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]

 

francione

 

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.

Beaten and Arrested for Simply Being Black… LaJuana Still Fights The Racist-Sexist System for All of Us

I am because she is

We are because they were

Last year I worked hard on social media for Free Marissa Alexander East Bay caravan in early 2015. There were many amazing, mostly womyn of color, working on this. One of these amazing womyn was LaJuana Decatur. Listen to my video below to find our more about LaJuana.

wpid-img_20141220_162758.jpg
LaJuana Decatur, December 2014, Gearing Up for the Free Marissa East Bay Caravan to Florida

In the second video, in December of 2014, LaJuana speaks about why she chooses to travel across the USA to do anti-racism, domestic violence awareness, and Black Womyn’s Lives Matter teach-ins throughout the USA. It was recorded a year ago, and since then, LaJuana successfully completed the caravan travel.

And lastly, here is a trailer to the documentary about the Free Marissa Caravan that LaJuana participated in.

Click on the GoFundMe below to help donate to LaJuana’s campaign to help her save her home so she can continue to do the work that needs to get done. Please invest in systemic change by investing in the change-makers. Click on the GoFundMe Link Below to make the investment.

I am because she is

We are because they were

gofundme


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.

Beaten and Arrested for Being Black in a System of Anti-Blackness, She Still Fights For All of Us

[Updated Dec. 20 2015]

I am because she is

We are because they were

Last year I worked hard on social media for Free Marissa Alexander East Bay caravan in early 2015. There were many amazing, mostly womyn of color, working on this. One of these amazing womyn was LaJuana Decatur. Listen to my video below to find our more about LaJuana.

wpid-img_20141220_162758.jpg
LaJuana Decatur, December 2014, Gearing Up for the Free Marissa East Bay Caravan to Florida

In the second video, in December of 2014, LaJuana speaks about why she chooses to travel across the USA to do anti-racism, domestic violence awareness, and Black Womyn’s Lives Matter teach-ins throughout the USA. It was recorded a year ago, and since then, LaJuana successfully completed the caravan travel.

And lastly, here is a trailer to the documentary about the Free Marissa Caravan that LaJuana participated in.

Click on the GoFundMe below to help donate to LaJuana’s campaign to help her save her home so she can continue to do the work that needs to get done. Please invest in systemic change by investing in the change-makers. Click on the GoFundMe Link Below to make the investment.

I am because she is

We are because they were

gofundme


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.

(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.

The Confederate Flag, Intent Vs. Impact, and Therapeutic Spaces [Ask Dr. Breeze]

POV2

For several years now, I have received scores of emails that have asked me for advice on certain situations. As of yesterday, I decided to create a Ask Dr. Breeze section of my Sistah Vegan Blog.  Simply send me your questions and Post them to the blog and try to offer a response. The most important thing to remember is that these responses are my take on the situation; it is not the end all be all and simply 1 perspective out of billions. What I can provide is a critical race feminist framework + my own embodied experiences + engaged mindfulness (Ahimsa and Zen Buddhist based) when offering my wisdom.

Here is the first email to kick off the series. At the end, I offered my two cents but also wanted to open it up to others out there who would like to compassionately weigh in. I definitely will not be publishing comments that are cruel and troll-like. 

Note: the person who wrote the email below is a Black identified woman.

