I Am Not Ingrid Newkirk or Gene Baur: On Race, Gender, Class, and the “Free Labor” Trope

Dr. A. Breeze Harper with her Baby Miro

In December of 2015, I was invited to give a talk at an Ivy League Law school’s animal rights/vegan  event. The law school assured me that even though they could not give me  an honorarium, 50-100 students would most likely attend my lecture and I would know that I made a big impact in spreading my knowledge.

Below is how I compassionately and assertively answered them, which was inspired from the fact that the writer of the email strategically invoked the names of Gene Baur and Ingrid Newkirk as speakers who didn’t request an honorarium, implying that I should be comfortable with doing the same. Though well-meaning, I found it deeply problematic and explained to the co-organizer of the event, why it is a reflection of assumptions around who can engage in free labor without going bankrupt.  Suffice to say, I am not Ingrid Newkirk or Gene Baur, and they needed to know this.

I have shared this letter (taking out identifiers of the law school and the person who wrote it) with quite a few non-white folk who have written me privately, frustrated that they were invited to do ‘free labor’ as if they have the same resources as white financially privileged AR/vegan icons. The letter isn’t to shame the organizer who invited me, but rather, to explain how intention vs. impact operates and creates exclusion of already marginalized or vulnerable communities.


Original Email Sent to Me on December 2015

Dear Dr. Harper,

 Many thanks for your reply!  [Law School name removed] is very excited about the possibility of having you come speak. We really want our fellow classmates to hear your perspective.

 Unfortunately, our [Law School Organization name removed] chapter cannot afford to offer honorariums to any of our speakers, due to our extremely tight operating budget. We hold as many events as we can, and we spend our entire budget on serving event attendees free vegan food. We have been fortunate that many distinguished speakers (including PETA President Ingrid Newkirk, Farm Sanctuary President Gene Baur, and dozens of other) have paid their own way to speak at [Organization name removed ] in part because of the opportunity to share their perspectives and build their profile within our law school community and beyond.

 What we can offer is the promise that your event would be well publicized at [Name of Law School remove] and that our events routinely attract audiences of 50 to 100 engaged students.  If you are interested, we can also look into the possibility of creating a video recording of the lecture which we could share on our website, and which you could use for your own purposes after the event. 

We hope that it will be worth your while to make the trip to [Name of City removed], and eagerly await your response.

 

Many thanks,

[Name removed]


Response from Dr. A. Breeze Harper, December 2015

Dear [Name removed]
Thanks for responding. So, here are my thoughts….

Though I know you mean well to provide an incentive by mentioning the people who were even able to pay their own way, the comparison is not equal. I have 3 children. Leaving to give a talk in which I’ll be gone for 2-3 days means $22/hr for childcare for 10 hours times 3 days. This is $660. The Sistah Vegan Project is just me and it’s volunteer. Flying out to [Ivy league institution name removed] would cost me money I do not have, even if the flight were covered along with hotel.

I am glad that you admire my work and at the same time, I have to let you know that I am seeing a pattern in the invitations I receive to give a talk. And of course you are not aware of this pattern because you do not receive these messages meant to for me, so I’d like to share this pattern with you, in hopes that it will help with future planning of inviting speakers, policies changes, and re questioning what it means to be an ally and in solidarity with marginalized communities that don’t have the resources they need, due to legacies of colonialism, imperialism, Jim Crow, racial caste system, etc., in the USA.

The common scenario of being invited to speak:

I am invited to give a talk. I ask for an honorarium + flight + accommodations. I am told that certain people can do it for no honorarium and this logic is used to persuade me to do the same. I’m usually told something like:

1. “[type in the name of a person who makes six figures and has no small children to take care of and is pretty much in an economically powerful and privileged social location] was able to donate their time so it would be unfair if we were to give you an honorarium.”
2. “[type in the name of a person who makes six figures and has no small children to take care of and is pretty much in a economically powerful and privileged social location] was able to do it because their organization paid their way, and in return, they were able to share their knowledge and it will be widely publicized.

