For 2017, the theme for the next interactive web conference will be:
From Seed to Table[t]: Foodie+Tech Culture in an Era of Systemic Racism and Neoliberal Capitalism (Challenges and Possibilities)
Originally, this event was supposed to take place Fall of 2016; I had written a blog post about it about one year ago. However, the Sistah Vegan Project delayed the event in order to do more work and research about this topic. We wanted to make the event as fruitful and innovative as possible. The new date for the event will be in the Fall of 2017.
Our last conference was the groundbreaking Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter in 2015. If you missed it, you can download the conference recordings and powerpoint slides by clicking on the image below:
After reading this article, do you have ideas for topics we should discuss or speakers to invite? Post your thoughts and questions in the comments section!
Dr. A. Breeze Harper is a senior diversity and inclusion strategist for Critical Diversity Solutions, a seasoned speaker, and author of books and articles related to critical race feminism, intersectional anti-racism, and ethical consumption. As a writer, she is best known as the creator and editor of the groundbreaking anthology Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health and Society(Lantern Books 2010). 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 Scarsand on “Gs Up Hoes Down:” Black Masculinity, Veganism, and Ethical Consumption (The Remix)which explored how key Black vegan men use hip-hop methods to create “race-conscious” and decolonizing approaches to vegan philosophies. In 2016, she collaborated with Oakland’s FoodFirst’s Executive Director Dr. Eric Holt-Gimenez to write the backgrounder Dismantling Racism in the Food System, which kicked off FoodFirst’s series on systemic racism within the food system.
Dr. Harper is the founder of the Sistah Vegan Project which has put on several ground-breaking conferences with emphasis on intersection of racialized consciousness, anti-racism, and ethical consumption (i.e., veganism, animal rights, Fair Trade). Last year she organized the highly successful conference The Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matterwhich can be downloaded.
Are white people who consider themselves non-racist and non-Trump/non-Cruz supporters really SURPRISED that there are millions of violently racist white people in the USA ” all of a sudden?”
Here’s a confession: I am more angry and pissed off about this convenient lack of awareness from “moderate” and/or liberal “But I am not racist” white people than I am from the obvious racist and xenophobic Pro-Trump or Pro-Cruz supporters I see going viral on social media. This lack of awareness is more traumatizing for me to hear from my white friends and acquaintances; especially when they keep on telling me that they are “shocked” or “surprised” that “we” let this happening or, “I don’t understand how we in the USA let this happen!?”
First of all, don’t include me in your ‘we’– I didn’t let sh*t happen. Own it and what you really should be saying is, “How did we ‘but I’m not racist’ white people let this happen?”
Stop sending me essays and articles that talk about “how did ‘we’ let this happen?” and then never take any ally-building actions. Sharing an article on Facebook or Twitter is not the type of activism that is going to tackle both systemic racism and your learned ignorance.
The racial ignorance of ‘non-racist’ white people is strategically designed to be this way; this ignorance is the ‘glue’ that keeps the more extreme ‘white racists’ in the place that they are in and have always been in; it is the glue that sustains the millions of White people that support Trump and Cruz. And I repeat: just sharing posts about ‘bad racist whites’ on social media is not enough. I still consider it bystander mentality. If you don’t [want to] understand the impact of white liberal ignorance (read Marc Lombardo); if you don’t [want to] understand the evolution of the 500+ year long white supremacist racial caste system in the USA…If you didn’t even know that we’re supposed to ‘know’, then of course, “that is how YOU (not ‘we’) let this happen.”
And let’s face it: you’ve been this way since the ante-bellum slavery officially ended. You were that ‘moderate’ white person who didn’t think Black people should be “slaves”… but also didn’t think they really should have the same power, resources, agency as any white person. And yea, you considered yourself one of the ‘good’ whites since you weren’t lynching Black people like those ‘bad’ whites; yours was a kinder non-racist racism.
And I am frustrated that since I was a child, I’ve been trying to explain what a lack of white racial literacy means; what the horribly racialized consequences/impacts are. I have pointed it out, testified, published, etc., and many of my white liberal friends and colleagues just didn’t want to engage and/or have dismissed my concerns and experiences. Many of you have kept on sending me articles with this same theme over and over again:
How could ‘we’ let Oscar Grant Happen?
How could ‘we’ let the mass incarceration of Black and Brown people happen?
How could ‘we’ let Trayvon Martin happen?
How could ‘we’ let Dylann Roof happen?
How could ‘we’ let Trump Happen?
Let’s face it: You have just as much a “progressive”/possessive investment in [neoliberal whiteness] as Trump/Cruz supporters have in their strange investment in Jim Crow-esque or antebellum era types of whiteness. This is what is going on. Some of you are conscious of it while some of you are engaging in it unconsciously. (I’d gander most are unconsciously doing it). A majority of you continue to be afake bystander in this –– not because you don’t know what to do… but because you un/consciously know that if you actually do something to dismantle systemic racism you will lose the privileges, resources, power, etc afforded to you as part of the [neoliberal], “but I’m not racist like Trump” [whiteness] club.
P.S. It’s amazing that the majority of people are white who say they will leave the USA if Trump wins; white people who don’t even talk about how being an “ex-patriot” is a white racial privilege when sh*t hits the fan. When you tell me that you have plans to move to a European country, this blows my mind. A lot of non-white ‘we’ don’t have this privileges and a lot of us would opt to stay and fight. I know there are non-white people who have plans to leave too, but there are far more white people saying this than non-white folk in my life.
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 bookScars 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. Her latest book project is Recipes for Racial Tension Headaches: A Critical Race Feminist’s Journey Through the ‘Post-Racial’ Ethical Foodscape (2017).
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.
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.
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.
For several years now, I have received scores of emails that have asked me for advice on certain situations. As of yesterday, I decided to create a Ask Dr. Breeze section of my Sistah Vegan Blog. Simply send me your questions and Post them to the blog and try to offer a response. The most important thing to remember is that these responses are my take on the situation; it is not the end all be all and simply 1 perspective out of billions. What I can provide is a critical race feminist framework + my own embodied experiences + engaged mindfulness (Ahimsa and Zen Buddhist based) when offering my wisdom.
