Black Folk in Nature and Yosemite’s Unethical Food Sourcing

Below is my upcoming event and information about my latest book project. The video above was taken 4 years ago but it’s a taste of what I’ll be writing about (among many other things) in my newest book project (i.e., Black Folk in nature, hiking while pregnant– I was pregnant with my 3rd but you can’t see–, ‘ethical’ food in National Parks).

Despite having brown skin and being a “melanated peoples”, I burn in the sun in approximately 5 minutes. It can be as ‘cool’ as 69 degrees Fahrenheit and I will burn…My mother used to always joke, “You would have made a horrible field slave”, which kind of makes perfect sense. She has always enjoyed calling me an Oreo since I was a tween. Oreo was then promoted to the affectionate label of Oreo Double Stuff by the time I had graduated from high school in 1994 and I had been accepted into a gazillion PWIs like Smith College, Tufts University, Bryn Mawr, and Dartmouth College.  I vividly remember when I first discovered the Four Seasons when I was 14 years old. I asked my mother if she could buy it for me on CD. Boy was she elated that I was inquiring about the Four Seasons…. Except she thought that I misspoke and that I must have meant the Black Motown group The Four Tops (Yes, I meant some music composed by a dead white Italian man). #blackcardrejected #notauthenticallyblack

How did I get from being a white cream filled dark sandwich cookie with two left feet and an unhealthy obsession with Anton Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to being told I’m uber ‘articulate’ and ‘non-threatening’ in post-racial vegan venues? I could tell this story from so many vantage points. I thought long and hard about it, writing draft after draft, dropping some heavy critical theory sh$t from Angela Davis, to Frantz Fanon, to Charles Mills. But every time I tried to do this, it just wouldn’t work out. Critical theory takes deep concentration, plenty of sleep, and mental acuity….

…which is hella blown out of the water when you’ve got 4 damn kids– a 6 month old, a 3 year old, a 5 year old (the middle one with a damn freaking attitude and a propensity for sticking her hand in the monkey jar) and an 8 year old who continuously interrupt your prophetic destiny to be a  scholar with such greatness and [can’t think of an intelligent word because my 5 year old just came outside screaming and running towards me, naked, holding a bowl of Cheerios] that would make Sara Ahmed’s rumination on phenomenology and post-colonialism look like simple nursery school rhymes. #badphenomenologyjokes

-Dr. A. Breeze Harper. Draft from her upcoming book Black. Mama. Scholar: On Black Feminism, Food Ethics, and Toddler Tantrums in a ‘Post-Racial’ Era (2018).

In a delightful and humorous, yet deeply critical talk, Dr. A. Breeze Harper will ruminate on the past 12 years of her activism and scholarship as well as read excerpts from her upcoming book Black. Mama. Scholar: On Black Feminism, Food Ethics, and Toddler Tantrums in a ‘Post-Racial’ Era (formerly titled Recipes for Racial Tension Headaches). Get ready for a different side of A. Breeze Harper, PhD, as she uses a fusion of satire and critical race feminism to explore just how “post-racial” we are– in veganism and beyond.

This is a fundraising event for the Sistah Vegan Project. Register for the Live Lecture with Q&A below.

Ticket Options


If you can’t make her live webcast but are interested in inviting her to give a talk and/or workshop at your organization or university, contact her at bookbreezeharper@gmail.com .



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

Dr. Harper is the creator and editor of the first of its kind book about veganism and race: Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health, and Society(Lantern Books 2010).

Dr. Harper holds a PhD in social science from University of California Davis (with an emphasis in Black Feminisms, Critical Theories of Race, and Ethical Consumption). She has a Masters degree in Educational Technologies from Harvard University, with emphasis on Black Feminisms. Her thesis earned her the prestigious Dean’s award.