Though this is not the intention, the impact is negative: It is a socio-economically class privileged framing of what is assumed that an invited speaker has the resources to do. Me and a significant number of people of color– mostly women identified–, have spoken about how we are asked to give a talk for ‘free’ and all of us are struggling financially in a way that Gene Baur, Ingrid Newkirk, and Howard Lyman (you don’t mention him but other groups have said he did a talk without an honorarium) do not. Again, not your intention, but the pattern I see is that those who are able to ‘foot the bill’ or volunteer easily are collectively white people who are not struggling economically and then they are used as the ‘benchmark’ of how policies and procedures are written around how speakers are accommodated how they will be remunerated (if at all).

I appreciate that you were upfront and honest that your school doesn’t pay out honorariums, but I’d like your organization to think about the impact of this as well. Once again, it’s not your intention, but myself as well as other people of color doing this work have spoken about how deeply troubling and hurtful it is to be struggling economically and be asked to give our services (knowledge) for free. We would love to participate in so many opportunities that would allow us to grow, but it would ‘bankrupt’ us (if that makes sense) if we did, under the current system of being asked to do it for free. I am not sure how your school or other organizations can change their policies, but they need to change them, or marginalized communities doing the ‘good work’ within Veganism, AR, and beyond, will never be able to participate in the opportunities so easily available to the status quo. Once again, your organization is not solely responsible for this, but it’s a reflection of how ‘the system’ has historically to the present, arranged access to resources and power through not only a racial caste system (starting with colonialism), but also via other systemic ‘isms’ (i.e., systemic classism, systemic ableism, etc).

I guess what I’m trying to convey is that it is one thing to invite a diversity of speakers to share their knowledge with your community and it’s another thing to put the policies, structures, resources, etc in place to make sure we all thrive and have equal access to the opportunities presented to us.

Thanks for inviting me and asking me to be part of your school’s event, I truly appreciate it. I am also an upfront and honest person and send this message with compassion and love. It may very well be that your organization is unaware of the impact they have when it comes to not supporting speakers they invite with a reasonable honorarium and other accommodations. I believe that it is my responsibility to draw your attention to something you simply may be unaware of.

Best,
Dr. A. Breeze Harper

The organizer ended up responding positively, thankful that I took the time to write them about the impact of their actions and that they’d see what was possible. However, they weren’t able to provide what I needed and said that they have a small operating budget but hoped to start thinking about how to implement what I had suggested in the future.


Dr. A. Breeze Harper is a senior diversity and inclusion strategist for Critical Diversity Solutionsa 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 know for 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 nominee for the Humane Party— the only vegan political party in the USA with focus on human and non-human animals.

Also, consider subscribing to her new upcoming video series coming Fall 2018/Winter 2019 :

On Being an Exhausted Black Mom, Expected “Free Labor”, and Heroes

{The original post had ‘heros’ and I immediately edited it to ‘heroes’ within 5 seconds}

I am not a hero. Please don’t refer to me as a hero. Hero worship is dangerous (read Marti Kheel’s essay here).

I am not a guru or an “all knowing” expert. Yes, I have a PhD in my field of expertise, but I repeat, it does not make me an infallible “all-knowing” expert. I am on a continuum of constant learning, re-learning, and un-learning.

People often imply or refer to me as “hero”, “expert”, etc… but I am far from those and don’t identify as such. What I do is simply engage in my activism and scholarship because it is a passion of mine. I feel that it is a better path for me to alleviate pain and suffering— and that this path is constantly forking, veering, changing as I learn how my own ignorances and biases (from still decolonizing my brain from within the ‘normalcy’ of a white supremacist racial caste-capitalist system USA) put me far from being some perfect or ideal hero.

Heroes and gurus are social constructs— mythic narratives that will almost always disappoint the people who subscribe to them. Gurus and Heroes are fairytales.

Objects of hero worship give meaning to the frequently unfocused or direction-deprived lives of society’s many emotional casualties. Yet mixed with this idealization is an urge to degrade the object of one’s admiration, sparked when the “hero” ultimately disappoints. This desperate need, intensified by the machinery of mass promotion, can turn even assassination, political or physical, into a form of spectacle. (Source is here)

I appreciate people who appreciate my work and I kindly ask that you do not construct me as some type of super-hero , infallible, etc being. In addition, what I write and speak of (in my videos) is always within that specific time period. For example, if you heard something I said in 2014 or read something I wrote in 2010, it doesn’t mean that is how I have always thought or will think, or am thinking now in the present moment. Please be mindful of not doing this.

