Diversity, Inclusion, and Opportunities: An Interview with Animal Charity Evaluators

[Updated May 23 2017, 17:30 PST]

The Sistah Vegan Project was excited to hear about the work Animal Charity Evaluators  (ACE) is doing in the animal advocacy world in terms of implementing new diversity initiatives. We decided to ask them a few questions about their organization, their new diversity and inclusion initiative, as well as telecommuting opportunities available at ACE– which is great for those of you seeking paid opportunities that focus on animal advocacy.

The mainstream animal advocacy movement continues to be homogenous and challenged by a climate and a collective perspective that creates exclusivity. As an organization that now recognizes this homogeneity (and to some degree their own unintentional collusion with this), ACE has decided to work on solutions– first by acknowledging that there is a problem and second by taking responsibility to self-reflect and act.

What are your names and what does ACE do?

Our names are Jon Bockman (Executive Director) and Toni Adleberg (Researcher), and we are co-workers at Animal Charity Evaluators, a charity that works to find and promote the most effective ways to help animals. We do this by conducting research to identify effective animal charities and interventions, and promoting our findings as free resources for all advocates.

ACE recently made a commitment to integrating diversity and inclusion into its culture. Can you talk more about this?

At many animal advocacy events, diversity can be the elephant in the room. At the Animal Rights Conference in 2016, David Carter gave a speech in which he told the audience to look around the room and count the number of Black people that we saw. He then asked how we expect to change the world for animals if we only direct our efforts to a very limited audience.

Most animal advocates support the idea of diversity and inclusion in theory, but we think that many of them fail to appreciate how much active work we have to do to achieve diversity and inclusion in the movement in practice. Animal advocates may reluctant to do this kind of work, because they worry that it would take resources away from animal advocacy and make it harder rather than easier to do the most good we can for nonhuman animals.

Knowing that we were positioned as a meta-charity that provides advice to animal advocates and charities, we decided that we were in a unique position to promote the value of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the movement. However, we also knew that we had a lot of learning to do on the subject, so we started doing more research in this area, and we also partnered with Critical Diversity Solutions so that they could advise us about how to implement positive changes at ACE and encourage positive changes in the movement as a whole.

What job opportunities are offered at ACE and how does this connect to your new diversity and inclusion initiative?

We have several job opportunities at ACE right now, and each of them have a connection to our diversity and inclusion initiative.

The Digital Media Manager will oversee our social media content, and thus have an opportunity to help ACE identify and share materials from a wide range of outlets. This work will help educate animal advocates as well as ACE itself on a number of important and neglected topics.

The Media Relations Specialist will coordinate with the media, which will allow us to build relationships with new contacts and outlets and share ideas about effective animal advocacy with them.

The Research Associate will be involved with crafting our research initiatives and conducting our annual charity evaluations. We are currently integrating considerations of diversity and inclusion into our evaluation criteria while improving our evaluation process in other ways as well, and this position would assist in those efforts.

Anything else you want to add?

ACE operates as a part of the animal advocacy movement and effective altruism movement. Both of these movements have problems with diversity and inclusion, and we want that to change. We understand that simply adding new faces to these movements will not be enough. We hope to see the animal advocacy and effective altruism movements incorporate new perspectives and world-views, and we hope to see people with marginalized identities better represented at every level in animal advocacy and effective altruist organizations.

Promoting diversity and inclusion is the right thing to do. We should be supporting other social movements for their own sake, whether or not we stand to benefit from doing so. That said, we do think that supporting other social justice movements will benefit the animal advocacy and effective altruism movements. Relatively diverse charities may develop more accurate world-views than less diverse charities by integrating a wide range of perspectives and experiences. On a practical level, as our movements become more diverse and inclusive, they will expand their reach, and thus, their impact.

However, we know that—even though promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion is the right thing to do—we may not be the right people to do it on our own. We are also cognizant of the fact that there are long-standing problems in this area that will not be fixed with a simple initiative. We are incredibly happy to be working with Critical Diversity Solutions to ensure that we are taking responsible measures to improve as efficiently as possible.

If people have questions about ACE and these new opportunities as well as your new diversity and inclusion initiatives, how can they reach you?

We would love to hear from you! You can find each of our emails on our team page, or you can contact Jon or Toni at their respective email addresses:


Critical Diversity Solutions is the diversity, equity, and inclusion consulting service that was founded by Dr. A. Breeze Harper of the Sistah Vegan Project. CDS looks forward to seeing how ACE will develop their new commitment to integrating diversity, equity, and inclusion into their culture.

Responding to Fear Through Killing vs. Compassion: The Crane Fly and the Three Year Old

 

My 3 year old was crying in the bathroom. She said there was a bee in the bathroom and she was scared of it. She said she hated it and it was going to hurt her. I informed her that this is not a ‘bee’. That it is not an ‘it’, but a living being.  At the time, I do not know what type of insect this is, but the insect looks like a very very big mosquito (which I later will learn is a Crane Fly). I know they are harmless… I explain to her that the insect must be really scared: “I mean, just imagine you are lost, away from home, from your family, and this huge being is hooting and hollering about how they are scared of you and want to squish you. I mean, how terrified would you be when all you want to do is find your family and friends and be safe again?”

A few minutes later, she comes to me, calmly and says, “Mama, I want to help the bug find his family.” This is a very very awesome thing for her to say, because since she was about 14 months old, she has always conveyed to me how she is scared of spiders and insects; ‘hates them’. And for nearly 2 years I have explained to her that you can’t go around scared and hating beings just because they ‘scare you’ or ‘look funny’. “It’s not the being’s problem that you have issues…and you shouldn’t try to stomp or kill the insect or spider unless they’re trying to hurt you” I would say (or similar).

It is hard for her to fully understand what I have been telling her for the last 2 years, and for her to put the philosophy into practice. We live in a US culture in which most children’s parents are telling them that if a bug or spider scares them, “kill ‘it'”. Many of the parents at the playground I have encountered do kill the bugs and spiders their children are hooting and hollering about. Dealing with one’s fear of another being that means them no harm, by “killing it”,  is cruel and problematic on many levels. This method does not teach children compassionate and critical engagement with the beings they share the planet with. And how does this rhetoric infiltrate how they engage with human beings they fear who mean them no harm?(i.e., cisgender kids who ‘fear’ children who are not cisgender, due to learning this rhetoric in a cissexist society, so their response may be to bully and harass these children they are taught to fear.)

Also, I have observed that it is mostly girls in the USA, who are taught to be scared of insects and arachnids and to not find anything worth learning about these beings. I’d even argue that this has been one of many ways to socialize cis-girls into “proper” girlhood (whereas cis-boys are socialized to not be scared of these little beings and/or expected to be ‘brave’ enough to kill them to impress girls or ‘save’ them from these little creatures = “proper” boyhood).

I am teaching my 3 year old (and other 3 kids) a way to interact with insects and spiders that my father taught me when I was a little girl (I talk about this in Sister Species). One day, I was about 9, and I had been hooting and hollering about a spider I wanted him to kill because I was scared of the little creature. He told me it wasn’t the spider’s problem that I was scared of them and that killing the spider as a solution to my issues was not going to solve the root of my problem; my fear. He had tried to teach me this for years, but for some reason, it resonated with me and it was an ‘a-ha’ moment. (It was the same year he was kind of pissed when he saw me deeply cutting into a tree in our yard, to peel its layers of bark off. He said something like, “What is wrong with you? That’s like peeling the skin off of you while you are alive. Would you like that?” The tree survived and is still in the yard with a deep scar– and I still feel like a fool and ashamed for having done something so ignorant and unmindful, whenever I see that scar, decades later. )

So, I am uber psyched that my 3 year old finally had an ah-ha moment and realized that this being should not be squished but that she should try to help them as much as she can.  We went through similar with our first born in 2014, and I talk about this in the blog post, “Mama, Do Police Eat Animals?”