Here is the first email to kick off the series. At the end, I offered my two cents but also wanted to open it up to others out there who would like to compassionately weigh in. I definitely will not be publishing comments that are cruel and troll-like.
Note: the person who wrote the email below is a Black identified woman.
On another note, I would like to kindly ask your opinion/input on a situation. I just started attending a therapeutic group that is using “The Artist’s Way” book by Julia Cameron for a ten weeks. Hence, the center should foster a safe space for healing as they are a counseling center. When I attended my first session this past Wednesday, a man came in late and he had a prominent confederate flag patch on his leather vest. When I saw that, I was immediately uncomfortable. What is alarming is that both facilitators never said a word, and one of the facilitators is a black woman. I wanted to bring this up to the group but felt maybe I should wait since it is the first session and just let the facilitators know. Also, I didn’t want to create an environment (for me) where the other people in the group who are all white may try to tell me that I am wrong for feeling the way I do as he is not a racist, etc. So, I let the two women facilitators know how uncomfortable I was and that he consciously wore this flag to the center with intent. One of the facilitators asked if I wanted to bring this up to the group which I said I didn’t have a problem doing; I stated I don’t feel I should have to educate people on what the flag represents and symbolizes as it should be evident especially with all the media attention and recent [Charleston] tragedy . Additionally, I said I should not have to defend myself against this as again, it is evident.
Since both facilitators are interns, they said they would speak to the clinical supervisor. I received a voice message today that the center spoke with the man with the confederate flag and he will not wear the vest and “he understands,” and would like to have a one on one with me to ‘EXPLAIN’ what it means to him since he is from the south. I feel like the center is defending this man’s (racist beliefs) and I am suppose to deal with it when they are suppose to foster a safe environment for healing and transformation. I don’t feel the space is safe in this group with the malicious intent of this man deliberately wearing a confederate flag patch after everything (that the flag represents) that has transpired recently. How can I be my true authentic self and divulge personal information to grow and heal in a space with hatred etc.? I feel like they are making excuses for him and “I” have to deal with it since “I” have the problem. I read your post “SO, THE CONFEDERATE FLAG HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH CONSCIOUSLY SYMBOLIZING SYSTEMIC VIOLENCE OF WHITE SUPREMACIST BASED RACISM.”
I responded by saying that I don’t feel safe and comfortable in the group and I would rather not partake in it. I also said that I shouldn’t have to be the one who has to remove myself and miss out on my healing because of this. I did mention the Swastika being a word of ‘good fortune’ but that doesn’t mean people should be wearing it (as you stated in your article). What I don’t want to do is get in a debate because there is nothing to debate about. Your thoughts would be appreciated along with any another research that I can present to the center. Long sigh
Thank you Breeze!
Since post-Charleston shootings, it’s more obvious than ever that the Confederate flag symbolizes white supremacist based racism and violence for a significant number of Black people living in the USA. But yes, not everyone may have that association/trigger. The man wants to personally talk to you because it’s probably very important to him that he clarify his intentions (i.e. “No, really, I’m not Dylann Roof. I’m not a racist.”
However, this is more about impact than intent. Requesting that you enter that space with him will be a space saturated with the socio-historical dynamic of systemic racism and white supremacy by default. Whether he is conscious of it or not, he would be white-mansplaining the meaning of the flag for him and the impact on your would be negative. If he ‘understands’, it is strange he needs to explain versus simply apologizing for the unintended impact. Many [white] people who display the confederate flag really do believe, “It’s not about racism but just the deep meaning it has to my Southern roots and pride.” Images like the below, sprung up quite a bit, post-Charleston.
He may sincerely feel bad that he wearing it caused you to feel unsafe and perhaps it’s important for him to clarify that he is not a Dylann Roof. He may not have been malicious at all (you stated you experienced it that way), but once again, it doesn’t matter about intent, as one can have good intentions and still have bad impact– especially if they are coming from a place of ignorance and privilege(we all have done that). However, it’s up to you on whether or not you want to enter that space to listen to him. I have personally felt it to be painful and heart-breaking to hear those in privileged social locations explain their beliefs that have negative impact on those not part of that privileged social location. I’ve heard white people explain to me why something is not racist, despite the social science and legal studies research showing the negative impact that ‘something not racist’ has had on non-white groups. I have had cisgender men explain to me why something isn’t misogynistic, despite the rigorous research showing otherwise, in terms of impact. At the end of these dialogues monologues, I have never felt like that person was being an ally or dismantling the very systems of oppression they were benefiting from; just being apologists.
I’d imagine that most mainstream healing and trauma places in the USA are not trained to handle these situations, unless they really are targeting a certain population (i.e. healing and transformation spaces for Black queer women for example). Most staff don’t have experience in [un]conscious bias training and facilitation around the Big 8 or 9 social identities/processes that comes out of systemic oppressions (i.e, race, class, gender, ability, etc). It could very well be that the interns knew the symbol was problematic but simply didn’t know how to handle it.
I think, if anything, these difficult and painful situations indicate the necessity to not just have a national dialogue about systemic racism/white supremacy’s impact, but how individuals can become change-makers by intervening. Remember, most of us in privileged social locations are not trained or even literate enough to know we are upholding systemic oppression (i.e., racism is lynching black people. It’s not institutional, systemic, or structural. Sexism is a man sexually harassing a woman at work; it’s not institutional, systemic, or structural.)
May you find the right healing space for yourself.
Want to to send your questions in for the Ask Dr. Breeze series? Go here to submit your questions and we’ll post it anonymously!
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 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 latestTeaching 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
Notice: This is a draft work in progress and will grow over time…..
Mainstream USA has a difficult time getting real about the complexities of race and power, its history, politics, etc; especially those who are racially privileged and never had to think about race.
This toolkit was tailored from the original one, “Excerpt: Getting Real About Race“, which focused more on K-12 schooling experience. I will use this toolkit to provide questions to guide reflection and discussion on how the physical, social, legal and historical constructions of race impact those involved in the ethical consumption sectors, ranging from veganism, to animal rights, to ‘good food’.