Also, please don’t tag me and bring me into fights and disagreements you are having with the hopes that I will join a side. I am getting this a lot amongst vegans of color who are disagreeing with other vegans of color (and white allies) about how “intersectional” they are and how the other person is not “radical” enough. There are folk who enjoy being tagged and enjoy engaging in these debates, but I do not and cannot; I’m not interested in “winning” or “proving” anything to anyone, within these social media spaces, for the most part. For me, most of the time, these debates I’m tagged in are not an easy binary and are complex with a rich history that I am not privy to. In addition, I’m working a lot (doing my consulting work, writing my talks, writing my book, and taking care of 4 kids), so I’m not always available to engage in an hours long debate about whether someone is or isn’t “ethically vegan enough”, or whether a white ally is or isn’t a “true” ally, etc. I literally don’t have a budget to afford child-care from what I make, so I’m doing freelance work and giving talks to barely cover childcare, pay off $70,000 of student loans, children’s medical bills (Eva Luna’s broken arm was pricey this past spring while my oldest son’s ambulance bill that the insurance didn’t cover, has take me 2 years to pay off monthly). It’s stressful and exhausting.

On a similar note: I have mostly white social justice non-vegans, foodies, and or vegans and animal rights people who are better resourced, asking me for free labor— whether it’s to “pick my brain” for my “expert” knowledge or to interview me for a book they have with a major press or interview me for their documentary because they want an “intersectional” social justice/vegan represented. In case you didn’t realize this: you are asking me to consult for free. Please don’t paint it any other way or use manipulative language to make it appear that my free labor is something I should be thankful you asked me to give. If you don’t have upfront money, give me the option of equity in your project or company the way data scientists or full stack developers get when they initially help startups (eventually worth millions) in Silicon Valley.

A significant number of you either consciously or unconsciously don’t realize how little time I have or monetary compensation I get as a Black woman professional PhD doing anti-racism and social justice consulting, speaking, training, and writing. You realize that if I am in your project, it is major cultural capital for a majority of you to bank on within the trend of “intersectionality”– and without actually divesting in possessive investment in neoliberal capitalist whiteness system.  I only become visible and valuable if it fits into your plan to be more successful and carry a badge of being “progressive”, or “pro-intersectional” , or even a “feminist” and “anti-racist” advocate.

Thus far, within the context of the last paragraph, the majority of people asking me for this free labor are white— usually men (and please don’t start with me supposedly ‘attacking’ white men). There is a whole history behind this collective demographic who are generally constructed as “saviors” and “heroes” doing the ‘real work’ (White Savior Industrial Complex.  I think you may not realize that I am a BLACK WOMAN with CHILDREN and my labor and your labor , historically, have never been the same (Read here, here, here... and here). Please don’t ask me for free labor with the assumption that I have the same history as you. I literally work a triple work day as a [Black] mom, working for myself at the Sistah Vegan Project and Critical Diversity Solutions, nursing nonstop for 10 years, doing activism, etc. Few of you have any idea how damn hard it is to keep yourself alive, generate income, take care of domestic tasks and be the primary person who is supposed to keep young human children alive and as safe and happy as possible; Black women collectively work harder and get paid less. It’s labor and an embodied experience that most [white] men simply do not have (we’re talking facts here, not ‘attacking’ white men. Please, I ask again, don’t go there. No one says you don’t work hard, but historically, your ‘hard’ and my ‘hard’– and I speak collectively of Black women raising kids and working– are not the same, do not yield the same results, and are not valued the same way).

I am not a hero. I am not a guru. I am not an “all-knowing” expert. I am not “free labor”.

(P.S. It took me 2 hours to complete this post, trying nurse the baby, work on client projects in between, put out some fires trying to get the other 3 kids ready for school, etc, all while my 1.5 year old is sucking on my boob half the time because without childcare today, it’s the best way I can keep him calm and in my view while trying to work because it seems like he is cranky and probably coming down with a cold that the other 3 kids were fighting and getting over).


Dr. A. Breeze Harper is a senior diversity and inclusion strategist for Critical Diversity Solutionsa 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 know for 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 nominee for the Humane Party— the only vegan political party in the USA with focus on human and non-human animals.

