The Return of the N*gger Breakers: The [White Racist] Vegan Playbook

(This statement is within the context of living in white settler nations because I know this won’t apply to all): For a significant number of white vegans, giving up speciesist privilege is FAR MORE EASIER than giving up possessive investment in whiteness. Ethical veganism becomes a sort of ‘spiritual bypass’ masking new forms of white supremacist racist ‘logic’ that is then labeled as ‘post-human’ or ‘beyond the human’ condition (meaning humans need to only focus on the suffering of non-human animals and not human ‘identity politics’.). 

After the past few weeks of witnessing certain amazing vegans of color doing their anti-racism and animal rights *thang* and then they being viciously attacked by white vegans who are clearly using racist words/tactics, I continue to try to give this advice: please my VOCs, ignore them as much as possible and take care of yourselves. What they are doing is a combination of “strategic trolling” and what Ishmael Reed calls the “return of the n*gger-breakers“.  It ranges from DIRECT aggressive attacks to subtle and subversive attacks in order to TEAR YOU DOWN.

Their training grounds have been the white settler nations like the USA that have completely normalized the “n*gger-breaking” play-book since the inception of this racial caste system; or places like “progressive” Switzerland or Germany that don’t think they could ever be like USA’s ‘low brow’ racial bigots (after all, Europe is the center of ‘civilized’ and ‘moral’ [white] human beings!)

I have been the recipient of trying to be “broken” since I began the Sistah Vegan Project and dared to partake in social science inquiries of how race and gender shape the vegan consciousness of ethical vegans in the USA. From snarky white male professors who have tried to tear down my scholarship as unviable or ridiculous, to social media trolls who have rallied together to ‘prove’ that my engagement with anti-racism equals “white genocide,” I have experienced ’n*gger breaking’ first-hand on way too many accounts.  I have had passive aggressive comments made by white people who have attended my critical lectures about veganism and race that seek to strip me of my voice and put me back into that place [when America was ‘great’— but oh no, they would never align themselves with Trump publicly, at least].   During these lectures I simply articulate how being racialized in the USA means that veganism will be practiced in a way that reflects this. I then provide evidence that shows how systemic racism has material and psychic consequences that operates “even in ethical veganism and animal rights spaces”; it’s a reality.

I will never forgot the time when I originally posted the call for essays for the Sistah Vegan book in 2004 and the pages of comments that exploded from it from one particular forum. The forum site was called VeganPorn (nothing to do with porn but everything ‘vegan’). White vegans on that forum were completely angered and disgusted that I *dared* to inquire about how Black racial formation impacts Black women’s vegan practices. The pinnacle of their rage culminated with white vegans targeting my use of the word “sistah”; some stated that anyone who sounds like they were ‘born to a crack addicted mom should never complain about not getting a job.’ They then then launched a full-out racist minstrel show of pretending to ‘talk Black’ (infused with poor grammar and lots of swearing). It didn’t matter that the obvious outcome of the Sistah Vegan book would ultimately get more marginalized groups interested in becoming vegan or consider becoming animal rights activists. The mere fact I mentioned race was enough to try to *break* me and prevent me from crossing the epistemological borders of ‘white vegan [post-racial] logic and methods’ that pathologize Blackness without ever pathologizing or problematizing the inherent injustice, violence, and inequities of normative whiteness.

All of the above occurred in 2005 and I can’t say much has really changed as I enter 2018 and I continue giving talks and lectures, writing books, doing ethnographic research that focuses on black feminist theory, critical consumptions studies, and ethical veganism. [*Note: I turned that 2005 fiasco into an opportunity by using those racist rants about the Sistah Vegan call for papers as empirical data to show how covert whiteness operates. I did not reply to one racist vegan; instead, I discursively analyzed what was occurring on the cyberspace forum. I earned the Dean’s award for my Masters Thesis work at Harvard University in 2007.]

Giving up possessive investment in whiteness is HARDER than giving up speciesist privilege— particularly since going vegan is primarily enacted through objects of consumption. Going vegan replaces cow milk with soy milk and leather jackets with PVC….But giving up possessive investment in whiteness? Oh, I don’t think there are any cute and yummy replacements for that.

Veganism isn’t just about consumption, but I repeat: it is primarily enacted through objects of consumption which comes by way of access, choice, and consumer privileges (which comes out of a racial and classed organizing of resources and power in which the primary beneficiaries are the collectivity of white people living in white settler nations– check out my dissertation work here that explains this  as well as the co-authored report Dismantling Racism in the Food System which also articulates how the resource of (and ‘easier’ access to) food (including vegan food) is raced and classed in the USA.

What is it about bringing up racial violence within a white supremacist racial caste system that gets so many white vegans so damn angry and enraged— ready to attack and “break” us, beat us with words? [Because now that it’s illegal to beat us with whips and other weapons, they really only have just ‘words’ as whips and chains]. 

White Allies: If you are in fact an ‘ally’, do not remain silent when other white folk (vegan or not) engage in n*gger breaking in its various forms ( Black racialized subjects are not the only ones who are targets…). I have met so many white folk who tell me they witnessed horrendous racist behavior from white vegans yet did nothing because they didn’t want to get involved, hurt feelings, or burn bridges or ruin friendships. Hell no, are you joking? You cannot remain neutral on a white supremacist high speed train in which the driver has fallen asleep. “Oh, I don’t want to hurt their feelings and ‘wake’ them up because I might embarrass them for falling asleep on the job [of being fully loving human being],” is going to get us ALL KILLED.   If your physical safety or job security aren’t in jeopardy then speak up and act as an ally. I don’t want to hear any more excuses. And though not completely unrelated, please remember the request I made this past summer after the death of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville.


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

Dr. A. Breeze Harper has a PhD in Critical Food Geographies. She is the creator of The Sistah Vegan Project and the editor of the ground-breaking anthology, Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak On Food, Identity, Health, and Society, is a sought-after speaker, writer, and consultant at Critical Diversity Solutions (www.criticaldiversitysolutions.com).

Her most recently published book is Scars: A Black Lesbian Experience in Rural White New England (Sense Publishers 2014). Scars interrogates how systems of oppression and power impact the life of protagonist 18 year old Savannah Sales, the only Black teenager living in an all white and working class rural New England town. In 2018, her latest book project will be published, tentatively titled Black Mama Scholar: On Black Feminism, Food Ethics, And Toddler Tantrums .

Overall, Dr. Harper’s work focuses on how systems of oppression- namely racism and normative whiteness- operate within the USA. She uses food and ethical consumptions cultures, within North America, to explore these systems. Her favorite tools of analysis are critical whiteness studies, decolonial world systems theory, Black feminisms, critical race feminism, critical animal studies, and critical food studies. She is known for using engaged Buddhism as the choice method to explain her research and broach these often difficult topics of power, privilege, and liberation.

Dr. Harper has been invited to deliver keynote addresses and lectures at universities and conferences throughout North America. Her talks explore how and why people have unique relationships to food and wellness and how these relationships are impacted by race, socio-economic class, gender, sexuality and physical abilities.

If you are interested in having A. Breeze Harper speak at your college, conference or organization please contact her at breezeharper@gmail.com. Learn more about her on her author and publications page here.

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