Dear Breeze, 
On another note, I would like to kindly ask your opinion/input on a situation. I just started attending a therapeutic group that is using “The Artist’s Way” book by Julia Cameron for a ten weeks. Hence, the center should foster a safe space for healing as they are a counseling center. When I attended my first session this past Wednesday, a man came in late and he had a prominent confederate flag patch on his leather vest. When I saw that, I was immediately uncomfortable. What is alarming is that both facilitators never said a word, and one of the facilitators is a black woman. I wanted to bring this up to the group but felt maybe I should wait since it is the first session and just let the facilitators know.  Also, I didn’t want to create an environment (for me) where the other people in the group who are all white may try to tell me that I am wrong for feeling the way I do as he is not a racist, etc. So, I let the two women facilitators know how uncomfortable I was and that he consciously wore this flag to the center with intent. One of the facilitators asked if I wanted to bring this up to the group which I said I didn’t have a problem doing; I stated I don’t feel I should have to educate people on what the flag represents and symbolizes as it should be evident especially with all the media attention and recent [Charleston] tragedy . Additionally, I said I should not have to defend myself against this as again, it is evident. 
Since both facilitators are interns, they said they would speak to the clinical supervisor. I received a voice message today that the center spoke with the man with the confederate flag and he will not wear the vest and “he understands,” and would like to have a one on one with me to ‘EXPLAIN’ what it means to him since he is from the south. I feel like the center is defending this man’s (racist beliefs) and I am suppose to deal with it when they are suppose to foster a safe environment for healing and transformation. I don’t feel the space is safe in this group with the malicious intent of this man deliberately wearing a confederate flag patch after everything (that the flag represents)  that has transpired recently. How can I be my true authentic self and divulge personal information to grow  and heal in a space with hatred etc.? I feel like they are making excuses for him and “I” have to deal with it since “I” have the problem.  I read your post “SO, THE CONFEDERATE FLAG HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH CONSCIOUSLY SYMBOLIZING SYSTEMIC VIOLENCE OF WHITE SUPREMACIST BASED RACISM.” 
I responded by saying that I don’t feel safe and comfortable in the group and I would rather not partake in it. I also said that I shouldn’t have to be the one who has to remove myself and miss out on my healing because of this. I did mention the Swastika being a word of ‘good fortune’ but that doesn’t mean people should be wearing it (as you stated in your article). What I don’t want to do is get in a debate because there is nothing to debate about. Your thoughts would be appreciated along with any another research that I can present to the center. Long sigh
Thank you Breeze! 
-M

M-

Since post-Charleston shootings, it’s more obvious than ever that the Confederate flag symbolizes white supremacist based racism and violence for a significant number of Black people living in the USA. But yes, not everyone may have that association/trigger. The man wants to personally talk to you because it’s probably very important to him that he clarify his intentions (i.e. “No, really, I’m not Dylann Roof. I’m not a racist.” 

However, this is more about impact than intent. Requesting that you enter that space with him will be a space saturated with the socio-historical dynamic of systemic racism and white supremacy by default.  Whether he is conscious of it or not, he would be white-mansplaining the meaning of the flag for him and the impact on your would be negative. If he ‘understands’, it is  strange he needs to explain  versus simply apologizing for the unintended impact.  Many [white] people who display the confederate flag really do believe, “It’s not about racism but just the deep meaning it has to my Southern roots and pride.” Images like the below, sprung up quite a bit, post-Charleston.   

Source: http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/images/u/us-csah.gif
Source: http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/images/u/us-csah.gif

He may sincerely feel bad that he wearing it caused you to feel unsafe and perhaps it’s important for him to clarify that he is not a Dylann Roof. He may not have been malicious at all (you stated you experienced it that way), but once again, it doesn’t matter about intent, as one can have good intentions and still have bad impact– especially if they are coming from a place of ignorance and privilege(we all have done that). However, it’s up to you on whether or not you want to enter that space to listen to him. I have personally felt it to be painful and heart-breaking to hear those in privileged social locations explain their beliefs that have negative impact on those not part of that privileged social location.  I’ve heard white people explain to me why something is not racist, despite the social science and legal studies research showing the negative impact that ‘something not racist’ has had on non-white groups. I have had cisgender men explain to me why something isn’t misogynistic, despite the rigorous research showing otherwise, in terms of impact. At the end of these dialogues monologues, I have never felt like that person was being an ally or dismantling the very systems of oppression they were benefiting from; just being apologists.

I’d imagine that most mainstream healing and trauma places in the USA are not trained to handle these situations, unless they really are targeting a certain population (i.e. healing and transformation spaces for Black queer women for example). Most staff don’t have experience in [un]conscious bias training and facilitation around the Big 8 or 9 social identities/processes that comes out of systemic oppressions (i.e, race, class, gender, ability, etc). It could very well be that the interns knew the symbol was problematic but simply didn’t know how to handle it.