The Ethicureans: Black Feminist PhD Mom, German Dad Physicist, and Their 4 Kids

 

I wanted to share information about my new series. I have been writing my academic book Black, Mama, Scholar: On Black Feminism, Food Ethics, and Motherhood which is due in 2019. Below is the side project that has come out of writing that book that you may find of interest.

“The Ethicureans” (Trailer) Description:

Coming Fall 2018/Winter 2019

Description: Black mom with a PhD in ethics, food, & Black feminism + German physicist dad with a penchant for mountaineering who used to be the chief data scientist for Impossible Foods. They have 4 kids. Adventures around travel, food, what is ethical, raising multi racial Black kids together, etc. They’ll be focusing on a lot including critical approaches to parenting and beyond. What is meant by “critical”? They will be discussing many topics such as systemic racism, camping and hiking (and why they rarely see more Black folk in national parks), ethical consumption and its limits in a neoliberal capitalist economy, traveling to different regions as a Black woman vs. White man and how race and gender impact that experience, talking to their children about racialized and gendered bullying, and how to hike a 14k+ foot mountain to the top with a 6 year old. Also, there are “lighter” topics like fun vegan places to eat and how to critically review a vegan product or service beyond asking questions like, “Was an animal harmed?” (i.e. “This was a great vegan cafe we ate at but the staff say the women endure sexual harassment all the time. Not a ‘cruelty-free’ environment!)  

Please subscribe to the YouTube channel if this is series you’d like to see and support!


Dr. A. Breeze Harper is a senior diversity and inclusion strategist for Critical Diversity Solutionsa 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 know for 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 nominee for the Humane Party— the only vegan political party in the USA with focus on human and non-human animals.

The Future is Vegan…(And Still A White Supremacist Racial Caste-Capitalist System)

Can I write a science fiction book based on the future? Like, can I write a book that shows a world that is entirely vegan and simultaneously still systemically oppresses human beings along the lines of race, class, and gender?

I think this book needs to be written. I can’t count how many times [mostly] white vegans make the claim that all other oppressions will end once the world is vegan.

I envision a futuristic world in which all animal consumption has been made illegal and there are still news headlines of disproportionate number of Black and brown folk in prison industrial complex, brown migrant laborers being exploited and abused to pick kale, strawberries, and tomatoes, and the majority of the world’s population still being food insecure (more due to political and economic strategies to keep them hungry and easily controllable).

I can easily envision non-human animals becoming ‘persons’ with equal rights and given the same status as [ white land owning men] while certain human beings are ‘animalized’ and placed in the role of sub-human who exist to make sure the vegan human ruling class remain happy ‘ethical’ vegans (but those words like ‘sub-human’ and ‘animalized’ can’t be used by ‘true’ vegans because it would be speciest, so other racially coded words would need to be used…kind of, racial dog whistle politics).

This would be such a dope book idea to counter the white vegan utopian fantasy that makes the claim that going vegan would magically make the world a peaceful place and that a few vegan sprinkles would abolish white supremacist racial caste system that is the USA. Such a system, in this futuristic novel, would enslave millions of non-white human beings to grow, harvest, and make the ‘pure’ foods that will help a ‘better’ class of human beings be ‘ethical’ and ‘moral’ in the USA (and maybe beyond?). This future would Incarcerate the poor and/or more black and brown people as free labor to create a world of easily accessible vegan commodities that are controlled by vegan corporations and politicians.

I think this could be a dope book. Or, at least a novella. I think the whole “going vegan” = “peace” needs to be unpacked because it’s not an easy binary to narrate. It’s complex and it’s used as a spiritual bypass by many [white] people who really think veganism is the only thing they need to practice to make the future “peaceful”.

I already wrote an entire dissertation that reflects this, so how do I use speculative fiction, critical animal studies, and the black radical tradition to tell that story? I think it would be a phenomenal social-fiction project to explore critical animal studies, critical whiteness studies, ethical consumption studies, and food studies.

P.S.: I know veganism isn’t only about eating vegan food, however, veganism is primarily enacted through vegan food consumption so that is why I focus on vegan food commodities in this post.


Dr. A. Breeze Harper is a senior diversity and inclusion strategist for Critical Diversity Solutionsa 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 know for 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 nominee for the Humane Party— the only vegan political party in the USA with focus on human and non-human animals.