In Rac(e)ing to Class: Confronting Poverty and Race in Schools and Classrooms, H. Richard Milner IV writes, “Educators tend to struggle to address race and how it informs their work with students, parents, communities, and colleagues.” He proposes a nuanced way to conceptualize race as physical, social, legal and historical constructions. What follows are short excerpts from Rac(e)ing to Class and guiding questions that I adapted for ethical consumption. Please use these as tools for yourself as well as your community or place of work.
How do the physical, social, legal and historical constructions of race affect the ethical consumption community that I am involved with?
You can use the four questions as prompts for journal writing and silent reflection. Or, have the questions available to help facilitate a group discussion about race among colleagues. Or, you can do both.
Race is physically constructed.
In Rac(e)ing to Class, Milner writes:
Based on skin pigmentation, people in society construct ideas, characteristics, images, and belief systems about themselves and others. These physical constructions are sometimes inaccurate, but they remain nevertheless. It is important to note that physical constructions of race vary from one society to the next. For instance, constructions of race in Africa and Asia are different from constructions of race based on phenotype in North America.
1. Give an example of how race is physically constructed in ethical consumption.
2. How does the physical construction of race affect you personally or how your engage in ethical consumption?
3. How does the physical construction of race affect the demographics you are servicing and/or educating about ethical consumption?
For example, why are darker skin people who are ‘fat’, targeted as needing to be ‘educated’ more about ethical consumption than white and skinny people? How and why does racialization play a role in intersections of skin color, body size, and ethics?
4. How does the physical construction of race impact the ethical consumption sector you are involved in?
Race is socially constructed.
In Rac(e)ing to Class, Milner writes:
“Based on a range of societal information and messages, people categorize themselves and others. These social constructions are linked to preferences, worldviews, and how groups of people perform. They are based on a range of perspectives drawn from people’s interpretation of history and law, and they shape how we think about individuals and groups of people.”
I would add that most people are completely unconscious about how their interpretations and perceptions are racially biased.
1. Give an example of how race is socially constructed in ethical consumption.
2. How does the social construction of race affect you as well as how you engage in ethical consumption or even receive its teachings?
3. How does the social construction of race affect the people you work with or service within your sector of ethical consumption?
4. How does the social construction of race impact your organization or business?
Race is legally constructed.
In Rac(e)ing to Class, Milner writes:
“U.S. laws have helped us construct what race is. Landmark cases and legal policies such as the Naturalization Law (1790), Plessy v. Ferguson(1896), Takao Ozawa v. United States (1922), Brown v. Board of Education (1954), and Milliken v. Bradley (1974) have all influenced our constructions and definitions of race in U.S. society.”
1. Give an example of how race is legally constructed in your life/culture/society.
2. How does the legal construction of race affect your engagement with ethical consumption?
3. How does the legal construction of race affect the demographics you primarily service or work with (i.e., clients, customers, students, patients, etc)?
4. How does the legal construction of race impact your organization or business’s construction of ethical consumption?
If you are involved in the animal rights and/or vegan movement, do you employ images such as the above without understanding that legally, Black people were never considered human but actually animals (in the Eurocentric speciesist and colonialist racist way), while the collectivity of white people were legally constituted as fully human?
Are you aware that even though lynching Black people in the USA by using ropes and trees is illegal now, there are still legal ways to “lynch” Black people– most notably, racial profiling and deadly assaults by police officers who are still deeply impacted by the historical and legal common practices of traditionally lynching Black people?
The image also implies that race and racism are no longer significant impediments to health, happiness, and safety in Black people’s lives. It also implies that those using this image have not read the comprehensive canon of post-2000 social science and legal studies that show that white USA mainstream still conceptualize Black people as animals and deserving of being “lynched”– albeit not from ropes and trees, but for being things like too ‘uppity’ towards the police like Sandra Bland supposedly was; or being shot when you are a 12 year old boy (Tamir Rice) because systemic negrophobia has created [un]conscious racialized bias in the minds of the mainstream population who believe a little Black boy can look like a threatening “big scary” Black man.
Race is historically and geographically* constructed.
(Note: in the Original toolkit, geography is not part of racialization, but as a cultural food geographer, I cannot help but to add geography into the mix)
In Rac(e)ing to Class, Milner writes:
Historical realties of how people have been treated and have fared in a society steeped in racism and oppression also shape the ways in which people understand, talk about, and conceptualize race. For instance, Jim Crow laws, slavery, and racial discrimination influence how people conceptualize and understand race.
4. How does the historical construction of race impact your organization or business model’s sense of ethical consumption, educational outreach, and how they communicate?
For example, the history of the US Farm Bill and its impact into the present were deeply impacted by systemic racialization. How racialized minorities have been treated within the agricultural sectors of the USA influence how the mainstream food system operates today…as well as maintain the racial and socio-economic inequities within it. To obtain ethical food commodities such as ‘kale’ or ‘strawberries’, one must understand the history of racialization and its impact on the farm bill…which impacts how these foods are farmed and how they get to the plate…which impacts how each individual involved in ethical consumption, conceptualizes what a ‘just’ food system should look like.
If white people in the USA have historically to the present had safer, healthier, and easier access to food and medical resources, due to legal institutions of racism, how does this history affect your construction of how people can or should consume food in an ‘ethical’ way? Does this impact your communication model?
If you feel comfortable doing so, please respond to some of these questions in the comments field below. I am hoping to turn this into an ongoing dialog and not a monologue 😉
Also, the System of Racial Inequity in which ethical consumption exists in can be better understood through many resources including the highly acclaimed video Cracking the Codes which is accessible here: http://crackingthecodes.org . No one person in this anti-racism work I am involved in has all the answers; this is a continuum and no one is a 100% expert on these difficult subjects. I have been ‘educating’ myself about systems of racial inequity for 20 years now (in terms of formal education) and I’m still am always learning and re-learning.
Lastly, I will be writing more deeply about the above questions in my new book due out in 2016 or beginning of 2017 (see below).
I am happy to report that the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley just released the report below. Click on the image for full access. A great answer for those who have asked me over the years, “What does race have to do with ‘good food’ or sustainable farming Breeze? Why are you always talking about race? All people need to do to eat healthy is [type in recommendation that is framed as if everyone has equal access to land, food, money, etc because of what the systemic privileges of being white, middle to upper class, afford….]. It’s easy. Stop playing the race card!”