Here are two excellent resources for children:

Humane Education (Teaching Kindness and Activism for Humans, Animals and the Environment)

Teaching Tolerance and Activism for Children in Regard to Human Beings


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.

SUPPORT THE SISTAH VEGAN PROJECT'S LATEST BOOK

[Video] Afrofuturism and Black Veganism: Towards a New Citizenship

The other month I attended the Whidbey Institute’s Intersectional Justice conference where I gave a talk about Uprooting White Fragility. Aph Ko also spoke and gave us holistic food for thought around moving beyond “intersectionality” into the realm of afro-futurism. Christopher Sebastian McJetters is the amazing moderator for the entire event. The video is below and I highly advise you watch it!

Aph Ko created Black Vegans Rock and co-blogs with her sister on Aphro-ism.


About Dr. A. Breeze Harper

Dr. A. Breeze Harper

Dr. A. Breeze Harper

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.

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 bookScars and on “Gs Up Hoes Down:” Black Masculinity, Veganism, and Ethical Consumption (The Remix) which explored how key Black vegan men us hip-hop methods to create “race-conscious” and decolonizing approaches to vegan philosophies.

BECOME A MONTHLY DONOR. THE SISTAH VEGAN PROJECT ALREADY HAS SEVERAL THOUSAND FOLLOWERS. JUST IMAGINE WHAT COULD BE ACCOMPLISHED IF HALF OR MORE FOLLOWERS PLEDGED $5-$15 PER MONTH.

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Intersectional Anti-Racism: The Myth of Happy Eggs, White Fragility, and Omnivorous Fragility in the Ethical Foodscape

Last week I gave this talk: Uprooting White Fragility: Intersectional Anti-Racism Within the Ethical Foodscape.

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This is the first time I have ever given a ethical food studies oriented workshop that builds on the work of Dr. DiAngelo, who coined the term white fragility.

White Fragility is basically the derailment of any action to confront white people about white privilege, the existence of a racial caste system,  or the existence of racism by invoking strong emotions and defensiveness– or just ‘being silently neutral’. It’s one of the biggest impediments in getting ‘non-racist’ white people to become true anti-racist allies. Read the whole article if you need to learn more.

I have written about white fragility and received hate, rage (when I wrote my Joel Salatin article and questioned the racist and sexist framing of ‘food and sustainability.’) However, last Friday was the first time I decided to go beyond research and writing about whiteness and offer a workshop with take away tools.

This was a great experience for me. There were about 30+ plus people who showed up from the Stanford  University community and surrounding areas. They enjoyed a catered meal from Veggie Grill. I always appreciate when I’m invited to speak and the catered meals are all vegan .

2 hours to give a workshop was certainly not enough time to talk about all the issues I wanted to, but it was more of a micro-workshop to get the ideas rolling. What I really wanted to emphasize during the workshop was that I am planting “seeds” as tools to use in creating intersectional approaches to anti-racism in the ethical foodscape (and beyond).

Intersectional anti-racism means attempting to become anti-racist activists without replicating other ‘isms’ (i.e., make sure one’s framing of anti-racism doesn’t perpetuate cissexism, ableism, etc).  I wanted to make sure that folk knew the basic racial concepts and terminology, so, I supplied a definitions sheet that explained these ideas as well as an explanation of the disciplinary studies/tools/methods that unpack them (i.e. defining racism, non-racist, and critical race feminism). I also asked folk to think about the impact systems of oppression have had on not only shaping our social identities (race, class, gender, age, ability, etc), but how most of us are unaware of how our unconscious bias around such social identities shape how we frame “ethical foodscape”; well, how we frame everything. I was not so much concerned about conscious bias as much as unconscious and its unintended consequences; even amongst those of us who think we are ethical food activist. I said, “If you don’t know you have unconscious bias and you are in a privileged social location, you will end up having negative impact by default.” I explained that for years I didn’t know I was cisgender woman with cisgender privilege, so my framing of veganism was cissexist, and though not intentional, had negative impact on transgender and gender non conforming people. Unconscious bias is very powerful. I explained how the original Sistah Vegan book and early years of my blog was framing vegan as cissexist and of course this was exclusionary and taught other cisgender identified women and men how to replicate this exclusionary vegan praxis (unintentionally, but still, it has negative impact and that is the point!).

At the end of the workshop, even though I wanted more time to explore these questions, I asked folk to talk about how and why they intervene when white fragility takes place within spaces of ethical consumption (and beyond). “What do you do when white people start talking about how they are uncomfortable, their emotions are hurt, become angrily defensive?” I wanted them to take away the idea that compassionately understanding the roots of white fragility is important, but also assertively intervening and calling white people out on that behavioral pattern is essential. I also made it clear that white people and non-white people have difference of safety when ‘intervening’- that for white people, it may just be ‘safer’ to intervene as opposed to non-white people, simply because white people are more open to, and less ‘scared’ to listen to white people, than a non-white person calling them out on their unconscious bias/unconscious racism. I asked about safety and implied that that, in itself, can be a privilege. We also brought up the dynamic of when it is appropriate to ‘intervene’ and how do you know it would not jeopardize your job (i.e., you could be a white person who has a boss in a food organization that enables white fragility, but you don’t know if you can say anything without losing your job; maybe your dissertation advisor enable white fragility and you can’t really say anything about it because of that power dynamic.)

The most memorable moment for me, during the workshop, was when a new graduate student from China approached me and asked me what was up with veganism and why vegans do not eat eggs, “Even if that animal isn’t killed.” In a brief minute, I explained to her the murder of tens of thousands of baby chickens (being ground alive, being suffocated, etc.) and the hell life that hens go through. Her response, “Why don’t more people know about this!? Everyone should know about this because I didn’t know about this. This should be part of basic education.”  I responded, “Because it’s too profitable for an animal-centric agricultural economy. You can’t sell the truth. You can’t put the photo of baby chickens being ground alive on an egg carton and expect people to buy it. You have to sell people the myth that that animal is ‘happy’. ( I wrote about this last year)” .

The mini-workshop, I hope, helped people realize not just  how white fragility operates, but also how omnivorous fragility operates (i.e. the fragile and hyper defensive responses from omnivores who have the privilege to access a vegan diet but decide to believe that narrative of ‘happy meat’ or ‘happy eggs’ despite the research showing otherwise or despite asking themselves if they’d really be ‘happy’ if they knew they’d eventually be slaughtered).  This is only a beginning…. this white supremacist racial caste system took 500 years to build, so I don’t expect a workshop to dismantle that over night (or even in my lifetime).

I will be doing more Uprooting White Fragility workshops and talks throughout the next year. Check my speaking schedule below.

If you’d like to have me come and give a talk or workshop on this subject matter or something similar, contact me at bookbreezeharper@gmail.com . My speaking schedule is below, via Google Calendar.


Dr. A. Breeze Harper
Dr. A. Breeze Harper

About Dr. A. Breeze Harper

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.

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 us hip-hop methods to create “race-conscious” and decolonizing approaches to vegan philosophies.