Dr. Harper’s most recently published book, A Black Lesbian Experience in Rural White New England (Sense Publishers 2014) interrogates how systems of oppression and power impact being a Black teenager living in an all white and working class rural New England town. She has taught university staff and students how to use the book as a tool to develop literacy around unconscious bias and understand how deeply impactful systemic racial and socio-economic inequities are.

After observing numerous white vegans making the claim that race doesn’t matter (i.e. the passive-aggressive responses to Black Lives Matter with “All Lives Matter”) , Dr. Harper organized the highly successful professional conference The Praxis of Black Lives Matter. The conference taught participants how to operationalize racial equity during an era of Black Lives Matter with a focus on plant-based foodie culture like veganism and raw foodism. 

In 2016, Dr. Harper collaborated with Oakland’s FoodFirst’s Executive Director Dr. Eric Holt-Gimenez to write the report Dismantling Racism in the Food System, which kicked off FoodFirst’s series on systemic racism within the food system. Dr. Harper is well-known for her talks and workshops  about “Operationalizing Racial Equity” and  “Intersectional Anti-Racism” in ethical consumption, which were given at top universities this past year (University of Chicago, Stanford University, and Penn State to name a few). 

You can check out Dr. Harper’s 2016 talk at Whidbey Institute below about Uprooting White Fragility in the Ethical Foodscape as well as the University of Oregon-Eugene talk Reading Food Objects: A Black Feminist Materialist Reading of Scars in Oregon.

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(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.

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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)

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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.

Dear White [Vegan] People, Whiteness Matters Too: Books that Make You Go Hmmmm

Dear White [Animal Rights and Vegan] People,

Whiteness cannot be ignored.  I have been asked by many of you, what resources are out there to help you become aware of the consequences of being ‘post-racial’ and/or assuming anti-racism solidarity has nothing to do with your pro-vegan philosophies. Below are two phenomenal new books I just read, by white vegan anti-racist allies, pattrice jones and Martin Rowe. Please check these titles out to not only understand how ‘whiteness matters’, but how to create your own role as an ally of anti-racism and anti-speciesism.  Start now with the brilliant and engaging titles below.

Oxen At The Intersection: A Collision by pattrice jones.

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This is a brilliant book by pattrice jones. jones tries to understand what led to the death of one of two oxen (Lou and Bill) who had been living at, and exploited by, Green Mountain College in Vermont. Written in the style of a murder mystery novel, jones brings in intersectional understanding to how Green Mountain College, as well as Vermont itself, has been mythically constructed as having always been a agricultural region based on ‘animal husbandry.’ Unraveling the mystery of the ox’s death means to unravel the mystery of how colonialism, white supremacist ideas around non-human animals should be treated, and the myth of ‘locavorism’ have greatly mis-informed and mis-educated the white Vermont imagination around ‘ethical’ and ‘green’ living for a post-2000 age. Also, many time the ableist rhetoric goes unchecked in mainstream society. Able-bodied vegans are not exempt from promoting ableist notions of heath, food, and ethical consumption either. I like how jones talks about eugenics and ableism and purity of whiteness are fused together when Green  Mountain College representatives sincerely believe and tell her that when an animal is injured and is no longer ‘able-bodied’, they need to be euthanized when their injury permits them from being a ‘good slave’ for people; yet the injury isn’t life-threatening. Below are two excerpts from the book that were very central themes for me:

Skiers and leaf-peeping tourists notwithstanding, Vermont is dairy country. Even more than the state economy depends on cheddar, the state psychology rests upon the presumption that blond boy over brown cow is the natural order of things. Vermonters need to believe that this state of affairs is not only non-injurious but righteous. (location 91 in Kindle version of the book)

