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.


Getting Real About Race: A Starter Toolkit for Understanding Race in Ethical Consumption (Veganism, Animal Rights, and More)

If Race is Just a Skin Color...

I have spent the last 10 years writing and giving lectures about how whiteness impacts ethical consumption and beyond in the USA. The number 1 theme of confusion I have encountered, about this topic of race and whiteness, is from mostly white people who literally do not understand how race and racialization are historically, socially, physically, geographically, and legally constituted. Most white identified people who have spent their formative years in the USA or other white dominated societies, seem to believe that race is simply a “skin color” with certain phenotypes like ‘blonde hair’ or ‘thin lips’ as race markers; even more so, most think racism is not a significant impediment to equity and inclusion, despite the rigorous post-2000 data showing otherwise. For this demographic, race is simply ‘skin color’ and basically a ‘thing of the past’….

…But nothing could be further from the truth.

Several major questions I have asked in response to [white] constructions of race being about ‘skin color’ have been:

If race is just about ‘skin color’, then why have I constantly been told that I sound ‘white’? How can one possibly ‘hear’ one’s skin color?

If race is only about skin color, then why were the Irish in the USA, up until the 20th century, not considered white like White Anglo Saxon Protestants, despite having the same skin color? How were they and other light skinned European immigrants able to work towards whiteness?

If race is just about skin color, why was my newborn baby in 2009, who was born with very fair skin and bright blue eyes and straight brown hair considered to be ‘Black’ by some yet “White” by others?   

In SPLC’s latest Teaching Tolerance newsletter, H. Richard Milner IV’s work is cited. I took a screenshot of how SPLC is teaching people about how the concept of race operates beyond the skin color myth. (See below)




Toolkit for “Excerpt: Getting Real About Race” in the Ethical Consumption World

[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?

How do racial experiences affect vegan dietary and animal compassion activism?



How do racial experiences affect vegan dietary and animal compassion activism?

This is just one of the many questions I hope the Sistah Vegan Project can answer, through rigorous social-science based methods and research. However, we are far from completing this goal, but this is how you can help us…

My name is Dr. Amie Breeze Harper and I am the founder of the Sistah Vegan Project. ( ) My birthday was yesterday, and my wish for this year is to transform the Sistah Vegan Project into a passion that sustains me spiritually as well as financially. I am going to take a bold, exciting, and awesome step and turn the Sistah Vegan Project into into an official non-profit organization; it would be my full-time work. What would we do? Here are a few goals:

  • Investigate and report how USA plant-based dietary philosophies and animal compassion are impacted by racial/ethnic experience.
  • Provide webinars and workshops that teach about plant-based dietary philosophies with special emphasis on cultural, racial, ethnic identity in the USA. For example, a workshop about becoming vegan that acknowledges the realities of how racial health disparities and environmental racism significantly impact food access and knowledge of low-income communities of color.
  • Publishing scientifically based online materials about plant-based nutrition and health for varying demographics, but in particular, pregnant and lactating girls and women.
  • Create yearly Sistah Vegan Healing Conference/Retreat for females of color and allies. This event would enable us to share knowledge and build our leadership skills around plant-based dietary philosophies, but rooted in anti-racism, decolonial activism, and animal compassion that reflect the collective needs of females of color.
  • Publish 2 seminal media projects that investigate alternative black masculinities within the sphere of vegan food politics:
    • Brotha Vegan! Black Male Vegans Speak On Food, Identity, Health, and Society. This would be an anthology collection similar to Sistah Vegan.
    • “Living Bling, Going Green”: Alternative Black Masculinities, Hip Hop Eco-Consciousness, and Decolonial Vegan Nutrition. This would be a social-science based book which will investigate how plant-based philosophies are being reshaped and reformulated by Black men of the hip hop generation. How do they engage pedagogies of hip-hop, educating and mobilizing people of color about health disparities, as well as environmental and institutional racism, and animal cruelty?
  • Create Android and Apple smartphone apps and media that help you make more informed decisions about food, health, social justice, and eco-sustainability.

I ask you for your help to make this non-profit possible. The primary resources I need are monetary and would be used for the following:

A Social Media Intern. I would be seeking the help of a part-time social media intern who knows how to use the latest social media apps. Duties would include promoting the book Sistah Vegan and notifying people about my new speaking events and blog posts. Ideally, I would want to pay this intern, but would need to do it through donations. This would be a tele-commuting position.

An Android and IOS 5 App Programming Intern. I would need funding for a smartphone app programming intern who can create apps and digital media for our organization.

Public Speaking and Events Coordinator Intern. The bulk of my income comes from speaking engagements in which I receive an honorarium. However, thus far, Sistah Vegan Project is a one woman show. I have two pre-school age children and inadequate child-care help and have only been able to secure several speaking gigs each year. I simply do not have enough time to take care of my babies and actively search and network the numerous possibilities out there for public speaking. What I need is an intern who can promote my work to universities, businesses, and non-profits, in a concise and creative way, so these organizations can hire me to talk about 2-3x month. Ideally, I would want to pay this intern, but would need to do it through donations. This would be a tele-commuting position.