BECOME A MONTHLY DONOR. THE SISTAH VEGAN PROJECT ALREADY HAS SEVERAL THOUSAND FOLLOWERS. JUST IMAGINE WHAT COULD BE ACCOMPLISHED IF HALF OR MORE FOLLOWERS PLEDGED $5-$15 PER MONTH.

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The Prop of Black People in White Self-Perceptions: Revisiting the Slavery Comparison (Guest Post: Christopher Sebastian McJetters)

 Guest Post From Christopher Sebastian McJetters (December 28, 2015)prop (2)

For the past week, I have been following discussions in different spaces where white vegans are arguing about what I suppose is their inherent ‘right’ to appropriate slavery in order to further the narrative of animal rights. And yes, the vegans in question are almost ALWAYS white. That alone should tell us a lot. But unfortunately it doesn’t.

Let me share an experience from my own life that might explain why this is problematic. This past summer, I was with a very progressive white vegan and his family. An opportunity arose for him to bring up veganism again in front of his mother. I can’t remember what it was. A news story perhaps where she expressed some empathy for an individual animal or something like that.

Anyway, seizing upon that opportunity, the slavery comparison came out of his mouth. For a brief moment, nobody said anything. None of the three of us. We just sat there in his mother’s kitchen. And then she suddenly started falling all over herself. Handling objects, moving things around, cleaning furiously, with a worried frown on her face. She just kept muttering overe and over about slavery. “What does slavery have to do with anything? Why would he even say that? What kind of a person does he think I am? I would never support slavery!”

And it eventually dawned on me that all of her fretfulness had to do with me. Me. As author Claudia Rankine would say, I was a black object immediately thrown against a stark white background. I was a prop in a discussion between two white people — one white person who was looking to use a history of blackness to make another white person understand a point he wanted to drive home and another white person who was deeply invested in not seeming racist.

In truth, this discussion stopped being about the animals. In fact, it might never have been about animals at all. It was about whiteness. Neo-liberal white guilt on the part of my friend. And white fears on the part of his mother. They had centered their white feelings to the detriment of the animal victims involved. And there, for all the world, sat me. With my own history laid bare and a voyeur to a scene where everyone was desperately uncomfortable with my presence.

And this isn’t an isolated incident. This is what it often means to use slavery in the context of animal rights. His mother didn’t have his foundational comprehension of critical race theory. She didn’t share any knowledge of intersectional feminism or have a context of power, oppression, and privilege. She’s a homemaker. A woman who was raised in the bosom of capitalist patriarchy in the United States and who worshiped at the altar of American Exceptionalism. She had no understanding about the reality of animal slavery whatsoever. All she knew in that moment was that she didn’t want to be racist. And in dealing with her white fragility, this conversation threatened her self perception.

Yes, there are times when the slavery discussion is productive. I don’t disagree with that. But overall, this is what we’re looking at. This is the reality of introducing slavery. It can help. It can be useful. But the dangers of letting the discussion center whiteness are very real. And don’t even get me started on how whiteness invokes slavery when having this discussion with black nonvegans. It’s nothing short of emotional blackmail. And emotional blackmail is one of “the master’s tools” as Audre Lorde is famously quoted as saying.

For the record, I also keep hearing white vegans say that the animal rights community is unfairly singled out when making comparisons to human rights. But that criticism is also untrue. In the past decade, we’ve watched queer activists fetishize American blackness to win human rights for the queer community. Some people here might even recall The Advocate magazine famously ran a cover with the headline “Gay Is The New Black?” and black Americans everywhere doubled over with laughter.

This isn’t to say that queer persons don’t experience discrimination or are not meaningfully oppressed. We are! But to compare queerness to blackness is (bluntly stated) insulting. And I say this AS a queer black U.S. American. The ways in which I am oppressed based on my queer identity compared to how I am oppressed based on my black identity aren’t even in the same ballpark. And as with animal rights issues, blackness was (and is) left once again worse off than before (see: police violence). Meanwhile, white (and largely male) gays are victoriously picking out China patterns for their weddings.

And we see this reproduced over and over again in white feminism when celebrities like Patricia Arquette andNancy Lee Grahn behave as if black people either owe white women something or opportunities for black people are equal across racial lines.

Basically what we’re looking at is a pattern whereby blackness is used and commodified at different times and by different groups to further an agenda without offering any type of real solidarity on black issues. And if animal rights doesn’t address this, our activism will be no different.

I have said repeatedly (and still maintain) that I don’t think the language of slavery should be entirely abandoned or that certain people are forbidden to use it. Some resources like Marjorie Spiegel’s classic The Dreaded Comparison make these connections respectfully and forcefully without compounding racial aggressions. Three tips for how to be a good ally against racism and speciesism:

1.) Stop being too liberal with how we apply such incendiary language, and learn to employ better sensitivity and discernment when approaching these discussions.

2.) Amplify the voices of marginalized people who talk about these issues themselves instead of appropriating their histories or experiences to further our agendas. Noble though your intentions may be, what does it say about your activism if you need to say incendiary things when you don’t have those experiences?

3.) Make an attempt to understand how layered oppressions impact different groups to maximize our impact and build a broader, more inclusive community.


Learn more about the guest author Christopher Sebastian McJetters.

 

This is the Impact Gary Francione and Ruby Hamad’s ‘Moment in Time’ Had on My Engaged Buddhist Practice

[Updated Monday Dec 21, 21:20 PST]

 

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I posted the above last night on Facebook and, at first, was most interested in the focus on my first pregnancy from 2008. At first I was thinking about how a person’s body has frequently been used as a site of ‘moral baseline’ when they are pregnant ( say ‘person’ because not all human persons who are pregnant identify as a cisgender woman). I could go into this in more detail, but I am not going to spend time on that. Instead, I wanted to reflect a little differently on my post above from Dec 20 2015 to talk about the impact Francione’s article had on me (which was impacted by Hamad’s article) and my developing practice of engaged Buddhism  which my anti-racism and Ahimsa are rooted in.

I’m not hurt or traumatized by how Francione is using my work and talking about my lecture or using my pregnancy as an example to explain his moral baseline; I say this first because of how many people contact me about how ‘bad’ Francione is. Secondly, I have written and lectured about, plenty of times, that my 2nd and 3rd pregnancies were vegan. Also, since the last few years, I have offered several vegan pregnancy webinars. I have also publicly spoken about how much my own confidence improved once I was pregnant the second time around and found more support around de-programming my mind. I needed to decolonize/deprogram my mind around “proper omnivorous dietary pre-natal nutrition to not harm your baby” ideologies so deeply entrenched in USA society that I had clearly internalized. I was not scared to openly speak about these conflicts, knowing full well that a lot of pregnant people trying to practice veganism, had gone through or were currently going through similar.
To my fans: No defense of my work needed or labeling Francione as ‘bad’ (or other language that has been used that I won’t repeat). For me, these responses, though well intended, are not in the spirit of the Ahimsa I personally practice. More or less, I am sincerely curious about how these things transpire; the amount of energy and effort expended. For the most part, when these situations transpire, I try to practice this current mantra that I’m continuing to develop:

I can only do my best.

Try to be as mindful as possible with the understanding that that is no ‘guarantee’ in preventing negative impact.

Instead, be open to and learn from that unintended impact.

Understand the impact my ignorances will have.

And not be so focused on pleasing everyone.

Accept how my privileges have negative outcomes if I can’t acknowledge them or consciously dismantle the system that keep them in place.

Be compassionate to myself and to those who experience me as ‘the enemy’.