Meantime, thanks to advertising by the tourism and dairy industries, the mythic white male settler with his livestock came to seem to be the only authentic ancestor of Vermont. And so we come to the Green Mountain College “farm,” at which a white man sporting and old-time had and beard raises an old-time buggy whip over the back of Bill and Lou. Don’t get me wrong! I’m not saying that the farm manager or any of his acolytes were in any way aware of the implicit whiteness of their version of rural purity. Nor do I mean to say that Green Mountain College or its friends in state government in any way  endorse the past program of eugenics and disinformation by which dairying and other forms of animal agriculture came to seem such a natural and venerable aspect of the Vermont landscape. But I am suggesting that the existential quality of the struggle over Bill and Lou– the emotional fervor with which college and state officials defended animal agriculture as if the very soul of Vermont depended upon the right of men like them to control and kill animals– was rooted in the history by which people with other ways of relating to animals were displaced by the ancestors of those who now see themselves as the rightful owners of the land and its wildlife. (location 986 in the Kindle version of the book)

You can purchase Oxen at The Intersection here or by clicking on the photo above.

The Elephants in the Room: An Excavation by Martin Rowe.

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The Elephants in the Room: An Excavation was written by Lantern Books co-founder, Martin Rowe. Another brilliant book, The Elephants in the Room guides the reader through how colonialism, white supremacy, and conservationism come to together within the sphere of human and elephant relationships in Africa. Rowe tells the story of two women from very different backgrounds: Noble Peace Price winner indigenous African Wangari Maathai, and Dame Daphne Sheldrick, the daughter of white male African imperialist. However, author Rowe does not exempt himself from the equation: as a storyteller and a man of white, class, and male privilege from England, Rowe engages in critical reflections around how his own layers of racial privilege shaped his [mis-]perceptions around his relationship to England, as well as the people and non-human animals of ‘the Dark Continent’. The book is an intelligent and thought-provoking work that brings the problems of colonial whiteness into the conversation about animal rights, conservationism, and the consequences of ignoring racial privilege during colonial and post-colonial times. Below is a notable quote from the book

Above all, I would have to confront a number of elephants: from the actual creatures we continue to slaughter, the bones of whose ancestors were stitched together in the Hall of Extinct Mammals, to the metaphorical ones that are apparent now but were, despite their seeming unavoidability, once invisible…and even now are hard to meet head on: the poisonous prejudices of racism, the troubling legacies of empire, and the noxious assumptions of patrimony and misogyny. I also needed to look at the other elephantine quality, memory, and more particularly of the evasions and occlusions that occurs when any of us try to tell our stories or those of others, and the fantasties we project onto the ‘other.’ (location in the Kindle Version of Elephants in the Room).

 

The Elephants in the Room can be purchased here. If you get a chance to check these titles out, I’d love to know what you think about them.

Best,

Dr. A. Breeze Harper

[VIDEO] "What's Sustainable?" Vegan and Vegetarian Black Men of Hip Hop Tell It Like it Is

 

Title: “What’s Sustainable?” Vegan&Vegetarian Black Men of Hip Hop Tell It Like it Is

Description: My talk I gave at Pacific Lutheran University on May 8, 2014 in Washington. I look at DJ Cavem, Bryant Terry, and Ashel Eldridge. Please note that my battery ran out about 10 minutes before the talk ended. This is the beginning stages of a book I am working out. It is very ‘introductory’ and I know I still have a lot more work to do. Below are the pivotal questions I am trying to answer.

  • How are black men of the hip hop generation responding to living in a nation in which structural racism, negro-phobia, speciesism, and white supremacist based moral system have been the norm since colonialism?
  • How does the Black vegan Hip Hop movement offer different ways of consuming, as well as being a ‘real’ man, from race-conscious, decolonial, eco-sustainable, and anti-specieist points of view?
  • How do prominent Black male Hip Hop vegans use Hip Hop to teach how food and health have been negatively shaped by corporate capitalism and a meat-centered industrialized food system?

Black and Nursing While Hiking in Utah's National Parks

Bryce Canyon National Park, May 2012 with Eva Luna (9 months old). She nursed 1/2 the time during the 7 mile hike.

I wanted to share this with you. It is from May 2012.