What does race have to do with ‘good food’ and farming some of you ask?
I wrote this post below at the beginning of January 2015, but I would like to repost this again after reading Lauren Ornelas’ November 2015 post, My Scariest Halloween: Racism at an animal rights protest.
Originally written January 2015
Dear Post-Racial White Vegans:
This is not the first time I have had to sit down and write a letter to the collectivity of you who continue to be post-racial/post-human, yet benefit from systemic racism and white supremacy while simultaneously making claims like “stop playing the race card” or “I don’t see race.” Most recently, with the Black Lives Matter movement, I have gotten a significant number of white vegans responding to the theme of my conference with, “Everyone Matters” or “All Lives Matter”. The theme of the 2015 conference is The Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter: Challenging Neoliberal Whiteness While Building Anti-Racist Solidarity Among Vegans of Color and Allies (Before, After, and Beyond Ferguson). And for some reason, this upset some of you. Maybe you do not know it, but saying things like “All Lives Matter” or “Everyone Matters” are actually called racial micro-agressions and really don’t help with our collective struggle with racial battle fatigue. Please revisit this concept of Ahimsa and extend it to all human animals as well and not get so defensive when a Black feminist vegan scholar with a doctorate in critical studies of food and race, organizes a vegan conference with Black Lives Matter in the title. By the way, in 2005 when I did a Call for Papers for the groundbreaking book Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health and Society (Lantern Books 2010), I got similar racial microaggressions from white vegans committed to ending cruelty against non-human animals. As a matter of fact, in 2007, I wrote an award winning Harvard Masters Thesis about the verbal violence spewed when I did this call for papers on a vegan forum. Essentially, Sistah Vegan call for papers said “black womyns lives matter within vegan praxis” and it didn’t sit well with many of the white vegans on that forum.
When you say “All Lives Matter”, what you most likely mean is the following:
Well, what about me? My whiteness is reality and has always been center [but I have been dysconsciously aware of its racist implications until now]. Since Black Lives Matter has infiltrated my Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and tumblr worlds, my unacknowledged privilege, my unacknowledged white socio-spatial epistemological narrative of the world, and my addiction to neoliberalism (i.e. proclaiming we live in a ‘post-racial world’) have all been called out. Revealed is that I literally am in collusion with maintaining economies of whiteness (i.e. systemic racism, neoliberalism, and anti-blackness)… Ok, I’ll try not to panic (trying to breath and not appear too nervous). I’ll just keep on saying ‘All Lives Matter’ or ‘Everyone Matters’ [so I can shift the lens back onto me, pretending] to show I am in solidarity with all suffering beings and that I’m ‘beyond race’ since I know we all suffer; even us white people. (Trying to breath and not appear too nervous). [Internal monologue: Wow, who knew that giving up my speciesist privilege would be far easier than actively dismantling systemic racism/white supremacy? Giving up my organic eggs for tofu scramble, leather car seats for pleather car seats, and cow milk for soy milk are wayyyyy easier than dealing with the implications of Black Lives Matter on my comfortable white embodied experience.]
So, I offer you this: instead of responding with “All Lives Matter” or “Everyone Matters”, I invite you to participate in the online Sistah Vegan Conference, April 24-25, 2015. This will be a mindful space in which all can learn about how Black Lives Matter enhances vegan praxis and does not ‘play the race card’ or ‘distract from non-human animal suffering.’[Updated Nov 9 2015] I invite you to download the Sistah Vegan hosted conference from 2015, The Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter.This was a mindful space in which folk learned about how Black Lives Matter is integral to holistic vegan praxis and does not ‘play the race card’ or ‘distract from non-human animal suffering.’
For those of you in solidarity with the Sistah Vegan Project, please consider donating to make this conference a success, as well as make it possible for other critical Sistah Vegan projects and services to happen. I am currently working on a book called “G’s Up Hoes Down:” Black Masculinity, Veganism, and Ethical Consumption (The Remix). Click below on the image to find out more.
Yesterday I was bicycling home from work. I commute from University of California Berkeley main campus to Albany, CA, using the Ohlone Bike Path. Near Ohlone park there are tennis courts for the public.
While I was passing by the courts, I saw a Black child with short dreadlocks, holding a skateboard and smartphone, approaching one of the tennis courts there from off the path I was biking on. I read the Black child as a boy (but I shouldn’t assume, I know) and about 11 years old. There were about 4 tennis courts. Two white women (I read them as ‘white’ and women) holding tennis balls and racquets were also approaching the tennis court that the little boy was approaching. When he realized that they were about to use the same court he was heading towards, he said, “But, I wanted to use that one.” His tone was calm and polite.
One of the women literally yelled with complete vitriol and anger (actually, it was more like SCREAMING with pure aggression and hate), “USE ANOTHER COURT!” (Think of an angry Klingon voice from Star Trek). I read her face as completely hostile and unremorseful. The friend she was with told the boy, “Well, this one is more even.” She didn’t yell and was more polite. But she also didn’t seem bothered by the way her friend screamed at the child, nor did she immediately express to her friend how inappropriate (actually, more like “cruel”) her response to that child was (who knows, maybe she did it later?)
I decided to turn around and head back to the court to monitor for about 5 minutes, what could potentially turn into a bad situation. Yes, I already had all the worse-case-scenarios running through my head:
Would she call the police on him?
Would she yell at him some more?
Would he finally get sick of it and start screaming back and then ‘scare’ her into calling the cops?
If she does call the police and they do show up, what would happen?
Would the ‘white fragile woman’ be believed and this child beaten, shot, killed, arrested?
The little boy went to a different court and skateboarded on it, in a circle formation, while looking at his Smartphone for (No, he wasn’t wearing a helmet and I wondered how he could skateboard while looking at a Smartphone without falling).
After 5 minutes, I decided to bicycle towards the Berkeley Natural Grocery store to pick up a few items for dinner. I convinced myself it seemed that the situation was fine.