Be dynamic and non-fundamentalist.

Try not to have reactive responses or be so quick to ‘prove’ how ‘right’ I am and how ‘wrong’ everyone else is.

Keep on working towards what types of actions are needed to create a world with the least amount of suffering.

 
I know many folk are quick to call someone out as ‘bad’, ‘evil’, ‘horrible’, but I’m not really interested so much in labeling people ‘bad’, ‘good’, ‘moral’, ‘immoral’, as much as i’m interested in how it comes to be that individuals can be so confident that their ‘way’ is the moral baseline (whether vegan or not) ; especially when they have only had the embodied experience of their self and haven’t had the chance of ‘being’ the millions of humans who came before or the billions who are in existence now. I’m not actually targeting Francione; I’m speaking about most human beings who firmly believe that their way is the right and only way. We all have done it/do it. But are we mindful of it and actively trying to not repeat it?
 
And then throw social media in as a ‘medium’ for [mis]communication, and wow! It gets tough.
 
If I spent all my time defending myself, that is all I’d be doing. Francione thinks a certain way and I can’t control the impact; I can’t control how he received what I do. I can’t let myself become emotionally and physically unwell from the potential stress that this may cause, along with all the other folk who interpret my work the way they do (remember, I always get anger, vitriol, even death threats from mostly white people who don’t like what I have written and can’t or won’t spend my time consumed with it).  
 
I can learn from all of these moments, whether I agree or not, and know I have learned that this person (Francione) uses my work in the way that they do; that there are many who support him and many who do not for various reasons I can’t control. The creation of Hamad and Francione’s essays have allowed me to learn a little more about them, but also learn how the dynamics of race, gender, whiteness, ethics, play out  in a system (here in the USA) that generally privileges white able-bodied cisgender men.
 
I also don’t know Francione and he doesn’t know me; I don’t have an intimate relationship with him (and by intimate, I don’t mean romantic; I mean I don’t have a deep friendship developed over time and trust). What he ‘knows’ is what he has experienced from my blog or lectures (which are videos on my blog). Those are ‘pieces of Breeze’s work’, but not the entirety of Breeze. It doesn’t reflect that Breeze, like all humans, is always transforming, growing, on a continuum to reach some ‘moral baseline’ that will probably always be dynamic and most likely not come from the taken for granted lineage of ‘Eurocentric cisgender men’s canon of morality’ that philosophy in the USA (Academe, at least) is rooted in as ‘common sense’.
Also, I find it pointless to jump on the bandwagon of anti-Francione or pro-Francione, and then start bashing or uplifting Francione. A lot of people do this, but I honestly am not interested. I don’t know how such actions create compassion, solidarity, love and how I personally engage with the concept of Ahimsa. A lot of people take screenshots of certain people or organizations that supposedly ‘bash’ me or simply disagree with me. Although I appreciate folk making me aware of this, I can’t really do much about how I am received; I can’t spend all my time responding to every screen shot that ‘captures’ a moment in time of how someone may not like me (or also may idolize me). I am more concerned about the impact and dangers of doing both, though I know these screen shots are sent to me with the best intentions: Remember, they are moments in time and don’t necessarily define or represent the entire human being that that action is coming from, historically, in the present, or in the future. 
 
I think there is a danger in taking something out of context, and from one point in time, to ‘prove’ that this is how this person is ALL THE TIME. Please note, I’m not fundamentalist about this belief, as I know there are certain situations when it is more clear that a particular ‘captured’ action in that moment in time is a red flag (and still, that is often difficult to decipher) that needs to have some mindful and strategic intervention.
In terms of taking something out of context or from a single point in time to ‘prove’ how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ something is…. We have all done this before (me too) and often don’t realize that people are dynamic, and what one says or does on March 5 at 6pm in 1976 doesn’t mean that that is how they define their entire existence, how they were in the past, or how they will be in the future. I am more interested in the overall timeline of one’s consciousness, life, actions, and what patterns I do or do not see, what hints of potential change and room for growth I see, and what it could mean for the future of contributing to the alleviation of suffering and pain; what can I learn from it, whether I agree or not? 
 
So, what I mean is that I like to experience people over time, experience how they may or may not have changed, how their social locations impact that change, etc. I read works from my favorite folk and it’s clear that what they said, did, thought, etc 50 years go, changed, evolved, etc 10 years later, then 10 years later again, etc. To pinpoint one part of body of work without context and then to not bring in the grace and compassion to understand that humans are dynamic creatures on a continuum of consciousness raising and growing is a challenge for most of us to overcome, in my humble opinion– especially when we are speaking from a social location of power and privilege and fear that loss of the power and privilege. 
 
Also, for context, I come from the spiritual practice and training of engaged buddhism, influenced by Zen Buddhism. Ruby Hamad and Gary Francione, I just wanted to let you know that this blog post is the impact both of you have had on my developing practice of engaged Buddhism and Ahimsa; these  are ‘central’ to my personal ‘moral baseline’ [that will always be on a continuum]. I appreciate it, because what it has done is allowed me to practice responding to actions and impact and not necessarily ‘take the bait’ or be ‘ensnared’ into trying to defend myself or prove myself all the time; it’s teaching me to understand the difference between responding to an individual vs. understanding actions and their impact.
I think for me, most importantly, it’s taught me how much fear plays into why so many of us respond in individual attack (consciously or not) if or when our privileged social locations are questioned. Fear + being in a privileged social location + anxiety around losing that privilege and power (conscious or not)  is real and its negative impact is significant. (Fear + being subjugated by those in a privileged social location + anxiety and suffering around being hurt by that person  in a privileged social location from benefiting from systemic oppression is real and I am not ignoring that. The latter is a very different dynamic than the former).  I am still working very hard on how to respond to the former. I attempted to do similar a few months ago (though not perfect example) in a different situation, when trying to understand how fear and hurt emotions from someone in a privileged social location, potentially impacted a response that intended to be rational
To those who are reading this blog post:

What are your thoughts on Ruby Hamad’s letter and Francione’s response?

What was the immediate impact this ‘moment in time’ had on you?

Can you speculate what the long-term impact could be?

Is there a way to answer the questions above that I am asking without instantly labeling each individual who wrote their articles as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but talking more about how they ‘frame’ it within particular systems of [human] based power and privilege (or lack there of)?  

Is there a way to engage and answer with compassion and unconditional love, with mindful critique and appreciation– even if you don’t agree with me, Hamad, and or Francione?

Or, is that request too traumatizing and triggering for many of you because of the negative impact Francione’s actions may have had on you? I asked this last question because I got a lot of posts on FB and private communication from people that explained the negative impact Francione’s actions have had on them. 


About the Author and The Sistah Vegan Project

Dr. A. Breeze Harper
Dr. A. Breeze Harper

Dr. Harper currently manages the Staff Diversity Initiative’s Multicultural Education Program at UC Berkeley and is the founder of the Critical Diversity Solutions. Check her profile out on LinkedIn. Inquire about Dr. A. Breeze Harper lecturing or giving a workshop at your organization, school, or business. Find out how you can donate to the Sistah Vegan Project.

(UPDATED) The [White Savior] Elephant in the Room: Ally Theater, Savior Complex, and Speaking for ‘The Other’

[THIS POST IS UPDATED FROM YESTERDAY. I DIDN’T KNOW I HAD PUBLISHED AN EARLIER VERSION WHICH LEFT OUT PATTRICE JONES’ WORK]

Ally Theater (2)

[Note: Christopher Sebastian McJetters is a Black and vegan man who approaches non-human animal compassion activism with anti-racist and decolonial frameworks.]

