On Beating Up “Niggers” While on Patrol: An Engaged Mindfulness + Critical Race Feminist Response

She read the reports. She knew they used the word “nigger” to describe Black people. Using “nigger” in that context makes it incredibly difficult for many Black people to respond in a way that isn’t an “eye for an eye”… Judge Evans was able to not do an “eye for and eye”, despite that. That is a very difficult thing to do and the impact is amazing…

Thank you so much Judge Vonda Evans. You are one of my new heroes. Amazing how you first focused on the racism of white cops who just wanted to beat up “niggers” (which was captured on social media exchanged by cops who supported this activity)…. to explaining that this is a microcosm of systems of oppression, the lack of structural support of the city, the lack of training and mental health resources available for police officers, etc. She does not excuse them for the violently racist behavior towards this black man they nearly beat to death. However, she shows compassion in understanding how an exploitative system is unhealthy for all, including the racist cops who publicly believe they can beat up “niggers” as their pass-time. Judge Evans makes the connections…even bringing in Flint MI.

This is what a critical race feminist framing of justice and engaged mindfulness (I called it engaged Buddhism) looks like. Judge Evans  “reminds” the defending officer that despite his despicable behavior captured on video, he is still capable of being an amazing human being she knows he can be; that this one horrible act doesn’t mean that this is who he was in the past, who he is now, or who he will be in the future.

After the weeks of me trying to understand the constant hate towards my critical race feminist analysis, intersectional, and engaged Buddhist (some know it as mindfulness) approaches to ethical consumption, this video reminded me why we Black folk doing this work are so powerful; why we scare the white beneficiaries of this white supremacist capitalist racial caste system. Many of these beneficiaries don’t know they are ‘benefiting’ from this system and many do; many think they are being ‘objective’ but in fact, think and act as racialized white subjects And though Judge Evans doesn’t say it exactly, it is unclear who really benefits from this white supremacist capitalist racial caste system in the long run, including these white cops who may have racial privilege but do not have socio-economic privilege such a a system was supposed to guarantee for people who look like them.

Our intersectional approach to social justice with a critical race feminist framework is not playing “identity politics” , “playing the race card”, or has a “white hating” racist agenda (click here and here to see what I am referring to). Thank you again for reminding me of this Judge Evans. And even though you do not mention this in your sentencing, your embodied experience as a black woman in a white supremacist capitalist racial caste system, has produced a unique consciousness around ethics and justice that is a gift. And because of your powerful position, you were able to leverage that.

Without spite, Judge Evans served justice engaged mindfulness  to both the defending officer and the man he hurt so badly. Yes, you can tell her heart is broken and she is so frustrated, but you can tell that she is not an “eye for an eye” human being in this moment. She doesn’t pinpoint the one bad thing this officer was documented doing, via video, and then allow that to permanently define who he was, is, or can be.  


Dr. A. Breeze Harper
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.

patreon

Speaking Schedule of A. Breeze Harper

Knee Joint Pain? Try Turmeric and These Other Vegan Wonders….

Sistah Vegan!

 

I have had new knee joint pains for several years, since giving birth to my 2nd baby in 2011. It was getting increasingly worse in the last 1.5 years. When I started biking to my new job in Fall of 2015, it was excruciatingly painful– particularly at night or when I was sitting for long periods of time. It affected my sleep. I dreamed and could feel the pain.

However, over the last 8 weeks, I discovered that taking fresh turmeric  everyday has nearly eliminated the problem. Below is a photo of my kale and other leafy greens salad.

File_000

Those bright orange pieces in there are not carrots, but fresh organic turmeric root. I sliced up a piece that was about 1.25 inch long and about 1/2 inch wide  I also added the same amount of fresh ginger (Note: this may be a lot to start off with if you don’t have a high tolerance to ginger like I do. Start small, as too much can cause gastrointestinal issues).

Turmeric and ginger are both anti inflammatory, but turmeric is the powerhouse for joint pain reduction I have found. It’s actually been found to be more effective than Ibuprofen in some studies for joint issues such at arthritis. I am thrilled that this worked out for me. I really thought I had to deal with this chronic pain that was only getting worse, forever. In addition, I have found that adding stinging nettles (2-3 cups a day, several days a week) and dark leafy greens like kale, help with inflammation. The addition of the turmeric, though, was astounding. I eat it fresh but the organic dried root powder should be effective as well (as studies show). See citations below.