Resources and Funding for Travel to Conferences and Workshops. Over the past few years, I have been unable to attend numerous conferences because of registration and travel fees associated with them; in addition, I would have had to leave my babies at home and pay for childcare (which is so expensive, I just opt to stay home). For example, I am hoping to be accepted to the Interrogating Critical Studies of Whiteness Conference at Trier University in Germany, which takes place this summer. However, the plane ticket alone during ‘high’ season for traveling is $1600. Conferences are spaces in which I can share the social justice research of the Sistah Vegan Project as well as learn about new ideas and methods to strengthen the work that I do. I see financial donations or plane miles to help with such expenses.
Visiting Scholar Fees. Because I was not offered any type of academic position this year, I no longer have access to resources of a university: office space, scholarly community collaboration, auditing classes, online library services, etc. I will be applying to be a ‘visiting scholar’ at several local universities in my area. What this means is that I will have the resources I need to do my Sistah Vegan Project work. However, I would have to pay the university about $500 in ‘fees’ to be a ‘visiting scholar’.
501 C 3 Non-Profit Status. For 2013, I want to turn Sistah Vegan Project into an official non-profit. Fees accompanied with this transition are about $350.
Board Members. Once we are an official non-profit, I will be inviting candidates to send me a CV and short cover letter about why they would like to be part of the board. I will be seeking about 4 or 5 board members. At this point, board members will be volunteer.
Technology Costs. From WordPress Pro, to Vimeo Plus, to Comcast Cable Internet subscription, to Cisco WebEx, the Sistah Vegan Project relies on internet technologies as our primary method of educational outreach. However, these technology services are pricey and we seek donations that can help cover these costs.
Peer Reviewed Journal. Lastly, I envision us releasing a Critical Race and Vegan Studies journal twice a year.My goal for this year is to raise $80,000. Originally I had stated $60,000, but I have updated our needs to include a smartphone app programmer. This fundraising goal would provide enough money so I can work on the Sistah Vegan Project at a salary that is equivalent to want I need to pay for day-care, my rent, utilities, student loans, food, etc, as well as offer modest compensation to part-time temporary interns. I have been doing this work for years, and as much as I enjoy it, I can no longer do it for free. If you enjoy the work I have done, if it has helped you, your organization, your students, your family, etc, and you want to see it go to the next level of a non-profit social justice organization, please contribute what you can by clicking on the GOFUNDME Link below. If you do not want to use this method, but prefer paypal, click on the link on the right upper corner of this blog page to donate via PAYPAL.


Critical Vegan Interventions: Black female slave vivisection, non-human animal experimentation, and the foundation of Western gynecology

Update: Before watching the video about “Critical Vegan Interventions: Black female slave vivisection, non-human animal experimentation, and the foundation of Western gynecology” I just wanted to say that if my work has benefited you, or you have enjoyed watching my critical race scholarship and/or health advice over the past few years, I’m wondering if you can return a favor. My fellowship to pursue critical race and critical vegan studies at the doctoral level was not renewed for 2011-2012, through University of California, Davis. I would like to finish my PhD and need some help. I know the goal may seem overwhelming, but I have about a combined support network/friends/followers of 1000 people (through Facebook, blog subscribers, and Twitter followers). If you could spare $10 to $25 a piece, then this goal could be met I think.

Paypal email donation: breezeharper (at) gmail (dot) com or go to the right side top of the screen and click on donation link.

UPDATE: As of June 11, 2011:

Donated: $2230

Needed for completion of goal: $7,770

Deadline: September 2011 (so I Can register for 2011-2012 academic year)

In this video, I speak of how Black female slaves were forced to undergo ‘vivisection’ by Dr. Marion Sims, the ‘father’ of Western gynecology. I also speak of how this fits into colonizing both ‘the other’ (Non-white peoples and nature) and how vivisection on non-human animals today is connected to the interlocking system of oppression and suffering that allowed Dr. Sims to repeatedly cut into black female slave’s vagina’s (without anesthesia, remorse, or regret).

The next video is me talking about how you can help me finish my goal of completing my PhD.

Books for further explorations on these intersections:

Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present

Birthing a Slave: Motherhood and Medicine in the Antebellum South

Animal Welfare and Anti-Vivisection 1870-1910: Nineteenth-Century Women’s Mission (History of Feminism)

On Italy, Whiteness Research, and Being a Vegan Tourist

Sistah Vegan Munich: On Europe, Whiteness Research, and Being a Vegan Tourist Part I is about my time in Europe from May 6, 2010 to June 16, 2010. I talk about my travels as well as where my dissertation work is headed to.


Thank you for watching.