Years ago (but post-2000), my friend, a person from Africa ( I won’t be too specific to protect their identity) was studying at UC Berkeley as an Anthropology doctoral student. They told me that they saw a disturbing poster in their Anthropology department. The poster had the images of indigenous African people and gorillas, with the question, “Who will speak for them?”

They were appalled, but certainly not surprised; the traditional discipline of Anthropology in the USA was fundamentally a white colonialist/imperialist project: on many levels, that poster reflected that continuing tradition, whether intentional or not (because it’s all about impact and not intentions). My friend wrote on a public forum about the experience:

The now infamous Gorilla poster is wrong on so many levels; however, my initial views concerning the poster’s phrases and imagery straddled the line between applauding the conservationism and masking my embarrassment over the overt paternalism inherent in the question: “Who will speak for them?”

Did it occur to the creators of the poster that they (meaning the “Indigenous people”) could speak for themselves? That rather than speaking for someone they could act as allies transmitting their message to areas they cannot reach, if in fact they are incapable of reaching such areas on their own?

Despite being bothered by the line, I wasn’t the least bit shocked by the poster. I’m kinda used to encountering that line of thinking, even at Cal. This type of conditioning results from a life time of hearing, seeing, and reading others act as if they can speak on my “Indigenous” behalf in the way that parents do for their children.

P.D.
It didn’t occur to me that the poster’s content could be interpreted as comparing Sub-Saharan Africans to Gorillas. The notion that some groups of people are “monkey-like” is not universal and certainly not an a priori form of perception and understanding. Sadly, some of the people making such comparisons will do so regardless of reason and truth. We can just work to ensure that that crowd becomes (or remains) a minute minority that doesn’t perpetuate its perspective

(Source: http://savageminds.org/2012/03/04/a-plea-for-anthropology/)

Though savior complex and ally theater are not limited to white people, I am focusing more or less on white savior complex within the USA. This is because a significant number of POC (vegan and non-vegan) experience ‘post-racial’ white people involved in animal rights (and other spaces) as being on a mission[ary] to be their allies save them. But, these “saviors'” are collectively ignorant about a centuries old history of [white] savior complex and have not engaged in any self-interrogation about its impact on how they both relate to non-white people and non-human animals…and how that, in turn, racializes and socializes them into whiteness.

And by ‘save them’, I mean the goal is to save the collectivity of POC from their perspectives that are so centered on anti-racism (which is read as “irrational and distracting” by the collectivity of white animal rights/vegans). POC must be saved and taught that non-human animals come first while issues around race and whiteness are not only secondary, but divisive and distracting.

However, veganism and animal rights are not the only spaces in which [white] savior complex and speaking for the ‘other’ can happen. White anti-racist and vegan activist pattrice jones’ recent book Oxen at the Intersection, critically analyzes the impact of white supremacist and ableist logic in terms of speaking for ‘the animals’. The book narrates the story of two oxen at a Vermont College, Bill and Lou, that focuses on locavorism and ‘traditional’ pre-industrial use of non-human animals. Even though there is a lot going on in her brilliant book, I can’t emphasize enough how students, staff, and faculty at Green Mountain College felt compelled to speak for the oxen through their white supremacist and speciesist imagination of how the oxen can ‘best’ serve the mostly white bodied campus. They ‘saved’ the oxen from having ‘meaningless’ lives by forcing them into a life of servitude and being part of a nostalgic white pre-industrial agricultural narrative…nothing short of the ‘noble savage’ narrative applied to the non-human animals who cannot speak for themselves or have their own agency to determine if they even want to be part of this white bygone-era farming narrative.

As I read the book, I couldn’t help but get the sense that collectively, these people who wanted to decide the fate of Lou and Bill considered themselves non-human animal allies. These ‘good allies’ were teaching Bill, Lou, and other non-human animals how to make a mostly white campus look ‘ethical’ and ‘holier than thou’ when it comes to sustainability and creating a better food system.  The ‘white innocence’ agricultural narrative and image, depended on how this pro-locavore white Green Mountain College community spoke for these animals as both their ‘allies’ and their saviors– whether Bill and Lou truly benefited or not (which isn’t really the point; branding a white dominated college in white dominated Vermont as the symbol of white ethical practices around farming and food is the point).   (Click on title below for more info)

51J1xYzcGNL._SL1025_

So, now that you’ve read this post, here are some questions below (but don’t feel limited by them).

  1. What was your initial reaction after reading the quotes?
  2. Have you ever engaged in ally theater or savior complex?
  3. Were you ever called out because you were engaging in ally theater or savior complex behavior, and if so, how did you respond?
  4. If you identify as white, have you every leveraged ‘being an ally’ or savior  for non-white folk and/or non-human animals to show how you are ‘one of the good whites’? (You may not even be conscious of having done so)

Thanks Christopher Sebastian McJetters for starting this conversation and giving me permission to post. Thanks pattrice jones for your amazing book.


About the Author and The Sistah Vegan Project

Dr. A. Breeze Harper
Dr. A. Breeze Harper

Dr. Harper currently manages the Staff Diversity Initiative’s Multicultural Education Program at UC Berkeley and is the founder of the Critical Diversity Solutions. Check her profile out on LinkedIn. Inquire about Dr. A. Breeze Harper lecturing or giving a workshop at your organization, school, or business.

The [White Savior] Elephant in the Room: Ally Theater, Savior Complex, and Speaking for ‘The Other’

Ally Theater (2)

[Note: Christopher Sebastian McJetters is a Black and vegan man who approaches non-human animal compassion activism with anti-racist and decolonial frameworks.]

Years ago (but post-2000), my friend, a person from Africa ( I won’t be too specific to protect their identity) was studying at UC Berkeley as an Anthropology doctoral student. They told me that they saw a disturbing poster in their Anthropology department. The poster had the images of indigenous African people and gorillas, with the question, “Who will speak for them?”

They were appalled, but certainly not surprised; the traditional discipline of Anthropology in the USA was fundamentally a white colonialist/imperialist project: on many levels, that poster reflected that continuing tradition, whether intentional or not (because it’s all about impact and not intentions).  My friend wrote on a public forum about the experience:

The now infamous Gorilla poster is wrong on so many levels; however, my initial views concerning the poster’s phrases and imagery straddled the line between applauding the conservationism and masking my embarrassment over the overt paternalism inherent in the question: “Who will speak for them?”

Did it occur to the creators of the poster that they (meaning the “Indigenous people”) could speak for themselves? That rather than speaking for someone they could act as allies transmitting their message to areas they cannot reach, if in fact they are incapable of reaching such areas on their own?

Despite being bothered by the line, I wasn’t the least bit shocked by the poster. I’m kinda used to encountering that line of thinking, even at Cal. This type of conditioning results from a life time of hearing, seeing, and reading others act as if they can speak on my “Indigenous” behalf in the way that parents do for their children.

P.D.
It didn’t occur to me that the poster’s content could be interpreted as comparing Sub-Saharan Africans to Gorillas. The notion that some groups of people are “monkey-like” is not universal and certainly not an a priori form of perception and understanding. Sadly, some of the people making such comparisons will do so regardless of reason and truth. We can just work to ensure that that crowd becomes (or remains) a minute minority that doesn’t perpetuate its perspective

(Source: http://savageminds.org/2012/03/04/a-plea-for-anthropology/)

Though savior complex and ally theater are not limited to white people, I am focusing more or less on white savior complex within the USA. This is because a significant number of POC (vegan and non-vegan) experience ‘post-racial’ white people involved in animal rights (and other spaces) as being on a mission[ary] to be their allies save them. But, these “saviors'” are collectively ignorant about a centuries old history of [white] savior complex and have not engaged in any self-interrogation about its impact on how they both relate to non-white people and non-human animals…and how that, in turn, racializes and socializes them into whiteness.