Since yesterday, I have been incredibly enraged about the incident. I have been angry with myself for not actually approaching this woman and asking her why she felt entitled to yell at that child with such rage and anger. Regardless of skin color, an adult should not be so angry and aggressive the way she did, towards a child, period. I was enraged and still am. Not necessarily with this woman, but with the entire situation of me always having to monitor the well-being of the Black children I see, walking around in the ‘white public’ spaces of Berkeley and Albany. I am angry that I was worried about what would happen if I did approach her, exchanges got ‘heated’, and she called the police on me.
And of course I’m on edge about this, and rightfully so. We live in a country in which a white person in a predominantly white area can merely call the police because they feel threatened by a Black or Brown person for simply breathing the same air they are, 15 feet away from their white ‘vulnerable’ body. This could be while that Black or Brown person conducts business at a local bank or wants to use their skateboard in a tennis court that no one else is using at the moment. Consciously, I think they know that the cops would probably be on their side.
I am enraged because collectively, Black folk have to be hyper-vigilant all the damn time about it. I know I am certainly not exaggerating. My friend’s son is 8 and he is a Black boy. His mom and I talk a lot about being hyper-vigilant. She had shared that she worried about him as he leaves that ‘innocent’ baby-ish appearance and starts looking more and more like a teen; how he will be read and treated just walking around as a child who just wants to love and be loved in a country that is violently anti-Black within a white supremacist based system. My son is 6.5 years old and he too– along with his two younger sisters–, must navigate such a world. As I write this, my blood still boils– again, not directed toward the white woman tennis player– but just about the whole situation of having to constantly worry and be ‘on edge’ about the welfare of Black and Brown children in the USA within the context of living in a white supremacist based racial caste system.
I shared my frustrations and last night’s situation with a colleague at work today who is a white anti-racist ally ( I have the privilege of doing this since I work in the Equity and Inclusion department focusing on diversity, inclusion, and equity issues on the campus). We started talking about what happens when [mostly white] people call the cops on a ‘suspicious’ looking non-white person; how that person ends up injured or even killed when they were not even harmful ( kind of write about this on my recent post here).
How does that person who made that phone call to the police live with their self if who they called the cops on is killed, maimed, jailed?
Do they care?
Do they fully understand what they are doing when calling the cops?
We often hear about the victims of racial profiling in predominantly white areas…but, we never learn about what’s going on in the minds of the person who made that phone call to the police because they were enacting either conscious or unconscious racial bias.
Though not exactly the same thing, I wish I could have asked the white tennis player if she understood her actions; what it means for her to be a white woman in a largely white area of Berkeley screaming like she did to that young Black child who probably already knows the racial-gender schema that is happening/unfolding.
I have heard a lot of white children back talk to adults they don’t know who command them not to do something (i.e. at a playground in Berkeley when an adult asks a 10 year old not to throw toys down the slide in the toddler section of the play area)… but this little Black boy was silent after she screamed at him.
Does she understand why he probably didn’t say one word to her?
Does she realize that he could actually have been terrified of the situation?
To me, a young child embodies the love that so many of us adult unlearn. This child with the skateboard and Smartphone, with dark chocolate skin tone and beautifully manicured dreadlocks is love. What I felt in that woman’s words and body language was the antithesis of that; it signified something deep that she had been untaught about love.
I wondered if he knows about Tamir Rice and if so, how does that knowledge affect how he goes out to play? Affects being a [Black] ‘kid’ in white dominated public spaces? How is that little Black boy feeling right now about last night?
I hope he is all right and will be all right as he learns more and more about what it means to be the object of ‘fear’ for some as well as the subject of ‘love’ for many others.
I speak about the tweet that Vegan Revolution sent out that dismissed the relevancy of Black Lives Matters in terms of the importance of non-human animal lives. I also talk about the Sacramento Hip Hop Youth vegan dinner as an example of ‘vegan praxis of Black Lives Matter’ , featuring many artists such as Dj Cavem and Alkemia Earth doing their culinary concerts. Sacramento dinner was part of the Hip Hop Green Dinner tour for 2015, organized by Keith Tucker. Below is the same video I show at the end of my talk above, but this is far better to hear and see because it is directly from youtube while the one I show is a video recording of the Youtube video and it’s difficult to hear for many.
After the talk, I was on a panel with Jacqueline Morr (Project Intersect) & Lauren Ornelas (Food Empowerment Project) to discuss privilege in terms of animal liberation and vegan spaces. I learned a lot. I thank not just the speakers but the audience for engaging with us and asking really necessary but difficult questions. One woman spoke about a vegan and animal rights author who just published a book and is on tour. She said that he has committed sexual harassment against a woman (maybe more than one). She informed us that DXE tried to shut his talk down and she was disappointed that there was no support for DXE; that there seemed to be this excuse from his supporters that despite sexual harassing behavior, there was the notion that “He has helped so many animals, so we shouldn’t focus on things like him sexually harassing one woman.” She noted that there were a lot of women who still wanted to support him with these types of excuses. I thought that I don’t know much about the accusations towards this author but overall, the dialogue got me thinking about the many women who have privately emailed me telling me certain well known men in vegan or AR movement that have harassed or assaulted them or someone they know… but they are scared to say something about it. What do I do when both sides claim to be ‘innocent’ and we can only rely on the ‘legal system’ to ‘prove’ that something ‘wrong’ did or did not happen? (sigh). The entire 80 minute panel with q&a is below.
On a different note, I was interviewed this past weekend during my travels… and at the end, the interviewer said I was very ‘articulate’. Interesting, huh? Am thinking about how to breath and meditate on it; and how I will communicate to him that he should be careful, as a white guy, complimenting a Black woman for sounding ‘articulate’… I have always been told by white friends and random white people that I don’t “sound Black” throughout my life. I think they think that’s a compliment (?)….Tis not, but thanks for trying….
Since watching it, so many questions and comments have popped into my head. Basically, what is up with this boom in the food-techie startup world and the lack of critical race and critical whiteness scholarship around it within the mainstream media and academic publications? Actually, I have been thinking about writing about food-tech businesses for the last few years. It’s kind of hard not to, living in the San Francisco Bay area and living less than 90 minutes away from Silicon Valley. We are the foodie and techie capitals of the USA. As a food justice, racial justice, and environmental justice scholar and activist, I have been overwhelmed by the amazing surge in ‘foodie’ culture in the Bay area that continues to function as a microcosm of the USA.