Black Girl in the 1980s: On Drinking Cow Milk, Being Compared to Dog Poop, and Rural White New England

When you grow up in a town that had a lot of racism but also white community members who supported this little black girl turned woman. Growing up in rural white new England small town where my skin was compared to dog sh*t in elementary school, yet there were those like my white high school principal Mr. James McKenna , who fully supported my goals.  This was my Black girl experience in rural white america in the 1980s and 1990s in Lebanon CT. See below for more.


Dr. A. Breeze Harper is a senior diversity and inclusion strategist for Critical Diversity Solutionsa 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 know for 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 nominee for the Humane Party— the only vegan political party in the USA with focus on human and non-human animals.

Take a Break with Dirty Vegan Mom: A TextChat Play About Gummy Worms

Warning:  This video below is not appropriate for the workplace or kids. However, I thought I’d take a crack at comedy with my friend who co-wrote this below. It’s comedy around erotic candy, postulating if a white woman telling a Black woman “That’s the kettle calling the pot black” is ‘racist’, and what happens when holistic eating little kids end up eating 3 pieces of Smarties candies.
 
Everyone says I’m so “serious” and “academic”. Well, I can be funny too (I think), with the help of my friend. This was written by L. Quick and Amie Louise Harper (Me). Between the two of us, we have 8 kids, two husbands, and a gazillion companion animals. We have plenty of material for a series of funny SMS Fictional Plays based on the things that happen in our lives. The series is Kaila and Reese. This is the premiere episode.
If you like this, you can go here to subscribe to SlackerHacker Mom, a site about Black feminist mothering, with humor, satire, critical thinking and sometimes “seriousness” by yours truly, Dr. Amie Breeze Harper!
I also talk more about mothering in the “Backdrop” in the latest Buddhist magazine, Lion’s Roar: “Farts, Fanon, and Rainbow Boogers”.

6 Year Old Girl Climbs Mt. Whitney and Happens to Be Sistah Vegan’s Daughter

Eva Luna Harper-Zahn (6) at Mt. Whitney Summit , July 2018 (Photo Credit: Dr. Oliver Zahn)

My daughter is 6 years old and she just made it to the summit of Mt. Whitney in the USA. I believe she may be the youngest girl to have done this on record. Research shows that a six year old boy did it in 2016.

This is the tallest mountain in the contiguous USA at 14,505 feet. 22 miles, but the high elevation and thin air make it grueling and feel like twice as long. She persevered through altitude sickness. She woke up at midnight to start the ascent with headlamp and with her daddy and nine year old brother. It took them nine hours, half in the dark. I can’t emphasize enough, how much here older brother Sun Harper-Zahn (9 years old) delivered as “big brother”. Our 9 year old gave her continued support and encouragement to let her know that she can do it when she was trying to manage altitude sickness. My husband told me that Sun never complained and his words of encouragement were like “gold” to Eva Luna’s ears. Eva Luna didn’t do it alone, as her brother and papa were there to support her dream.

The next photo is she on my back while we hiked Yosemite when she was a baby. Learning about hiking all the time from our many adventures from Utah to Yosemite, and other places with great long trails. She thought it was normal that I had a 25lb baby on my back while hiking up mountains and other places for miles. My favorite was her on my back for ten hours while we hiked Bryce Canon in Utah when she was 8 months old.

Eva Luna on my Back when she is not quite 2 years old. Yosemite National Park 2013.

In that photo in 2013 I am pregnant with Kiki but trying to hide it. Luna sees me hiking while pregnant and saw me hiking while having Kiki on my back and pregnant with Miro (who was born in 2016). We have 4 kids now.

And her daddy is a mountaineer. It is part of our family culture. He was an amazing mentor and lead as he took Sun and Eva Luna to Whitney and handled business.

Eva Luna (6) and Sun (9) Starting the hike, July 2018 (Photo Credit: Dr. Oliver Zahn)
Descending Down Mt. Whitney, July 2018 (Photo Credit: Dr. Oliver Zahn)

On a side note, my husband posted about my daughter’s achievement and noted the significance of her being both a girl and Black and notice on Reddit how her gender isn’t a problem but my husband mentioning her racial identity becomes problematic. Everyone seems okay that my husband notes she is the youngest girl but when he also adds that she is a person of color, a significant number do not like that he said that…and there are quite a few who have to explain the history of race and racism and public spaces in the : USA: https://www.reddit.com/r/Mountaineering/comments/90ytba/my_6year_old_daughter_on_top_of_mt_whitney/

Paradigm Shift: From Fear of Racist Backlash to Opportunity for Transformative Justice Praxis

Two years ago, there was a pivotal moment in my antiracism and vegan scholarship/activist career. I was invited to speak at Whidbey institute on how to tackle the persistence of collective denial around systemic racism, antiblackness and white supremacist hate in its more covert forms. 