1. Managing Osteoarthritis and Other Chronic Musculoskeltal PainDisorders by A. Dublin in Medical Clinics of North America 100.1 (2016): 143-150

2. Grover, Ashok Kumar, and Sue E. Samson. “Benefits of antioxidant supplements for knee osteoarthritis : rationale and reality.” Nutrition Journal 15.1 (2016) 1.

3. Jefferson, Warren. The Healing Power of Turmeric. Living Publications, 2015.

4. Nieman, David C. Et al. “A commercialized dietary supplement alleviates joint pain in community adults: a double-blind, placebo-controlled community trial.” Nutrional Journal. 12.1 (2013) : 154

I’ll also be mentioning my use of turmeric in several recipes in my new book Recipes for Racial Tension Headaches (see below).  Along with knee joint problems, the turmeric has been one of my new go to herbs for dealing with racial battle fatigue and my recent experiences with hate and vitriol against the critical race work I do within veganism and other ethical consumption spaces.

Remember: talk to your practitioner before doing something new like this!


sistahvegan06

Dr. A. Breeze Harper Giving a Talk about Scars at Pomona College in 2015

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.

patreon

2016-2017 Speaking Schedule of Dr. A. Breeze Harper

sistahvegan06

If you would like to attend a speaking event by Dr. A. Breeze Harper, look at the calendar below to see her upcoming events.

Want to hire Dr. Harper to speak at your event? You can see her availability below and write her at bookbreezeharper@gmail.com .

And be sure to subscribe to her Sistah Vegan blog posts by going here.

Ruminating on Perpetually Being Labeled as a “White Hating Racist” and Other Thoughts

Bigot

UPDATED January 21, 2016 22:05 PM PDT

Over the duration of my scholarly endeavors (12 years), I have experienced increased hostility towards my critical race feminist engagement with ethical consumption , as well as Buddhism,  by primarily white identified people.

There is a difference between mindfully disagreeing with a person and being cruel , a bully, and violent because that person doesn’t agree with you.

So, here are some questions/thoughts…

What is the strategy  in gathering an army of white-identified people and teaching each other that the scholarship and other writings/work by A. Breeze Harper are”racist” and “bigoted”?  There has been 450+ years of racism/whiteness in operation in the USA (institutionally, legally, structurally, systemically). It has changed throughout time…and it is going to take a lot of work to understand and dismantle it, using various methods, including critical theory, legal studies, and grassroots activism.  I have found that these racialized systems of oppression have deeply affected ethical consumption in the USA; it’s inevitable, as ethical consumption was not developed in a vacuum. 

When I suggest how this white supremacist racial caste system has affected nearly everyone in the USA, I am intrigued by the amount of uproar and pure vitriol that comes from mostly white identified people. We are all racialized subjects with racialized consciousnesses that have been born out of a white supremacist racial caste system; the way we are socially and geographically located in that system affects how we frame, perceive, experience, everything. This includes ethical consumption. This isn’t about me saying individuals are bad vs. good. I’m more or less pointing out the damages/consequences of such a system… and that it affects most of us at a deeply somatic and unconscious level. 

It would seem that many of you have made it your full time job to intimidate me by immediately joining this army. Here is a gentle reminder: “white identified” people are ‘damaged’ by such systems as well, in the long run, despite the many privileges that come along with it. (And no, I didn’t make this up. I would love to send you a long list of citations that show these damages).

I consider myself on the continuum of many Black anti-racism activists and scholars that have come before. And during this continuum, various scare and intimidation tactics have been used to dissuade folk like me from doing the work that we are doing. I am not sure if you realize this, but thus far, these tactics have not worked throughout the centuries. It’s not going to work on me, so you may want to stop putting so much time into it; furthermore, even though many of you spent a lot of time trying to be cruel, verbally abusive, etc, I don’t ever react the same way towards you. I’m not an eye for an eye type of person. It’s just not going to happen.

I’m not going to dedicate my life to trying to destroy you or spend countless hours trying to gather an army of people to hatefully bully or troll you. Right now, I just accept that bullying, threats, etc towards me is coming from a place of fear, insecurity, anguish, etc.

Perhaps some of you can explain what the point is in gathering such armies and then trolling my social media sites and intimidating me by calling me things like a “white hating racist”…? Or making comments like beating me to death with a crow bar because I critique the ways well known leaders of mainstream food and sustainability movement frame their ethics through normative whiteness? I’d like to hear more concretely what those fears, insecurities, etc are– especially when I make it a point to not attack individuals but rather, understand racism and whiteness from the systemic and unconscious levels….and how we are affected by that machinery of whiteness as racialized subjects within that system. I cannot count enough , how many times I have been called a white hating racist when I simply give a talk about the work I’ve been doing.

