in learning more about Dr. A. Breeze Harper or having her speak at your institution, non-profit, or event? Contact her speaking agent Lizzie Cole of Evil Twin Booking Agency here.
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