I think, if anything, these difficult and painful situations indicate the necessity to not just have a national dialogue about systemic racism/white supremacy’s impact, but how individuals can become change-makers by intervening. Remember, most of us in privileged social locations are not trained or even literate enough to know we are upholding systemic oppression (i.e., racism is lynching black people. It’s not institutional, systemic, or structural. Sexism is a man sexually harassing a woman at work; it’s not institutional, systemic, or structural.)

May you find the right healing space for yourself.

Best,

Dr. Breeze

Want to to send your questions in for the Ask Dr. Breeze series? Go here to submit your questions and we’ll post it anonymously! 

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.

Why a ‘Colorblind’ [Vegan] Utopian World is Ableist

 

As a person who is not blind, I am guilty of having used the term colorblind as a way to define those [mostly white] people who claim that they do not have biases towards human beings because of that persona’s race/skin color.

I stopped using the word colorblind about 5 years ago.

I spend most of my time engaged with vegan and other ethical consumption communities who argue that ethical consumption is a ‘colorblind’ endeavor (i.e., “race doesn’t matter”). Despite trying to explain that we don’t live in a ‘post-racial’ world, what often gets missed is the ableism behind using ‘colorblind’ to freely to discuss racial issues. Here is an excerpt from the book Blinded by Sight by Osagie K. Obasogie that I highly suggest as reading materials for those of us who have colluded with ableist framing of the ethical consumption world and behind.

 

“In effect, colorblindness as a metaphor turns blind people into racial mascots in much the same way that some sports teams demean Native American by misappropriating their imagery and social experience. A distorted, misunderstood, and objectified understanding of group abilities and social dynamics is celebrated as a rally cry at the very same time that it dehumanizes the group by denying full acknowledgment of their complex lives. Colorblindness has turned blind people against their will into a series of cartoonish representations of racial utopia that fundamentally warps their human experiences.” (page 129)

When white people use the  word ‘colorblind’ to explain their take on race and racism, it almost always upsets vegans of color who are sight-abled. They become upset because it dismisses their lived realities of systemic racism they collectively experience in the USA. Not surprisingly, as beneficiaries of a site-ableist society, those of us who have gotten upset over this, rarely if ever get upset over the ableism implied.

So, if you weren’t aware of this before, will you now stop using the phrase “colorblind” ?

What other ableist phrases and ideas have you (beyond site-ability) used?

Here is a great resource to learn more about Ableism.

Ableism 101

 


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.

 

Future of Mindfulness and Technology in SF Bay Area: Does Anti-Racism Have a Role in this ‘Post-Racial’ Utopia?

The question in the title is rhetorical.

The answer is obvious (to me)…

Of course anti-racism must play a role!

The above took place in September 2015. I was asked to speak at Consciousness Hacking series in San Francisco (Ok, after attending 2 and realizing no one was talking about racial privilege/racial caste system, I had myself invited).  My talk was called “Mindful Social Impact Tool: Reflections on Black Lives Matters and Challenging Systemic Racism” and it was the first talk ever to bring in systemic racism. I am thankful that Mikey Siegel, the organizer and creator of the series, was open to my suggestion of inviting myself and presenting a topic that is largely ignored by the techie mainstream.

There were only a handful of Black folk there in a very packed and popular event that I spoke at. What really struck me (but not surprised, just disappointed), is that while walking to get to the event (in San Francisco), from where I parked my car, there were about 10 homeless people along the way. All of them were Black. When we arrived to Pivotal Labs,  where the event was hosted, I wondered about gentrification, “new white flight“, and to what extent mindfulness and technology works, if it’s in the mostly privileged San Francisco/Silicon Valley bubbles.

I was quite nervous trying to explain racism (in 10 minutes)  to a crowd that rarely thinks about it. I found it intimidating and, at the end, during the Q&A session, I have to admit that I found it quite problematic that one of the attendees suggested that I must be ‘careful’ when I use the word ‘racism’ because it doesn’t apply to many places throughout the world (despite me making it clear that I’m focused on anti-racism and Black Lives Matters in the USA); he said I was being ‘narrow-minded’.  I found it a derailment of what I was attempting to speak about, as well as a derailment to engage individuals there to take action and dismantle systemic racism in the USA– regardless if it doesn’t apply everywhere because, “We’re all here right now, in the USA. More than 90 percent of us in the room are not Black, are benefiting from the displacement of Black and Brown communities in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland, due to gentrification (via Silicon Valley prosperity)…so, what are you going to do about it, as a technology professional who claims to be invested in impact technology can have on mindfulness and altruism?” 