Recently, I went to University of Oregon to talk about my new book Scars. I recorded the talk with my camera. Someone who watched a video of the recorded talk on my YouTube channel, posted that I was must hate white people and blame them for everything. They concluded this after spending 3 minutes watching the 60+ minute video of me reading from my new fiction novel and talking about how whiteness impacts the ways 2 characters practice plant based diets. The book had nothing to do with hate and everything to do with unconditional love and working through the collateral damages of racism together. These intensely hateful reactions to my writing and talks happen all the time and really only through social media and similar online platforms.

I’m curious about this tactic. As someone who wrote an award-winning Masters Thesis at Harvard focusing on, ‘But I’m not racist’ White vegans who used cyber space to ‘bully’ POC who wanted to engage in critical race interrogations of normative whiteness within AR and veganism, I’m not really surprised these reactions are coming my way, 12 years later, but still, if you could share what’s on your mind, I’d love to hear.

Perhaps I can share something with you that can help you leave the realm of spite, vitriol, and bullying…. When I was being critiqued for my ableist framing of my Sistah Vegan project’s early years (because I have able-bodied privilege it affected how I made assumptions about ability and health) , I chose to not gather an army. I chose not to bully those who are doing disability studies work and activism and/or living with disabilities. What did I do? I picked up some training materials and educated myself about how, even though I’m not “overtly” an ableist, I am still framing health and veganism from an “ableist” angle and need to STOP doing that. That as a visibly able-bodied woman, I have benefited from systemic ableism my entire life. I did not bully or harass those who call me out. Instead, I realized they are not attacking “me” but critiquing how I “frame” veganism and health (believe it or not, these are two different things) and that even though I may not agree with everything they say, I could learn a lot from them that can only strengthen my activism towards creating a world with less suffering and violence. I learned from those who have developed knowledge from the embodied experience of being systemically oppressed… and without saying they know everything, but without saying I know everything either.

I’m also interested in what the strategy is of ‘hiding’ behind social media to intimidate me. Feel free to respond on the social media you are using or on my blog, because I’m curious. Many of you block me, after you intimidate me and that makes it difficult to have an open dialogue (or perhaps your ultimate goal is just to intimidate me?) If you are so confident that I’m a “racist” or “hate white people”, then why immediately block me? Shouldn’t you have the confidence to believe in what you have said without needing to “Block” me?

When someone such as myself spends years using social science methods to TRACK themes/patterns , analyze them, and come to the conclusion that, “This is the new way in which [type in systemic oppressive patterns of white supremacist racism] operates” , this is not simply “making up new definitions” for racism. Many have implied I and other women of color doing critical race studies scholarship are ‘redefining’ racism to achieve some ‘hidden white hating agenda’. When many of you write me that I need to only use the Webster dictionary definition of “racism” from 70 years ago, you’re basically saying this dictionary definition should “trump” the complex definitions of ‘racism’ developed by the more recent critical race studies scholar. Those scholars developing that canon weren’t invited to write up the dictionary at that time, for obvious [racist] reasons.  What is the strategy in explaining to me that you are sending me the Merriam-Webster definition to “educate” me on how I am “incorrectly” using the word “racism” ?

I think you probably don’t understand this or how academic disciplines work, such as critical race studies. Critical race studies scholars don’t just ‘make up’ and randomly define the way new forms of racism and normative whiteness operate. We collectively go through a rigorous process to develop these theories through various methods that are usually “approved” by the disciplines we are working within. That’s how new theories/knowledge about systemic oppression are developed; we don’t refer to the dictionary definition via Merriam-Webster…

Just because you don’t like the results of what decades of critical race studies scholarship reveals, doesn’t mean the collectivity of people of color engaged in this scholarship are “racist” or “hate white people.” It means that we know something is very “wrong” within the moral fabric of the USA…. and has been for centuries. We are developing the tools to create a literacy and action plans around this. Even though at first, it makes many white people ‘mad’ and ‘uncomfortable’, this is what the results of this canon reveals: systemic racism/normative whiteness exists to a degree that significantly impedes people of color’s ability to thrive and be in safer environments, have the resources we need, etc. I can’t change or lie about those results (and why would I?). Some tips:

  • Consider taking time off from intimidating me and instead, explore the canon of critical studies of race and whiteness so you can develop a critical literacy skill set and a plan to dismantle these systems.
  • Get out of the Jim Crow era of simply using Webster dictionary definition of “racism”.
  • Be gentle to us and yourself by admitting you just didn’t know how new systems of racism and white supremacy operate…and that the anger and vitriol you have is a symptom of terror.
  • Consider the fact that maybe you are terrified about what this could all mean to your points of security and what you know as ‘normal’ and comfortable.
  • Let’s we work together, and like I said, it took 450+ years to create this, so why don’t we understand it’s going to probably take just as long to understand it and unravel it?