And by microcosm, I mean that foodie-tech culture represents how resources as well as systems of power and privilege are organized along racial, class, and gender lines in a current era of neoliberal capitalism.
Food and technology, of course, are not untouched by these. I’m not just interested in foodie-tech businesses… I’m interested in how ‘foodie’ culture meets tech companies that are creating social media apps and other smartphone and tablet technology for a’foodie’ culture that loves ‘healthy’, ‘local’, ‘organic’, and/or ‘good’ food.
So, here are my thoughts as a critical race feminist researcher within the disciplines of critical food studies and critical pedagogies of consumption… who is living in the SF Bay area.
…What role do foodie-tech app companies worth tens of millions of dollars have in dismantling (or colluding with) a neoliberal racist capitalist [food] system? Like all these foodie-tech startups, yes, foodie-tech startups like Blue Apron and similarly highly successful foodie-tech start-ups will change the way of eating and ‘your’ relationship to your grocery store-
-But wait, who is ‘you’ and ‘your’?
Unpacking ‘You’ and ‘Your’ in a Neoliberal Era
What is neoliberalism and how do racism and other forms of oppression operate within its logic?
Neoliberal practices pull into its orbit a market of ideas about a lot of things including the family, gender, and racial ideology. It is, as Lisa Duggan (2003) notes, “saturated with race” (xvi) using capitalism to hide racial (and other) inequalities by relocating racially coded economic disadvantage and reassigning identity-based biases to the private and personal spheres…
Specifically, it has meant the establishment of a market orientation to this relationship. Ideally, within a neoliberal theorization of society, the success of the individual is directly related to his/her work output. Modalities of difference, such as race, do not predetermine one’s success as each individual is evaluated solely in terms of his or her economic contribution to society.What becomes clear is that this ideal relationship is not equally realized by all members in society.
(Source: David J. Roberts and Minelle Mahtani of “Neoliberalizing Race, Racing Neoliberalism: Placing ‘Race’ in Neoliberal Discourse.” Antipode Vol 42 No. 2. Pp 248-257. Pages 252-253.)
Within the context of neoliberalism, I’d like to know who ‘you’ and ‘your’ are when so many foodie-tech startups promote their products and services to you.
True to ‘foodie’ culture, Blue Apron company is focused on ‘locally’ sourced ingredients. However, I would like to know what hands have made these ingredients possible. On their website, there is no transparency about this, other than the fact that we are shown the partners they have (small family farms); however small family farms don’t mean that those working there are treated ethically. Blue Apron answers the question about food being organic or not. I know this is not necessarily their goal, but it is interesting to note that I do not see an open commitment or dialogue about farm-worker rights; nor do I see a commitment to making sure racial-sexual-class hierarchies of power are not maintained through how their supply chain is made possible.
I often wonder what foodie-tech startups would look like (or how profitable they could be) if not just ‘organic’ and ‘local’ were central, but also if the ideologies of folks like Dolores Huerta and Cezar Chavez were central. Once again, I know it is not Blue Apron’s goal, but the absence is quite telling and also has me thinking about the limits to what one can ask for, from venture capitalists that don’t seem ‘too political’. Concerns about farmworker rights and exploitation, restaurant worker rights, racial or sexual abuse of workers, etc., would most likely not be mentioned in the business plans of foodie-tech startups searching for funding.
Most people who are into mainstream ‘foodie’ culture care more about their food being ‘local’, ‘fresh’, and ‘organic’ than if the food came to them through the abuse and exploitation of farm workers and other marginalized human workers in the food system.
This makes sense because that is what is marketed to and narrated to the general foodie population. Many foodies actually think organic and sustainable mean the treatment of human beings and non-human animals is ‘humane,’ which is false. What would be great to have from Blue Apron is a statement that acknowledges the need to be more critical about horrible treatment of human workers. So far, such statements are no where on their site, however, once again, it could very well be that investors do not want to appear to be ‘too political’ and prefer to be ‘post-racial’ and ‘post-class’. Yes, their focus is not farm-workers or other food industry workers’ rights. However, the silence around this is quite compelling because the fact is, foodie-tech start-ups could not exist without the human laborers in the food system.
What could all this mean?
Let’s face it: Foodie+Tech start-up folk live in an isolated utopian world in which their technology will only ‘solve’ the problems of the privileged neoliberal [white] socio-economically stable demographic. Notable in the video link above from the CNN interview with Blue Apron, is that theco-founder Salzberg states that their model isn’t for the entire world’s population, just a specific demographics [who seem to find going to a grocery story to get local and organic fresh foods a ‘burden’ (?)]. He does say that there is a place for the grocery store and doesn’t think that the companies like Blue Apron will ‘kill’ the grocery store. However….
…analyze websites such as Blue Apron, Plated, Instacart that are THRIVING and you’ll find their rhetoric to be the following: food+tech+’post-racial’+buying power with our dollars will ‘change the world’+ being socio-economically privileged is the optimal approach to creating a ‘better’ food system (Well, maybe just a better ‘foodie’ experience). I will give the benefit of the doubt that the founders aren’t directly conscious about their approach or the consequences….I will just assume that they really had ‘good intentions’ (though often, the road to hell is paved that way, no?). However, I’m still always fascinated by the fact that millions of dollars can be poured into foodie-tech apps by venture capitalists when food justice activists working in/for the poor and communities of color, with hardly any resources, struggle like hell to create food security and/or sovereignty for themselves.
Would venture capitalists for foodie+tech startups ever consider investing in structural and systemic change to dismantle not just an unequal food system, but the entire corrupt neoliberal racist capitalist system itself? You know, a system that makes food insecurity and the loss of land a reality for most of the world’s people? Let’s remember that most of the people of the world do not include the Silicon Valley elite and alike. Let’s remember that Santa Clara region, where Silicon Valley is born out of, feeds the tech elite in a disturbing way:
A majority of the exploited non-white immigrant farm labor force cannot even afford access to the produce they grow and harvest that end up on the plates of the tech elite (You can read more about this through Food Empowerment Project’s latest reports).
