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Dr. A. Breeze Harper

(This post was originally titled: “Not everyone has the ‘privilege’ or desire to practice veganism through the lens of ‘post-racial’ whiteness”. However, I decided to change and update it.)

Sistah Vegan Project is the alternative space for those of us Black women and allies who have grown tired of PETA-type post-racial vegan politics that so dominate not just the USA, but many white-settler nations.

A few days a ago, I received a letter from S—- (i am protecting her identity and she gave me permission to publish her letter), a Black Kenyan woman living in South Africa. I read her email and it made me cry for many reasons. I wanted to share it with you because her experience and her open-heart truth-song are the reasons why I must keep the Sistah Vegan Project going, and turn it into a fully functional non-profit organization. Black women, not just those of use who practice veganism, really need to be surrounded by people who don’t force us to ‘accept’ a post-racial utopia myth the neoliberalism has so ‘brilliantly’ done to the consciousness of so many of us living in white-settler nations.

Dear Dr Breeze Harper,

My name is S— from Kenya, but I am currently living in Cape Town South Africa. I recently embarked on a juice fast primarily for weight-loss but a month in, after watching copious youtube videos, I began to see my journey as one that was broader than just the idea of losing weight for aesthetic reasons. I started thinking about my health and how I just wanted better for myself. I have been overweight for almost seven years now and the birth of my son four years ago exacerbated my condition.  I found a blackhealthvillage video on youtube about Queen Afua and through this medium i discovered you. I am writing just to say thank you so much, you have no idea how much what you have to say has moved me and changed my life.

I started flirting with the idea of going vegan, which especially in a very white post colonial Cape Town, is such a white “hippie”, yoga life concept and is not really considered normal for a person of color. I struggled with the looks of disbelief I got from a lot of people when i spoke about my journey into the raw vegan life style. One of the things that struck out to me the most, was how my boss particularly (who has recently gone vegetarian), only wanted to discuss veganism/vegetarianism in terms of cruelty to animals. I always had a sense that we were communicating past each other. I do hate the extent to which the animal products and meat industry is destroying our planet and also the extremity of the cruelty to which many animals are subjected just so humans can eat abundantly. I find obscene the amount of waste (food) generated by the meat and fish industry.   The conversation around these issues however,always seemed shallow and very basic to me, it just seemed to lack conviction. 

I have been watching your videos and I feel like I am home. Looking at veganism as a way to decolonize my body has provided the conviction I need to proceed on with my journey.

Living in post apartheid South Africa inflicts such great wounds on a person of color, especially one coming from a country where the settlers have all but left. I first really noticed the color of my skin when i moved here 13 years ago. I stopped being “S— the girl in my English class” and became “that black chic, man, the one who sits two rows down in English”. I noticed the segregation, people naturally just hang around with their own kind. I was at a progressive university, where the History department (I majored in History for my BA) was renowned for its work in studying neocolonialism and post apartheid whiteness, but i was still having to defend my lived experiences of racial attacks to white middle class suburban students. These were spoiled and entitled people: They would not acknowledge sprawling townships that existed not too far beyond their high electric fences, where people of color still lived in tin shacks and used buckets as toilets…it was altogether inconceivable that they would ever acknowledge that i experienced racism on a daily basis. I had heard stories where orientation week for black South African student included guidelines to using toilets that flushed; I could not fathom anything more demeaning.

As result of years of this battery I just started letting  a lot slide, i ignored racial comment, acting as though i was unaffected. I worked hard and gave off an air of disdain to all the white folk that dared challenge my prowess and abilities based on my skin color. I had the advantage of being well traveled (as my parents had worked for the UN) and being very “well spoken” in an accent that was acceptable to my white counterparts. I was therefore accepted, i somehow was excluded from the stereo types attributed to black people. My son is a biracial child and thus fact that i married into a white family made me more appealing to the white neo- liberal society. Nothing is more patronizing than being the token and acceptable black person, i am the girl that allows white people to say “I am not racist, I have black friend”. 

I cannot decide what is worse, the patronizing or the out right hateful racism i get form the Afrikaaners (the coiners of the term Kafir). There have also been moments where i feel isolated form the black community because of my choice in mate and my child is hurt (although not intentionally) when discussions about bi-racial children arise – these usually evoke such fierce sentiments from white and black alike.

What I really want to say is that your work has awoken something in me and I feel empowered and politicized again. I know that it is okay to talk about how hurtful racism is, and to let people know that the denial of its existence is such  an insult to a person who lives it everyday. I have pandered to the feelings of white “friends, colleagues and neighbors'” by not discussing my feelings around racism for fear of being deemed militant or too heavy, whilst the very same people have not considered my feelings when they discuss people of color, our cultures and our politics from a place of non compassion and understanding. 

I have been empowered by you to find a safe space to release my anguish, to find like minded sisters and brothers who will help me heal A place where it is safe to discuss my views. My family lives in Kenya and the US so i am surrounded by a white family where my opinions are quietly discouraged. I recall once being asked to step off my soap box as it was dinner time and thus very inappropriate to discuss politics. At the time i was talking about the plight of the immigrant Zimbabweans crossing the South African boarder everyday, looking for a better life; i failed to understand why this was deemed inappropriate politic whereas deeming the new black regime wasn’t.

In a nutshell I am truly grateful for your work and thank you for opening my eyes to so much.

Kindest regards
S—-

“I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t laugh.”
 ― Maya Angelou

This letter helped to ground me and recenter me. If you have been following my blog for the past few months, you have read or heard how I struggle with what is the “worth” in doing this work; particularly in this harsh job economy in which a person with my particular ‘skillset’ (that critiques ‘the system’) cannot secure full time employment… But thank you S— for reminding me why I must somehow make the Sistah Vegan Project my livelihood.

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.

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