I wish I had said the above, but because of the space, I decided that it may come off as not sounding like I appreciate  the comment, and therefore, wasn’t being mindful…  (I did learn later that the person who asked the question was raised in Germany. I thought, “Interesting, I’ve been to Germany quite a bit and there is anti-Black racism there, along with xenophobia against African/Black folk. It may operate differently, but it is still racism.” So, let me just say that I’m always blown away by people who have never studied critical studies of race in the USA, never took a training or workshop do understand systemic racism in the the USA, but can confidently tell me that I basically don’t know what I am talking about.

Let’s think about this. Is there arrogance embedded in this behavior, perhaps? Could it be unconscious? I know that a PhD oriented in the critical studies of race and whiteness are not regarded as ‘real’ social science by many people in a way that a doctorate in say, a medical profession, is regarded. I wonder if those who don’t have basic literacy and/training in how systemic racism and even how anti-Blackness operate in the USA, often think they can be ‘experts’ over a Black woman with a PhD in the subject as well as 10+ years career experience. Wondering what it means that:

One can tell a Black woman, who says she is talking about systemic racism and Black Lives Matter in the USA + technology apps + anti-racism, that she is being ‘narrow-minded’ for not considering how racism operates in many other countries…even though she made it clear that that is not her expertise or her focus this evening

The above has happened all to frequently when I speak about systemic racism and even unconscious bias in general, and not just in the sphere of technology. What I do regret about my talk is not being more assertive and not having more self-esteem to respond with what I just wrote in the former 2 paragraphs.  I had really sanitized the presentation and my responses to the audience– and perhaps even supporting white fragility with my emphasis on trying to use mindful language as not to hurt the feelings of those white people who have spent most of their time in that protected privileged bubble.

The speaker who came after me (there were two of us speaking that evening) was a venture capitalist. Noteworthy is that whenever I give a talk, I talk about my social locations and explain how they obviously influence my actions/consciousness (i.e., when I said I’m a Black woman in the USA, so experiencing racism oriented me towards the anti-racism I have been doing for 20 years). The VC, who was a white a man, did not mention his social locations at all (I’d argue that most white men are not socialized to think about naming it). I found this lack of locating one’s social identities, to be the very obvious white elephant in the room– and no one commented about it– Yea, I should have, but I thought I was probably already pushing my luck after already having given my talk.

One of the most mindful actions a speaker can take is to name their social locations as well as articulate how unconscious bias (from those social locations) shaped and continue to shape their consciousness around technology and mindfulness– whether it is intentional or not (because it’s all about impact of ignorances arounds unconscious bias as well as as systemic racism). I’m also interested in what would happened if there were conversation about how most VCs in the Silicon Valley area are white men and  they usually invest in people who look just like them (often due to unconscious bias as well).

I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of activism, technology, and mindfulness/ahimsa. I gave two talks over the last 3 weeks at two universities to really talk about the consequences of creating a ‘future’ of technology and/or food when it’s from the Jetsons mind-frame (i.e., that cartoon showed the future and everyone was white, straight, able-bodied, upper middle class).

Will the future of mindfulness and technology, in the San Francisco Bay Area, be as white, heteronormative, classist, ableist, etc, as the Jetsons were?

Below is the poster I created for the event.

CH

 


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.

Like what the Sistah Vegan Project Does? Find out about our 2016 upcoming conference “The Role of Foodie+Tech Culture in an Era of Systemic Racism and Neoliberal Capitalism”. If you missed our Spring 2015, “The Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter” you can download the recordings with slides, here

Also, learn about our other projects and how you can donate to keep the Sistah Vegan Project alive and vibrant.

 

[Opinion] Most Venture Capitalists Would Never Invest Into Foodie+Tech Projects That Dismantle the Systemic Racism They Collectively Benefit From

From Seed to Tablet


 

About the Author and The Sistah Vegan Project


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.