I was scared and couldn’t shift out of my current paradigm (core belief system) that was anchored on fear and doubt. I wanted to take the next step in my work by being more transparent and honest in my language but was held back by the belief that I couldn’t go to that event or it would be a disaster; nothing good would come out of it.

I called my twin brother to discuss, in a moment of panic and anxiety, convinced that I was going to cancel the event last minute, terrified what would happen even if I used the most compassionate and gentle language, rooted in my decade-long practice of Zen Buddhist pedagogies, to explain to the mainstream and mostly white population how even the best intentions, within animal advocacy, can have negative impact on racialized minorities if there is no understanding on how the current system of racial oppression operates in the United States. 

So my brother talked to me as a professional dedicated to deep therapeutic methods to help clients shift away from their fears and other internal narratives that often hold them back from their greatness. 

He helped me shift my paradigm and find the courage for me to renarrate and reprogram my paradigm of fear to paradigm of Hope and opportunity.

So I jumped on that plane and gave one of the best talks I have ever given, and left that fear and anxiety behind. The talk was epic and groundbreaking, helping many break out of their own fears around “what if I too, let go of my fears and truly be an antiracism activist and intervene when I witness racial injustice like antiblackness and white supremacy?” bell hooks ended up viewing the recording of my talk and was so inspired, she invited me to connect with her two years later and I did, in Kentucky. (I had never met her before but had become a black feminist scholar primarily through her fearless work , discovered 20 years earlier when I was a college student).

I invite you to “shift your paradigm” like I did, through my twin brother, Talmadge Harper. The only thing you will lose are fear and limitations. 

And here is the talk I gave that would not have happened without the shift of my paradigm:

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About Dr. A. Breeze Harper

Dr. A. Breeze Harper (Photo Credit: Sun Harper-Zahn)

Dr. A. Breeze Harper is a senior diversity and inclusion strategist for Critical Diversity Solutionsa 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 know for 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 nominee for the Humane Party— the only vegan political party in the USA with focus on human and non-human animals.

 

I’m Black and I Burn When it’s 67 Degrees: Blackness Card Rejected

I wrote this in 2012 but it might as well be 2018….

 

Pointing at my burned scabbing nose…blackness card revoked!

Seriously, what the hell?

Did my forehead just start peeling after basking in the North Berkeley sun for a mere 7 minutes?

What is the purpose of my brown skin’s melanin? I mean, “black don’t crack,” right? (Well, I think they probably mean that black folk aren’t supposed to show signs of aging, even if they’re like 105 years old)…. But maybe it means I am not supposed to crack and peel after being in the sun for 7 minutes during a 67 F day?

My mom used to joke all the time, while I was in high school, how I would not have made a ‘good’ field slave, on account that I simply couldn’t handle the sun. (Yes people, this is a joke).

So, it’s now that I must ruminate over whether or not I should be allowed to be called “black”; should my blackness card be revoked? If it takes me less than 10 minutes to burn in the sun when it’s only 67 F degrees and only 100 feet above sea level, with 35% humidity, then something has gone terribly wrong with my blackness. Over the past week, I have realized that despite having brown skin, my “cultural whiteness” has trumped my physiology.

(“Cultural whiteness”? Bare with me here….)

You know, “cultural whiteness”. I’m referring to when some stupid motherf*cker, usually a black person who thinks they are the epitome of “blackness” calls you an “Oreo” because you aren’t doing what black people are supposed to be doing. “Oreo” means you’re doing something that white folk normally do (and I guess that is by default, anti-blackness (?)). So, yesterday, I compiled a list of the top five things I have been doing, since I can remember, that have probably led me to burn in the sun, regardless of my golden brown skin tone that spray-on-tan queen Kim Kardashian would kill for.