May 11, 2012

I just got back from a 7 day road trip that started in Denver CO and ended in Berkeley CA. I spent most of my time in Utah. I went to Arches National Park, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Capitol Reef National Park. My favorite was Bryce Canyon. We did the Peek a Boo Trail and it made me cry. But first:

Dammit, where are all the black folk? I mean, I know it’s Utah, but these are National Parks people! The below video from was filmed at Zion National Park.

Ok, back to the brilliance and beauty of Bryce Canon and nursing for hours while hiking.

When walking the Peek a Boo trail hike, India Arie’s song, “How I know that god is real” kept on circulating through my brain.

Peek a Boo Trail hike is 7 miles. Doesn’t seem like a lot. But add a 20lb baby strapped to your back while carrying 50oz of water in each hand, while going all the way down the canyon then walking all the way back up and you’ve got yourself quite an amazing feat. Oh, and add to that that 20lb baby sucking on you, extracting breast milk 3 hours out of that 6.5 hours it takes to complete that 7 miles because it’s so hot and arid, she is thirsty all the time. I swear, my 9 month old must have sucked out 700 calories of milk from me per day. She wasn’t used to the high elevation and the arid climate so she was thirsty all the time.

Sun, 3 years old, on Mama’s back at Zion National Park

But I loved it. I loved every minute of watching the divine that is Bryce Canyon. I loved the burning of my butt and legs as I went up and down difficult parts of the trail. I loved how my baby girl , when she wasn’t nursing or sleeping, giggled with joy and reached out to touch the rocks, the trees, and my face. At 9 months old, she knew that Bryce Canyon is a very special place.

I notice two significant things during my time in Utah’s National Parks:

(1) Just about everyone I saw commended me for going on a 7 mile hike with a baby strapped to me. I only saw one other person doing this in Bryce Canyon Peek a Boo trail.

(2) There were 2 black people that I saw during my entire 7 day road trip through 5 National Parks in Utah (hence, my video rant).

Okay, so first of all, I am getting the impression that most people think it is impossible to go hiking and or camping with infants and toddlers, without losing your damn mind…and then add that to a 7 day road trip 1/2 across the country with them strapped to the carseats for hours, you’d think that would be a recipe for disaster. But, it’s not. You just have to plan it the right way. My 3 year old and 9 month old loved the trip. My toddler loves camping. My infant doesn’t seem to care where she is as long as she can get her mama milk (what we call breast milk). I recommend an Ergo carrier. Buy an Ergo cargo pack (for food and diapers) to attach to the carrier for the infant or toddler you want to haul. I hauled Sun around at Zion National Park. You can use the Ergo Carrier for a child up to 40lb. It’s light and they can fall asleep with a headrest to cradle their heads. Some people prefer the Deuter hiking system but I think it’s overpriced, heavy, and uncomfortable. The Ergo Carrier can have them on your side, back, or front. Perfect if you are a nursing mama. Deuter can’t do that.

But I have to be up front and say you can’t just do a 7 mile hike like Bryce Canyon, in a hot and high climate, with a baby, food, and water in tow, if you haven’t been working out regularly. Before you embark on something like what I did, practice walking around in an area in your neighborhood that is hilly with your kid strapped on you. If you have access to a step aerobics machine, use it. Go biking. Swimming. Whatever you enjoy to get you ready for these types of hiking adventures.

(The below passage was added on August 14, 2013).

Many omnivores I meet are really shocked and/or impressed that I am able to nurse and burn this many calories and still get the nutrients I need without eating animals or animal products. If you’re interested in what it is that i do to feed myself and my baby so I can endure high calorie burning activities while nursing, check this out: How to eat a whole foods vegan diet during pregnancy and lactation period.

Also, the Sistah Vegan Project is having its first web conference this fall called Embodied and Critical Perspectives on Veganism by Black Women and Allies. It is September 14, 2013. One of our speakers will be discussing Black vegan parenting. Check out the speaker line-up and registration line-up here.