This leads me to conclude that subscribers of foodie+ neoliberal racism + technocracy create the illusion that they are invested in making the food system ‘better’ and ‘easier for all to access’… but it seems that they really just want to be the 1%. (Some people refer to neoliberal racism as racial neoliberalism. I like the term ‘neoliberal racism’ and am using it in the way Goldberg defines it and write about it. Goldberg uses the term racial neoliberalism but I decided to just be upfront and write ‘racism’ versus ‘racial’ to not hide that fact that what is going on is racism at the systemic level. ‘Racial’ seems a little to sanitized for me.)
And please understand, when I speak of neoliberal racism, I am speaking about processes of racial inequality and racial injustice that are systemic and often promoted and maintained in very unconscious ways by individuals. Many people with good intentions, but are ignorant about how racial, gender, and class injustice/inequality operate at the systemic level, end up engaging in food entrepreneurship that may unknowingly have negatively racialized, gendered, and classed outcomes.
Tens of millions of dollars are invested in foodie+tech each month so folk can do things like click on a button to have someone deliver to them something from Whole Foods; or to have a gourmet food chef make you a meal out of organic chard and artisanal cheese. Speaking of Whole Foods, did you know that Whole Foods benefits from the Prison Industrial Complex? In “From Our Prison to Your Dinner Table”, readers learn that Whole Foods actually contracts with Colorado Correctional Industries for food products such as tilapia; Whole Foods is one of their biggest clients!Essentially, if one uses apps like Instacart, they could order tilapia from Whole Foods produced by inmates! (Check out Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow: An Era of Mass Incarceration to learn more about labor exploitation of inmates.)
The site Food + Tech Connect reports the weekly trends in food-tech business world. Food + Tech Connect constantly remind readers the endless amounts of wealth and resources are available for foodie-tech startup businesses (and don’t get me wrong. I love Food + Tech Connect as a rich source for my own work in food justice and racial justice. It’s a comprehensive– though unintentional– map that shows me the ‘gaps’ in systemic justice and how neoliberalism works).
Recently, I learned that Munchery, a company similar to Blue Apron ($58 million in funding), just ended their funding round with $85 million dollars valuing them at $300 million dollars. Instatcart ($274.8 million in funding), Sprig ($56.7 millions in funding), SpoonRocket ($13.5 million in funding), and DoorDash ($59.7 million in funding)are also ‘good food’ delivery services similar to Blue Apron worth tens of millions of dollars as well. It is remarkable that the same type of capital is not put back into the marginalized communities that have no food security, live under racialized police surveillance, are prey to the Prison Industrial Complex as ‘free labor’ , and/or who have lost land and community space due to gentrification from Silicon Valley and alike, or land grabbing etc.
Venture capitalists invest a huge amount of money into foodie-tech start-ups. However, I wonder if the same investors would ever consider providing political, legal, and monetary resources for example, the Black folk like those fighting to keep Afrika Town community garden alive in Oakland CA. Probably not. Why? It’s simply not lucrative to create food and land sovereignty for non-white and working class USA population. It is better to not fund those endeavors because it doesn’t keep neoliberal capitalism and [mostly white] class privileged access to ‘good food’ alive through cool smartphone apps that deliver food right to your door and masks how systemic racism, sexism, poverty, neocolonialism have made that ‘option’ available for the beneficiaries of Silicon Valley and alike. Food and Geography scholar Nick Heynen writes
The power relations that manifest under the tyranny of hunger relate explicitly to how capitalist societies, and the proliferation of free market forces, rely on access to food as a negotiating chip to maintain domination and coercion. As Engels (1881) suggested, “The Capitalist, if he cannot agree with the Labourer, can afford to wait, and live upon his capital. . . . The workman has no fair start. He is fearfully handicapped by hunger. Yet, according to the political economy of the Capitalist class, that is the very pink of fairness.” This contradictory notion of capitalist fairness, that is, that so many should go hungry amidst such material abundance, is hard to imagine as a result of its brutality. The spatial contradictions within this notion of fairness and justice are vital for articulating the interrelated and interconnected processes inherent in urban poverty and hunger, and how both impede social reproduction.
(Source: 409-410. “Bending the Bars of Empire from Every Ghetto for Survival: The Black Panther Party’s Radical Antihunger Politics of Social Reproduction and Scale” in Annal of the Association of American Geographers, 99 (2) 2009,pp. 406-422.)
I would argue that the lack of investment into food security projects like Afrika Town, is violence; the collateral damage of neoliberal capitalist oriented investments focused on spaces such as the [mostly white] elite of Silicon Valley. It also resonates with the very real fact that Oakland’s Afrika Town’s struggle echoes the food security politics of the Black Panther Party’s Breakfast Program for Children from over 40 years ago (also Oakland based). There is a reason why the U.S. government and white business elite saw the BPP’s morning breakfast programs as the central threat to their white supremacist state and subjugation of Black communities. Food justice initiatives such as the BPP Breakfast Party and Afrika Town continue to be direct threats to the notion of empire. Why? Empire— even the new ‘post-empire’ neoliberal [empire] era– rely on hunger and food insecurity of the planet’s majority.
Henry Giroux talks about the limits and violence of neoliberalism. Notable is how he places emphasis on the big wigs, including Silicon Valley elite in unveiling what is really occurring in the larger scheme of things:
Moreover, in the face of massive inequality, increasing poverty, the rise of the punishing state, and the attack on all public spheres, neoliberalism can no longer pass itself off as synonymous with democracy. The capitalist elite, whether they are hedge fund managers, the new billionaires from Silicon Valley, or the heads of banks and corporations, is no longer interested in ideology as their chief mode of legitimation. Force is now the arbiter of their power and ability to maintain control over the commanding institutions of American society. Finally, I think it is fair to say that they are too arrogant and indifferent to how the public feels.Neoliberal capitalism has nothing to do with democracy and this has become more and more evident among people, especially youth all over the globe. As Zizek has observed, “the link between democracy and capitalism has been broken.” The important question of justice has been subordinated to the violence of unreason, to a market logic that divorces itself from social costs, and a ruling elite that has an allegiance to nothing but profit and will do anything to protect their interests.