And by ‘save them’,  I mean the goal is to save the collectivity of POC from their perspectives that are so centered on anti-racism (which is read as “irrational and distracting” by the collectivity of white animal rights/vegans). POC must be saved and taught that non-human animals come first while issues around race and whiteness are not only secondary, but divisive and distracting.

However, veganism and animal rights are not the only spaces in which [white] savior complex and speaking for the ‘other’ can happen. White anti-racist and vegan activist pattrice jones’ recent book Oxen at the Intersection, critically analyzes the impact of white supremacist and ableist logic in terms of speaking for ‘the animals’. The book narrates the story of two oxen at a Vermont College, Bill and Lou, that focuses on locavorism and ‘traditional’ pre-industrial use of non-human animals. Even though there is a lot going on in her brilliant book, I can’t emphasize enough how students, staff, and faculty at Green Mountain College felt compelled to speak for the oxen through their white supremacist and speciesist imagination of how the oxen can ‘best’ serve the mostly white bodied campus. They ‘saved’ the oxen from having ‘meaningless’ lives by forcing them into a life of servitude and being part of a nostalgic white pre-industrial agricultural narrative…nothing short of the ‘noble savage’ narrative applied to the non-human animals who cannot speak for themselves or have their own agency to determine if they even want to be part of this white bygone-era farming narrative. (Click on title below for more info)

51J1xYzcGNL._SL1025_

So, now that you’ve read this post, here are some questions below (but don’t feel limited by them).

  1. What was your initial reaction after reading the quotes?
  2. Have you ever engaged in ally theater or savior complex?
  3. Were you ever called out because you were engaging in ally theater or savior complex behavior, and if so,  how did you respond?

Thanks Christopher Sebastian McJetters for starting this conversation and giving me permission to post. Thanks pattrice jones for your amazing book.


About the Author and The Sistah Vegan Project

Dr. A. Breeze Harper
Dr. A. Breeze Harper

Dr. Harper currently manages the Staff Diversity Initiative’s Multicultural Education Program at UC Berkeley and is the founder of the Critical Diversity Solutions. Check her profile out on LinkedIn. Inquire about Dr. A. Breeze Harper lecturing or giving a workshop at your organization, school, or business.

Revisiting ‘All Lives Matter’ as a Racial Micro-Aggression Amongst [Mostly] White ‘Post-Racial’ Vegans in the USA

I wrote this post below at the beginning of January 2015, but I would like to repost this again after reading Lauren Ornelas’ November 2015 postMy Scariest Halloween: Racism at an animal rights protest.


Originally written January 2015

A protestors sign from the January 3 2015 event.

Dear Post-Racial White Vegans:

This is not the first time I have had to sit down and write a letter to the collectivity of you who continue to be post-racial/post-human, yet benefit from systemic racism and white supremacy while simultaneously making claims like “stop playing the race card” or “I don’t see race.” Most recently, with the Black Lives Matter movement, I have gotten a significant number of white vegans responding to the theme of my conference with, “Everyone Matters” or “All Lives Matter”.  The theme of the 2015 conference is 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). And for some reason, this upset some of you. Maybe you do not know it, but saying things like “All Lives Matter” or “Everyone Matters” are actually called racial micro-agressions and really don’t help with our collective struggle with racial battle fatigue.  Please revisit this concept of Ahimsa and extend it to all human animals as well and not get so defensive when a Black feminist vegan scholar with a doctorate in critical studies of food and race, organizes a vegan conference with Black Lives Matter in the title. By the way, in 2005 when I did a Call for Papers for the groundbreaking book Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health and Society (Lantern Books 2010), I got similar racial microaggressions from white vegans committed to ending cruelty against non-human animals. As a matter of fact, in 2007, I wrote an award winning Harvard Masters Thesis about the verbal violence spewed when I did this call for papers on a vegan forum. Essentially, Sistah Vegan call for papers said “black womyns lives matter within vegan praxis” and it didn’t sit well with many of the white vegans on that forum.

When you say “All Lives Matter”, what you most likely mean is the following:

Well, what about me? My whiteness is reality and has always been center [but I have been dysconsciously aware of its racist implications until now]. Since Black Lives Matter has infiltrated my Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and tumblr worlds, my unacknowledged privilege, my unacknowledged white socio-spatial epistemological narrative of the world, and my addiction to neoliberalism (i.e. proclaiming we live in a ‘post-racial world’) have all been called out. Revealed is  that I literally am in collusion with maintaining economies of whiteness (i.e. systemic racism, neoliberalism, and anti-blackness)… Ok, I’ll try not to panic (trying to breath and not appear too nervous). I’ll just keep on saying ‘All Lives Matter’ or ‘Everyone Matters’ [so I can shift the lens back onto me, pretending] to show I am in solidarity with all suffering beings and that I’m ‘beyond race’ since I know we all suffer; even us white people. (Trying to breath and not appear too nervous). [Internal monologue: Wow, who knew that giving up my speciesist privilege would be far easier than actively dismantling systemic racism/white supremacy? Giving up my organic eggs for tofu scramble, leather car seats for pleather car seats, and cow milk for soy milk are wayyyyy  easier than dealing with the implications of Black Lives Matter on my comfortable white embodied experience.] 

So, I offer you this: instead of responding with “All Lives Matter” or “Everyone Matters”, I invite you to participate in the online Sistah Vegan Conference, April 24-25, 2015. This will be a mindful space in which all can learn about how Black Lives Matter enhances vegan praxis and does not ‘play the race card’ or ‘distract from non-human animal suffering.’[Updated Nov 9 2015]  I invite you to download the Sistah Vegan hosted conference from 2015, The Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter. This was a mindful space in which folk learned about how Black Lives Matter is integral to holistic vegan praxis and does not ‘play the race card’ or ‘distract from non-human animal suffering.’

For those of you in solidarity with the Sistah Vegan Project, please consider donating to make this conference a success, as well as make it possible for other critical Sistah Vegan projects and services to happen. I am currently working on a book called G’s Up Hoes Down:” Black Masculinity, Veganism, and Ethical Consumption (The Remix). Click below on the image to find out more.

gofundme

Compassionate Talk About Whiteness in Veganism (Farm Sanctuary)

Update: July 25, 2012. I am reposting this content. This event happened over two years ago, but I thought it is timely to repost this in light of the significant number of ‘angry’ and ‘defensive’ white identified vegans who send me outright ‘hostile’ or ‘passive-aggressive’ messages about the content of my work and talks.  There is a video and a more thorough transcript of the content of the talk that I gave two years ago. My talk is what can be referred to as performance ethnography. It is a way of taking academic scholarship and conveying the message through artistic forms such as music, story, art, etc..

———–

Original Post May 3, 2010 22:43.

On May 1, 2010, I gave a talk at Farm Sanctuary in Orland, CA called “A Compassionate Talk About Whiteness in USA Veganism.” It is about 30 minutes long. I talk about the need for white middle class (to upper class) collectivity of vegans in the USA to reflect critically on how unacknowledgment of whiteness impacts their vegan and/or animal rights praxis.

