Last week I gave this talk: Uprooting White Fragility: Intersectional Anti-Racism Within the Ethical Foodscape.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org . My speaking schedule is below, via Google Calendar.
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.