(1) I did not attend an HBCU.(For you white folk who are like ‘huh?’, an HBCU is a historically black college or university. Don’t worry, I didn’t know what an “HBCU” was for months, upon hearing it when I was younger. Instead of asking a bonafide black person what it mean, I spent hours theorizing what that acronym could mean.)

Yup, I “sold out” and I attended Dartmouth College in the early nineties. I didn’t apply to any HBCUs (not because they were HBCUs but more because I wanted to stay in New England). I was excited about having being accepted into Smith College as well and was bummed that they didn’t offer enough financial aid for me to attend. Same with Tufts University. Loved it but it was too expensive and they didn’t offer enough. But Dartmouth did. You have to understand Dartmouth of the 90s. Uber conservative, heteronormative, dynastic elite white male privilege was what the campus climate was known for. I am pretty sure that this deeply damaged my melanin. I also developed the “sweet-itis”, which meant I was prefacing everything with “sweet!” I went from a regular Oreo to an Oreo Double Stuff!

(2) I stopped eating the ‘gospel bird’.

Yup, years ago I decided to transition into veganism. I shocked all my card carrying “I’m a bonafide black person” friends and family when I declared that I would no longer eat and poop out chicken (okay, I didn’t talk about what would be coming out of my butt… but butt hole jokes are just plain funny, in a junior high humor sort of way).  I also said ‘no’ to pork-rinds and also ‘no’ to being hip and cool like so many black folk I know who enjoy bragging about how many deep fried dead animals they overdosed on at a family bbq, and then excuse themselves to go take their high blood pressure medicine and insulin for their diabetes (which is apparently a true ‘marker’ of “I am black.” Well, at least that is what the medical reports of today talk about. You know, since a true black person doesn’t know how to eat ‘right’, is ‘obese’, and needs to be ‘educated’, usually by a white girl from the mid-west who is on a ‘mission’ to bring them ‘good’ food for her college internship).  My black folk also seemed rather fine about sitting out at family BBQs all day in the hot sun without even burning, cracking and peeling, so it must have been something in the gospel bird!

(3) I married a white dude.

And not just any ‘white’ dude but one of those European white dudes who is from Germany and has a doctoral degree in astrophysics. I knew I had made a mistake in performing my proper blackness when, upon hearing about my new financé, my grandmother made the comment, “I don’t know why she’s got to go and marry that white boy.” And it’s not like I got that “reminder” too late in life. I remember my Aunt who shall remain nameless (there are 5 of them so I am not giving it away) , telling my twin brother and I in high school that it was okay to date “them” but not to marry “them.” Had I taken heed earlier and found a true card carrying black man to marry, perhaps I would have reinvigorated my melanin and not burned in the sun in a rapid 9 minutes… even with SPF 30 on and a damn hat.

(4) My twin brother and I obsessed over and memorized all the songs to the musical The Sound of Music , starting in the sixth grade.

I sh*t you not. He and I spent hours and hours bouncing up and down, doing our own renditions of “Doe, a deer, a female deer. Re, a drop of golden sun.” We borrowed that VHS cassette from the Lebanon Town library a gazillion times. Or, if it were re-running on television, we’d be all excited about it. However, my twin does not burn in the sun. I think it’s because while we were in college, he wouldn’t admit that he liked or even knew the lyrics to that The Sound of Music, while I still proudly claimed that I did. He also listened to Sam Cook, John Coltrane, James Brown, DMX, and all the “how to be black and know your music” hits of the past century that I was clueless about because I was still obssesesing over my musicals, European classical music, and would quiver whenever I would hear a rap or hip hop song use the word “nigga” (which I later learned shouldn’t be confused with ‘nigger’) or “bitch”. I remember joining an a cappella group with all brown and black girls (and one token white girl named Stephanie) in college. They were excited about a new song we’d be doing. Our leader told us we’d be singing a New Edition song. I kept on asking, “A new edition of what!?” They laughed at me; one girl went up to me and tried to see if I had painted my brown arms by rubbing them, to verify if I was in fact a real black person. Amazingly, my brown skin did start smudging off… weird, no? The following week, The Fugees came to perform on campus and I kept on asking everyone, “What are the FUDGEES?” Yup, like a fudge-sicle…. go me, I’m so down…

(5) I had a mad crush on David Hasselhoff.