Below is my doing the Sistah Vegan book signing after my talk. My son, Sun (13 months old) is in my lap, a little upset that I wouldn’t give him the sharp fountain pen to poke is eye out with.

Breeze Harper and Sun Harper-Zahn at Sistah Vegan Book Signing, Farm Sanctuary (Orland, CA)

Below is the talk that you can read if you’d like. Yes I am nervous as hell and it’s obvious as you listen to me. I kind of speak a little too fast. I recommend listening to this through earphones! I also pasted the content of what I read (it’s not exactly what I read because I ad-libbed a lot, but it may help to look it over AFTER you listen to the video). I AM SUGGESTING YOU LOOK AT THE VIDEO FIRST BECAUSE I THINK ONE COMMENTER ALREADY MAY HAVE MISINTERPRETED WHAT I WAS TRYING TO CONVEY BECAUSE SHE ONLY READ THE CONTENT AND DIDN’T SEE THE VIDEO (MY BAD, AS IT WASN’T UP YET). I CAN SEE HOW READING THE CONTENT OF WHAT I SPOKE ABOUT CAN BE HEAVILY MISINTERPRETED BY CERTAIN WHITE IDENTIFIED PEOPLE AS, “BREEZE IS AN ANGRY BLACK MILITANT WHO HATES WHITE PEOPLE.”

Note: Desiree is not real. But the conversations are real from the past 3 months. They are compiled from my journals and set up in a narrative dialogue fashion. I should have made that more clear. Desiree is myself and many others who have engaged in deep reflection of race and vegan praxis.
——–

CONTENT OF THE TALK I PREPARED AT HOE DOWN.

“Wow, that’s pretty interesting. I mean, how do you feel about doing this?”

I pause, take a deep breathe and reply, “I am absolutely terrified. It makes no sense because it’s my PhD work; I am training how to understand how to compassionately talk about race and white privilege, I’ve studied for years, yet when I am finally asked to do it I start having panic attacks.” I am talking to my good friend Desiree. It is winter 2010 and I’ve told her that I have been invited to come to Farm Sanctuary to talk about why veganism/AR seems to be overwhelmingly white middle classed.

“Breeze, girl, why are you having panic attacks?”

“Well, I can’t stop thinking about the past, you know? I can’t stop thinking about how I was always punished for wanting to talk about racial healing, whiteness awareness, etc.  I can’t stop thinking about how difficult it has been for me to try to talk about this subject because frequently, I am met with immediate defensiveness or outright anger. I mean, race simply is central to the USA. It’s a fact. Why do we have to walk on egg shells?” I ask.

“Breeze, you have to understand that if you want to approach most people about privileges they’ve had, due to race, or class, or gender, whatever, it’s going to be hard. This is not easy work. But you have to remember a few things: Let your audience know that you come from a place of love and compassion; that you see that there is are obvious problems of race and class privilege issues that are simply not being addressed in the USA, period; that you yourself, even though you have received years of anti black racism, sexism, and classist oppression, you have ALSO had very privileged experiences. You are not the black person who knows everything and is right, while a white person is wrong about everything. We all have privileges while simultaneously dealing with oppressions.”

“Huh?” I say.

She continues, “Girl, you went to Dartmouth College and Harvard. Ivy league privilege. You speak English in the USA as a first language. Anglophonic privilege. You are a healthy able-bodied human being, you have able bodied privilege. Not to mention that you a very slim, so in a  vegan culture that is fatphobic and judgmental of anyone who doesn’t have a BMI of 18 or 20, you have had the luxury of  never having to be attacked for being a fat black girl like me. You know how much static I get when I try and go talking about vegan food activism at largely white events!? Here I am, a dark black woman whose been vegan for 5 years now and I walk into a room with all of these curves and booty.”  She stands up, and twirls her 5’9″ dress size 20 body around. She continues, “Breeze, you would not believe how many people approach me at these vegan and AR events, talking about how veganism is a great way to lose weight. They assume that because I must look like “Aunt Jemima”, I (a) am not vegan, and (b) I am totally  unhealthy. Maybe you can start talking about that?”

“About what?” I ask.

“Well, so many white vegan folk be asking me why they don’t see more brown and black folk at ‘their’ events. I remember showing up to an event and they were really pushing Skinny Bitch, that book by those two skinny white women. I read Skinny Bitch: Bun in the Oven to help Lorenza prepare for a vegan pregnancy.” Lorenza is her wife and they just had a baby last year.

I read that,” I said.

“Yea, and we both agreed that plugging this book to people outside of white middle class USA as a reason to go vegan is kind of offputting- especially to us sistahs! I don’t know if white folk know about how the collectivity of black people view skinny aesthetic. Maybe you can talk about Skinny Bitch as an example of how white middle class mentality unknowingly operates. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it was helpful to read the book. But if one considers looking at Skinny Bitch: Bun in the Oven through a gender, racial, class, and sexual orientation analytical lens, the tone of book reveals that the book’s assumed audience is white middle-class heterosexual females who live in locations where a whole foods vegan diet is easily accessible (geographically and financially).  At the beginning of each new chapter of the book, there is always a depiction of a white skinny pregnant woman. Throughout the text, the authors blame personal laziness as the reason why people are overweight.  Maybe you can let folk know that this top selling title is an example of a “post-racial” approach to vegan living. There is never any reflection on how: (1) class and the racialized experience in the USA affect a pregnant woman’s access to healthful food and nutritional information; and (2) how the author’s white racialized and class privileged consciousness influence their perception of veganism as the resolution to obesity problems.”

I nod at Desiree and say, “Yea, I mean, they can’t write about everything. But though the author’s intent of the book was not to focus on racialized and classed experiences of veganism and pregnancy, the absence of this personal reflection and assumptions made about their audience, amongst these authors, who are white and class privileged, are intriguing and quite telling. Tracye McQuirter’s new book By Any Greens Necessary, a guide for black women who want to go vegan, is very clear about what it mean to be a black female in this country. That is what I likea bout Tracye’s book because she’s up front about race and talking about how whiteness affects are relationship to food and our bodies as black women.”

Desiree says, “I mean Breeze, texts such as the Skinny Bitch series engage in a “post-racial” approach to food politics that ignores the affects of race and class on an individual’s circumstances and the range of options available to her. Lorenza and I just couldn’t let that one go.”

I chime in, “Yea, in a post-racial or raceless society, it is believed that racism no longer exists because skin color no longer has social significance. For example, maybe I can explain to the audience, ‘if a white person were to tell their Chinese friend, “I don’t think of you as Chinese, I am post-racial,” I would argue that this Chinese friend would not be seen as race-neutral, but in fact seen by their post-racial friend as, “I don’t think of you as Chinese, I just think of you as if you were any other [white] person.”

“Exactly Breezie!” Desire says, stirring her chamomile tea. She continues, “And these concepts are part of a larger body of scholarly work around the issues of whiteness and white privilege. Whiteness is the ability of Whites to control the cultural discourse of racial equality—post-racialness rhetoric and “individual-group sleight of hand”—as well as Whites’ socialization to, and insistence upon, social preeminence. Collectively, whites operate within a “comfort zone” that renders whiteness “normal.” And when displaced, whites often employ strategies that reinstate whiteness at the center. Here the metaprivilege of Whiteness resides in the “absence of awareness of White privilege”… Whiteness does not acknowledge either its own privilege or the material and sociocultural mechanisms by which that privilege is protected. White privilege itself becomes invisible, not just in Bun in the Oven, but in most mainstream spaces in the USA that engage in alternative food practices. (Flagg 2005, 5-6)  Breeze, you also need to explain that there is a huge non-white group of people in the USA who are vegans, vegetarians, and raw foodist, but their politics around why they do it are are significantly different from white middle class AR/Veg.” I nod in agreement, then sip my kale smoothie and say,”Hey, I have another example Des!”