On Black Folk M.I.A. in National Parks and Yosemite's Contradictory Food Sourcing

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Breeze Harper and 21 month old daughter, Eva Luna. May 2013.

Hear about my latest adventure at Yosemite and  hear me talk about, once again, Where the hell are all the black folk? 

Oh, and I rant about the contradictory food sourcing of Yosemite National Parking.


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Eva Luna on her hike, taking a break. May 2013.

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Pepsi sponsored ‘beverages’. Oh Yosemite, why do you support such corporations? (sigh)

If you like what you see and want to keep on supporting the Sistah Vegan Project, feel free to donate what you can by clicking below.

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"Millions of people are starving to feed animals"

(note: this is posted by Melissa Danielle, the other Sistah Vegan blogger who rarely makes an appearance 😉 This is not by A. Breeze Harper.  )

said the 50something-year-old woman soliciting for PETA on the 6 train yesterday.

Yes, a considerable amount of land is being used to produce feed for animal consumption.

But that ain’t why folks are starving and it’s disingenuous to use that as an argument to promote veganism.

The so-called food deserts of US American cities (and rural areas) and food access have nothing to do with how much food is being produced for animal consumption. Policy, redlining, and structural racism, terminator seeds, cash crop subsidies (welfare), commodity crops, monoculture, and Global South subsistence farmers growing for First World consumers (and not themselves) are why people are starving here, and all over the world.

I’m so sick of this nonsense.

In NYC, incentives intended to spur job creation in low-income neighborhoods paved the way for food access inequities, because they went specifically to fast food eateries. Groceries and supermarkets were not included in the zoning. So there’s a fast food or Chinese takeout joint within a five minute walking radius, but not a green grocer or supermarket.

The money being allocated now to improve fresh food access in NYC is geared towards large-scale supermarket chains, and not for the possible development and improvement of independent convenience stores that make up the 7 out of 10 stores in neighborhoods like the one I live in.

She also said that human bodies are not intended to be graveyards for dead animals.

I find that interesting, considering that plants are living things. Is my stomach not a graveyard for kale?

What I most wanted to ask her, but didn’t, was how many trees went into producing the brochure she was handing out and if she was aware of how toxic color ink is to produce?

Oh well.

Revolution Foods & Feeding Children Organic…But what about the horrible packaging?

 

This is a product review for Revolution Foods. Love the idea that there is a company out there promoting healthier foods in school. Love that they are right here in the bay California area. However, click on the video to hear how and why the packaging gets me thinking about environmental injustices and who is negatively affected by such ‘throw away’ packaging.

Conservation and Unethical Food Choices? Yosemite's Contradiction

I spent the last 8 days camping at Yosemite National Park in California with my family. Here is a 10 minute long video about my observations on who Yosemite pays to bring food into the park. I reflect on how the highly processed and packaged “foods” we found in stores and restaurants were completely contradictory to the supposed “conserve water, land, and respect wildlife animals” that the park professes. There are also pictures of the trip that I posted after this video. I have to say that I was really intrigued by the choices that Yosemite makes to support the products of corporate capitalist companies and agri-businesses that are notorious for polluting land, wasting water, disrespecting animals, and causing ill health to the humans in environment ‘outside of clean and pristine Yosemite.’

It was pretty windy when I recorded this so I highly recommend that you listen to this on high WITH EARPHONES. Sorry about that.

Enjoy the slide show below.

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bell hooks on black farmers and racial politics

Belonging: A Culture of Place by bell hooks.