Again, I won’t engage in an eye for an eye. No matter what. The more hostility I receive, the more I want to understand it and find new ways of using mindfulness, unconditional love, my Engaged Buddhist practice, to break through it and enter a new sphere of possibilities.  The anger, vitriol, spite are symptoms of the collateral damage– the emotional and spiritual damage– that this systemic racial caste system has caused to the very white people who want to [un]consciously hold onto it.

For those of you interested in the spiritual poverty that systemic racism and white supremacy have created within the collectivity of white people living in the USA, I think the Starr King School of Ministry says it best for their Educating to Counter Oppressions core values. (*Please note that even though the below excerpt is within the context of religious education, this school of ministry promotes using spirituality and anti-oppression as their core values; fighting white supremacy is listed as part of their values. As an agnostic, I am still able to appreciate the use of ‘religious task’ for what I could interpret as ‘moral/spiritual task’ for myself):

People of color have resisted white supremacy in many ways. Communities of color teach patterns of resistance. Each person who survives oppression has found and moved along a path of resistance.

Those who ‘were never meant to survive’ but have survived, extend to the larger human community the wisdom and ways, options and opportunities, sounds and rhythms of resistance and survival. Such people make their lives a gift of authentic presence and witness.

Members of the dominant society often miss the opportunity for fuller human meeting. To become more fully present and engaged, we must all engage in the work of seeing how white identity has been constructed in narcissistic ways. An embrace of fuller humanness relinquishes self-centered needs, arrogance, and self-serving patterns, and contributes to fresh possibilities for just and sustainable community.

Members of the dominant society must accept responsibility for this religious task, without depending on people of color to be ‘the mirror that talks back’ and makes whites visible in their ignorance, thoughtlessness, or denial. At the same time, genuine and transformative human encounter happens when people are willing to speak the truth in love to one another and are open to being confronted.

White supremacy reveals a spiritual crisis at the heart of the dominant culture. Overconsumption and exploitation are hidden and tolerated for the sake of a quality of life that is neither abundant nor sustainable. Engaging white supremacy involves discovering a deeper experience of abundant life. This discovery, in turn, means confronting and changing social systems, including economic systems, that perpetuate too banal a sense of ‘the good life’, making it available to too few and causing harm to too many and to the earth.

Starr School for the Ministry, Educating to Counter Oppressions 

Fanon knew it.

DuBois knew it.

hooks knows it.

Yancy knows it.

Powell knows it.

The collectivity of us doing this work have always known it…. and that is what keeps many of us on this path, despite the threats and intimidation.


sistahvegan06

Dr. A. Breeze Harper Giving a Talk about Scars at Pomona College in 2015

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.

patreon

[New Book Update] Recipes for Racial Tension Headaches by the Sistah Vegan Project

Become a Monthly Donor to Support Dr. Harper’s 3rd Book (Click Below for more details)



In 2017, Dr. Harper’s latest book Recipes for Racial Tension Headaches: A Critical Race Feminist’s Journey Through the ‘Post-Racial’ Ethical Foodscape will be released. It is this project as well as her continuous blogging and Sistah Vegan Conference planning that Dr. Harper needs ongoing monthly support for.


Structure of the Book

Part recipe book, part critical narratives, part memoir, with a touch of humor, Recipes for Racial Tensions Headaches is an entertaining and a thought-provoking book. The idea was inspired by Dr. Harper’s 2011 food demo at the San Francisco Greens Festival . The first and only of its kind that year, her food demo showcased a recipe for a plant-based green smoothie as a tool of anti-racism and self-care against racial battle fatigue. It was a creative way to use super greens to discuss the implications of living in a racial caste system (the supposed ‘post-racial’ USA) as a non-white woman engaged in anti-racism scholarship within the fields of ethical consumption and cultural food studies. Below is a snippet from her journal in 2011:

I attended the San Francisco Green Festival on November 11, 2012 to give a food demo. I think I may have been the only person presenting that included ”racial tension” and “racism” as descriptive words for my presentation. This is my first food demo I have ever given. I was nervous.
This comes from my years of work and personal experience of not being able to deal with the years of racist micro-aggressions to the overt direct in your face “Ima call you a n*gger”. I have talked about the days I have overdosed on vegan organic jelly beans after dealing with blatant white supremacist thinkers. And I have done this even though I know intellectually that I am not supposed to do that and then expect to feel ‘in harmony.’ So, when I was asked to participate this year, I decided that I would take the ‘bold’ step to send them my title, “Recipes for Racial Tension Headaches: Holistic Vegan Recipes to Combat the Stresses of Racism.” They accepted it. I was surprised since collectively, the framing of the event is ensconced in post-racialism, neoliberal whiteness, & neoliberal capitalism. LOL.
The audience was a mixed bunch but just about all the chairs were seated. I realized that people either were genuinely interested in what I had to say…. or were just staying through all food demos to get the free food at the end. Haha. So, maybe that is what I should do in the future when I talk about racism and USA’s racial caste system to a mainstream audience: offer food!

Recipes for Racial Tension Headaches will critically reflect on the past ten years of Dr. Harper’s journey as a critical race feminist through the ethical foodscape in the USA. At the end of each chapter’s narrative, Dr. Harper will share plant-based recipes that were inspired by her experiences. This book will include (but not limited to) creative and analytical narratives about her:

  • Treks to events like the Hip Hop vegan based youth dinner in Sacramento, CA that conveyed what anti-racism looks like through veganism.
  • Keynote talk at Brown Suga Youth Festival in Denver CO and speaking to the organizer DJ Cavem about fighting environmental racism and Prison Industrial Complex through veganism and eco-gardening.
  • Reflections on the racial-gender implications of traveling as a vegan Black woman to many keynote talks with her newborn daughters in tow, and nursing them on demand (even on stage at places like University of Oregon while discussing her new book Scars).
  • Frustrations and strategies for being called a ‘racist’ when employing social science methods to critique ideologies of whiteness in the ‘post-racial’ American ethical foodscape.
  • Organizing the Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter 2015 conference in which many white people responded with “All Lives Matter” or “this event is ‘racist’”, before and after the successful event
  • Exploration of how key Black vegan men have used hip-hop methodologies to create varying forms of “race-consciousness” that often conflict with each other (i.e., some resist cis-sexism, ableism, anti-feminism while others reinforce them.) Note: This idea was originally going to be its on book called “Gs Up Hoes Down:” Black Masculinity, Veganism, and Ethical Consumption (The Remix), but it will be integrated into Recipes for Racial Tension Headaches instead two chapters.
  • Adventures in nursing while on a super greens vegan diet while hiking through Utah’s national parks as the “token” Black person.

 

Funding The Annual Sistah Vegan Conferences: The Only Critical Race Studies Oriented Conferences about Vegan Praxis

In 2013, Harper organized a first-of-its-kind Sistah Vegan Project conference , focusing on Black embodied and Black feminist perspectives from Black vegan women and allies. This conference brought community leaders, activists and intellectuals together with an eager audience to speak about the links between social justice and animal rights, sexualization of the body, parenting and spirituality, cosmetic marginalization and indigenous foodways from non-white vegan perspectives.
In 2015, again, Dr. Harper organized another highly successful conference called the Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter .

As a Patreon monthly subscriber, you will help fund the Fall 2016, conference From Seed to Table[t]: Food+Tech in an Era of Systemic Racism and Neoliberal Capitalism (Challenges and Possibilities) which was inspired by Dr. Harper’s well received article, “From Seed to Table[t]: Can Foodie-Tech Startups Change a Neoliberal, Racist, and Capitalist [Food] System”? . This conference idea was also inspired by Dr. Harper’s innovative talk in San Francisco about intersections of anti-racism, smart app technology, and ahimsa:

 

 


What Dr. Harper Has Done Already: Her Critical Race Feminist Engagement with Food & Culture

Dr. Harper created and edited the ground-breaking anthology, Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak On Food, Identity, Health, and Society.

Building on the Sistah Vegan’s favorable reception, Harper created The Sistah Vegan website, a blog writes about intersections of ethical consumption, anti-racism, critical whiteness studies, and Black feminist thought. She recently posted the top 20 blog posts of 2015.

10+ years of anti-racism and Ahimsa based vegan scholarship and activism earned Dr. Harper the Vegan Unsung Hero Award for 2015.


 

sistahvegan06
Dr. A. Breeze Harper Giving a Talk about Scars at Pomona College in 2015

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 FOLLOWER. JUST IMAGINE WHAT COULD BE ACCOMPLISHED IF HALF OR MORE FOLLOWERS PLEDGED $5-$15 PER MONTH.

patreon

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.

 

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.

(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.

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.