“Go for it!”  she says.

“Remember when I went to talk at Pitt in 2007? I presented a case study at Pitt University in the fall of 2007. The lecture centered on a plant-based diet as a way to help adjudicated brown and black youth at a rehab facility for minors. Using a bell hooks analytical lens, I suggested that nutritional liberation was a way to help shift these youths away from the path of the prison industrial complex. A white lady who was in the audience, told me that she was basically irritated that I didn’t mention animal rights at all as a reason to practice plant based diets in my presentation.

She told me that I should have mentioned that. In my talk, I mentioned that 19 brown and black boys in Miami were put on a plant-based diet. They were living in a rehab center for adjudicated youths. A food project organization based in New York, decided to see if they could help these youths by putting them on a plant based diet, teaching them how to cook their own nutritious vegan foods, and go out to gardens with them and work with the earth. All of the boys loved it and their health and grades improved. However, in my talk, I said that the woman who was the founder of the food project organization couldn’t get funding from the government, even though she had data that proved that such a program made more sense than wasting money on standard “rehab” programs for adjudicated youths. During the talk, I suggested that the government won’t fund such a project because they rely on these non-white boys to enter the prison industrial complex; it’s profitable and it’s what is called the modern day slave plantation for the working poor and black and brown in this country. I cited Angela Davis, bell hooks, and several other scholars doing anti-prison work. You know what this woman felt entitled to tell me?”

Desire squinted as said, “I think I can already guess, but you tell me anyway.”

I sigh, then say, “This lady in the audience who was irritated with my talk, told me that it was a “stretch” and a little “paranoid” for me to suggest that the government of the USA benefits from putting brown and black boys in jail, and that it is strange that I’d suggest that this is why the Miami program couldn’t get funding. It was an obscene display of white and class privileged entitlement; a white middle class epistemological understanding of the role of law, criminality, and prisons. I could not believe that she felt so entitled to tell ME that my talk should have mentioned the necessity of animals rights. She also told me that if I wanted to be taken more seriously, I should wear more professional clothing. I later found out through my friend Ed, who put on the event, that this woman is one of his animal rights class students and lives in a white middle class section of Pittsburgh. I mean, Ed was irritated, a white class privileged guy doing both anti racism and animal rights activism, he’s heard it all!”

“I’m sure he has!” Des says.

“Ed and I thought it was strange that a lot of the mainstream animal rights folk get so irritated that one isn’t entering veganism for animal rights first. It’s almost as if I tainted veganism by having spoken at Pitt about how it was being used, first and foremost, as an anti-racist tool to prevent black and brown boys from being part of the PIC.”

Des says, “People like this woman need to understand that eventually, most folk who engage in veganism for reasons outside of AR, will eventually see the connections to animal rights… Maybe some won’t, but by default they’re helping to alleviate animal suffering because they are now vegetarian or vegan. Brown and black folk are not foolish. It’s not like we necessarily need others to come and BRING us the message of veganism. You and I are doing this work, but we’re just bringing in from a different entry point that acknowledges racism and classism and how legacies of racialized colonialism have manifested as disease on our black and brown bodies and how a well planned plant based diet can fight this…”

I interrupt Des and say, “Okay, for my talk at ‘Hoe Down I’ll be using the above as an example of how whiteness operates in Veg/AR, and that due to the material realities of racism and classism and whatnot, certain groups of people will approach plant-based dietary lifestyles, not from a point of entry of “animal rights is priority”, but perhaps, “making sure our brown and black boys don’t end up in the prison industrial complex” or making sure we combat nutritional and environmental racism.”

Des smiles, “Girl, you are on a roll. Maybe you can talk about the Sistah Vegan  project as well and how it was received. I know a lot of folk liked the idea of looking at race and gender- you know, black women living vegan in the USA. But look at all the folk who didn’t like what you were doing. That was the basis of your Harvard masters,” Des says to me. I sip some more of my kale smoothie, thinking about how , when I first proposed sistah vegan book project, it made it to an online forum called Veganporn, which had nothing to do with porn but everything to do with veganism. I had presented the call for papers, explaining that I was looking for black identified females who practiced veganism more to combat health disparities in the black community. Immediately, the CFP was attacked. A white identified male vegan said he was disgusted by my use of ‘sistah’ and was annoyed by people like me who don’t speak proper English. Another vegan person attacked me for not making animal rights the priority. The forum thread ended up being 40 pages of predominantly white identified vegans attacking the very notion that veganism could be experienced differently due to one’s lived realities of race and gender. Quite a few engaged in minstrel performance of white folk pretending to speak Ebonics or black English.  For me, it was an upsetting and clear example of why such a supposed ‘race-neutral’ forum could be hurtful and offputting to any black person interested in veganism comes across it, and sees how black English and Ebonics are being lambasted, along with the notion that these people on the forum strongly felt that racial politics should be left out of veganism and that, quote, ‘it’s only about the animals first.’

I smile at Desiree and ask, “Do you think the talk will be productive? I mean, I am not sure what to expect at Hoe Down. I’m not really trying to shame or guilt trip anyone, but I think it’s important that if white identified people in vegan movement really want to understand why they think black and brown folk are not interested in their perception and praxis of veganism, they need to not look at us as necessarily the problem, or that we aren’t interested. I think there needs to be some deep critical reflection on how being racialized and socialized into whiteness has created, collectively, a very different relationship to consumption as well as how one constructs their sense of morals, ethics, social justice, etc.”

“Well, you gotta start somewhere. Let’s see how it goes.”

Now, I have some critical reflective questions for the audience:
(1) Fear: I lovingly understand and acknowledge that we all have fear of confronting and talking about racism and white privilege. What fears arise in you in cross-racial interactions? (From Unraveling Whiteness, Hefland and Lippin 2001)

(2)How does white privilege and lack of information come together to impede interracial communication? (From Unraveling Whiteness, Hefland and Lippin 2001)

(3) Do you ever feel like retreating from conversations around race and whiteness?

(4) How did listening to my narrative make you feel?

(5)What do you fear in cross racial interactions? For example, you may fear saying something insensitive. For people of color, specifically what do you fear in interactions with white people? For example, you may feel being ignored.  (From Unraveling Whiteness, Hefland and Lippin 2001).

(6) Does fear of making errors keep you defensive, hostile, and unable to open up to other people. Many of you are animal rights advocates. Maybe you can think of how frustrating it is that people are hostile and defensive when you confront them about their speciest behavior.

(7) Sometime feeling of shame can turn into anger with the person who caused you to feel ashamed. Feelings of shame, guilt, and anger are NORMAL and can be productive if you are kind and gentle to yourself, and to the people who wish to dialogue with you about how lack of acknowledgment around your privileges have actually been perpetuating the very types of suffering you had hoped to alleviate.  But just don’t lose sight that transformation is challenging and hard, but it’s not impossible. I am here to share my personal observations and journey with you, but I do not have all the answers. NOT ONE PERSON CAN EVER HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS. If you want to engage more, I invite you to learn by reading about anti-racism and whiteness awareness, as well as how race experience intersect with vegan and animal rights activism. I recommend to start:


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