I just finished bell hooks’s book, Belonging: A Culture of Place. It was released in October 2008. It is her reflection on black farmers in Kentucky, intersections of race and class, and how uneven power relations and white racism contributed to the loss of black farming land. One of the most important premises of this book is the connection between black self-recovery and ecology, with issues around land and land ownership. As a Black American, she wants to set the record straight: black folks past and present are committed to local food production and organic living; however, the mainstream organic and ecosustainable movement makes it appear that black folks have never known how to live sustainably, appreciate nature, or eat healthy. hooks wrote her book while residing in her home state of Kentucky, contemplating deeply on the politics of regionalism and class, and remembering how she received a rude awakening when she arrived at Stanford University for her undergraduate education. She was met with ridicule from peers who had never met people from Kentucky- but only had stereotypes in mind.
Throughout the book, hooks continuously focused on how place shaped her identity and her relationship to the natural world. Being raised in rural Kentucky during Jim Crow era, she never knew that being “rural” and from the South had a negative connotation, until she met her peers at Stanford University. Experiencing her childhood in the rural hills, she writes, “What we had learned in the hills was how to care for ourselves by growing crops, raising animals, living deep in the earth. What we had learned in the hills was how to be self-reliant” (hooks 2008: 8). She continues to explain that this self-reliance was vital in an era in which a white supremacist Jim Crow state did not care for Black Americans. Ultimately, she reflects on how Black Americans in her community could feel powerful, knowing that nature will always be more powerful than the white supremacist system that had institutionalized racial segregation.
What is a culture of belonging? hooks refers to Carol Lee Fliners’s definition: “an intimate connection with the land to which one belongs, empathic relationship to animals, self-restraint, custodial conservation, deliberateness, balance, expressiveness, generosity, egalitarianism, mutuality, affinity for alternative modes of knowing, playfulness, inclusiveness, nonviolent conflict resolution, and openness to spirit” (hooks 2008: 13).
One of the most moving parts of the book is when hooks reflects on how a significant number of Black Americans in the USA fear rural nature, often equating it with “white racist hillbillies” they perceive as wanting to harm black people.  She recalls a conversation she had with her sister, who lives in an urban neighborhood. When telling her sister that she is buying a home in a rural Kentucky, her sister is fearful for bell’s life, asking her if she is afraid of being attacked. hooks felt this was a strange question, particularly since her sister lived in an urban area in which crime and violence were more likely to occur than where bell’s new home would be located.
Her sister, like many Black Americans who were living in the south, migrated north during Jim Crow and left behind a rich agrarian past to pursue “freedom” within urban areas. However, when they arrived to the northern cities of the USA, they were startled to find that it was nearly impossible to purchase land. Losing ownership of land meant that most lost their traditional ways to healthy home grown food, along with the physical exercise it took to produce one’s own foods. She writes, “certainly it must have been a profound blow to the collective psyche of black people to find themselves struggling to make a living in the industrial north away from land. Industrial capitalism was not simply changing the nature of black work life, it altered the communal practices that were so central to survival in the agrarian south. And it fundamentally altered black people’s relationship to the body…Without the space to grow food, to commune with nature, or to mediate the starkness of poverty with the splendor of nature, black people experienced profound depression.” (hooks 2008: 37-38). It is within the context of this unique history that hooks proposes a collective black self-recovery that is intertwined with the current USA ecological sustainable movement. Ultimately, she feels that healing from racism and exploitative practices of industrial capitalism can only take place if Black Americans can reclaim the philosophies of their agrarian past. She writes, “healing begins with self-determination in relation to the body that is the earth and the body that is our flesh. Most black people live in ways that threaten to shorten our life, eating fast foods, suffering from illnesses that could be prevented with proper nutrition and exercise” (hooks 2008: 47).
However, there are two major weakness of this book, and it’s most likely the fault of the press, Routledge. There are very many typos in this book and I was surprised that such a prominent academic publishing company would let this book go to print with so many obvious typos in it. Second, there are no citations of any kind for the numerous quotes that hooks uses in her text. I found this disappointing, simply because I wanted to read many of the texts she was using quotes from.
Overall, this book was very enjoyable, as there really isn’t much being written about black identity, agrarian roots, and racial politics. hooks’s book adds this gap within an eco-sustainable movement that needs more ethnically diverse histories brought to the table.

hooks, bell. (2008). Belonging : a culture of place. New York, Routledge.