I’m not talking about David Hasselhoff during his Knight Rider days but more like his Bay Watch Days….Psych your mind! I’m just messing with you, I didn’t really have a crush on him (whistling to myself, eye averting to the ceiling).
So, today I am handing in my blackness card as I sit here with aloe on my burned and peeling nose, scratching away at my tender shoulders. I am not sure what new card I should be carrying…. but I am hoping this is a temporary situation, as I’ve paid $99.99 for a webinar to learn how to reclaim my blackness and put my melanin back into harmony again.
(Yea, I know people aren’t used to me being funny. So, in case you didn’t realize it, this was me joking around. It’s a fun twist on responding to the questions I have gotten from white folk: “Wait, black people can tan? Black people can burn?” and from bonafide black folk, “Are you a white girl dipped in chocolate or something?”)

When Talking About Racism is “Insulting”: Thoughts on My Animal Care Expo Keynote Talk

 

May 14, 2018 I gave the opening session keynote talk for the Animal Care Expo event in Kansas City MO, hosted by Humane Society of the United States. There were about 1400 in attendance. This was hosted by Humane Society of U.S. . I was told that I had been the first keynote lecturer who was non-white and the first to tackle the “taboo” subject of diversity, inclusivity, and equity. I also came at it from the black radical tradition . That means I presented how to think about animal advocacy within workplace culture and how it can (or cannot) be “inclusive” when we think about how anti-Blackness, white supremacy, and and consequences of ante-bellum slavery inform and influence consciousness/praxis— even in animal advocacy related sectors, such as dog rescue, vegan food companies, and being a Black veterinarian.

It was a challenging talk to give because these topics never really entered that space (so I was told). I ended up inspiring a lot but I also ended up angering quite a few people who walked out before I finished, upset that I was even talking about animal care and advocacy within the context of systemic racism, anti-Blackness, and living in a white settler nation (USA). A person who attended the talk, Tweeted me that they had walked out of the talk and said my “program” was “insulting.” I asked her to explain, but she never replied. This is not the first time, as during my last 15 years of doing this specific type of Black feminist engagement within animal rights, veganism, and similar, I have been constantly told by mostly white people that I am “divisive”, “white-hating”, “race-baiting”, or “angry Black woman” for engaging in the type of social justice and animal rights work that I do.

Also, when I talk about these subjects, I usually have at least several hours to convey the information. For the first time, I needed to compact it into 1 hour– and for a professional audience that was not necessarily used to these type of topics in the way that my primary audience is (which are usually institutions of higher learning or folk who are used to concepts like intersectionality or really seek solutions to addressing racial inequities within their work place, scholarship, etc).

I wrote/performed a new story I had specifically written for this talk in order to link that narrative to the concepts I introduced people to. Sometimes it is hard to understand critical theory or definitions around diversity, equity, inequity, exclusion, and inclusion when there are no tangible examples of how those concepts operate. This is “Lucy’s Family” and I will develop it into a novel and/or develop it into a longer piece that will be integrated into my latest book Black. Mama. Scholar.

I got a lot of positive responses, after the talk, indicating that this was a much needed conversation. I also heard that there were negative comments, ranging from the talk being “too academic” to “the story was too long”, to having “nothing to do with animal care”; not directly towards me, but I had heard it through the grapevine.  So, I’ll see what I can do to make my message even better… However, I’m not sure how to address those who were simply angry that I was talking about white supremacy, racism, and anti-blackness within animal advocacy. I don’t think there is a solution for that, no matter how “gentle” I talk about it, present it, etc.

**CORRECTION** In the talk I say that Petaluma is in Marin county but this is incorrect. It is in Sonoma County. My apologies.

**I had Power Points with quotes and other info, which makes the presentation easier to follow. The video recorders weren’t able to show that. I quoted from Edward Hubbard PhD and other folk when defining things and you can’t tell by seeing the video.

If you enjoyed Dr. Harper’s lecture and would like to invite her to speak at your event, school, or organization, please email her at bookbreezeharper@gmail.com


About Dr. A. Breeze Harper

Dr. A. Breeze Harper (Photo Credit: Sun Harper-Zahn)

Dr. A. Breeze Harper is a senior diversity and inclusion strategist for Critical Diversity Solutionsa 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 know for 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 nominee for the Humane Party— the only vegan political party in the USA with focus on human and non-human animals.

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