Source: Truth Dig http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_militarization_of_racism_and_neoliberal_violence_20140821
Also, see below the interesting comment from Glassdoor. Of course, it’s just one out of 3 reviews on that Glassdoor site about working at Blue Apron. However, the reference to whiteness of management in terms of food spaces and institutionalized racism is nothing new in the world of food. The groundbreaking book Behind the Kitchen Door explores this power dynamic.
The social science research book Foodies: Democracy and Distinction in the Gourmet Foodscape also deeply analyzes the limits of neoliberalism and the popularity of being ‘non-political’ when it comes to ‘the good food movement’ supporters (i.e., “Let’s not talk about class or race because it means we are being racist and classist…and anyway, ‘good food’ is neutral and has nothing to do with racial or class politics”).
Blue Apron’s neoliberal approach to making ‘good food’ more ‘accessible’ and ‘affordable’ (which the founders talk about as reasons why the company was created) aligns with this interview below with Salzberg, the founder of Blue Apron. Salzberg gives advice on how to find entrepreneurial success the way he did with Blue Apron:
Do it at the right time
Changing careers or starting a company is a stressful experience. Your professional life will be chaos. Your future role will be uncertain and so will your compensation. Who knows if you will even be good at what you’ve set out to do? And I’ve always believed that you can only have chaos in one sphere of your life at a time. So, if you’re thinking about a professional transition, try to do it during a time when your personal life is stable. Making a career change right as you’re about to have your first child, breakup from a serious relationship, or move to a different city can make the transition even tougher. When I started Blue Apron, I was based in New York City, had a strong network of friends and family, and I was in a long-term committed relationship. Thissecure environment gave me the confidence to take the professional risk I needed to successfully start a business.
Seek out experts and mentors When you change careers you’ll have a lot to learn – and quickly. The best way to ease this transition is to seek out people who can advise and coach you along the way with perspectives that are different than your own. One of the reasons I went into venture capital before starting a company was because I wanted to build a network of other CEOs and start-up experts who I could lean on for different perspectives and advice when necessary. Similarly, when starting Blue Apron, I deliberately sought to work with people who had come from different backgrounds and could bring another level of expertise to the table. As a result, my co-founding team members all had skills that complemented one another, which have played an important role in the success of Blue Apron.
Be humble When you’re making a career transition, you should focus on what really matters—how to set yourself up for long-term success. In most cases this means getting your foot in the door, so you can be in a position where you can learn and grow. However, I’ve seen too many people coming from success in a different industry fixate on getting the perfect role, compensation, or an important title. If you can find a position at a great company, or with a great boss who will help you grow — ultimately positioning yourself for future success — jump at it and don’t sweat the details. When I left private equity, I took a pay cut to get the experience I needed in venture capital— and I’m glad I did. The experience I got was critical to successfully starting a company, which was a long-standing career goal for me.Before starting Blue Apron I had no previous CEO experience, and it hasn’t been easy growing the company to over 1,200 employees in just two and a half years. We deliver recipes and ingredients for millions of meals across the country, and making that happen at scale requires us to reinvent the way things are done every day. The ability to embrace new challenges has been critical not only for myself, but also for business.
Though well intentioned, I’m always intrigued by the numerous articles and books in the mainstream that take this sanitized approach to business success. It’s as if it assumes that everyone starts off as a a highly educated (in the formal sense) white man with no impediments from systemic racism or systemic sexism. Salzberg’s advice is post-racial and post-sexist. There is no mention that those who are most likely to get venture funds to invest in a big career change to starting their own company are white men (due to implicit bias of most venture capitalists and supporters of neoliberalism who are cultured and mis-educated in the USA to accept [white] men as ‘naturally’ successful in any business venture or leadership role they want to pursue). One can argue that it’s ‘normal’ not to need to mention these things to make the message ‘universal’. However, the logic of universal has the implicit bias that the audience are white able-bodied heteronormative cisgender men. (Hey, maybe Salzberg did mention impediments based on racial and gender inequality but it was edited out?) Perhaps Salzberg is aware of these, but when you’re doing an interview with Fortune magazine and your investors may be reading it, perhaps it’s safe to not mention impediments to career changes that implicate systems of racism, white supremacy, sexism, and even nepotism; such a bold move would jeopardize funding. Basically, we may never know what was edited out during the interview.
Here is some food for thought. Silicon Valley venture capitalists were found to be overwhelmingly male and white. From Emory University Law School, Dorothy A. Brown reported on diversity in the high tech industry. She writes:
Throughout Silicon Valley, start-ups tend to have all-male boards of directors, because board members are generally the venture capitalists who invested in the start-up. According to National Venture Capital Association, 89 percent of venture capitalists are men. Regarding race and ethnicity, 87 percent are White, nine (9) percent are Asian, two (2) percent were AfricanAmerican or Latino, and two (2) percent were of mixed race. Venture capital professionals who had been in the industry less than five years were more racially and ethnically diverse – although not true for gender diversity. Seventy-seven percent were White, 17 percent were Asian, three (3) percent were African American or Latino and three (3) percent were of mixed race.
(Source: Brown, Dorothy A., Diversity and the High Tech Industry (2014). 6 Ala. Civ. Rts. & Civ. Lib. L. Rev. (2014 ); Emory Legal Studies Research Paper No. 14-296. Available at SSRN:http://ssrn.com/abstract=2485458)
One of the biggest impediments for people of color– especially women of color, is finding a mentor who is ‘networked in’ already and as well as a mentor who has the confidence to support their life’s goals, period– and with the acknowledgment that systemic racism and sexism position us women of color very differently in terms of opportunities and how the mainstream view our purpose as human beings. There is a significant number of women of color who simply do not get the mentoring support they need to make big shifts. Beyond the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley, this disparity starts within K-12 education in the USA and goes into college and graduate school. There is an obvious need of mentorship that is VERY different from the cookie-cutter [white able-bodied male] mentorship logic.
Essentially, my final thoughts are that foodie-tech app companies worth millions of dollars may kill some of your grocery stores, but they certainly won’t kill the neoliberal. racist, and capitalist [food] system that creates their wealth in the first place. The mainstream image of ‘successful’ foodie-tech entrepreneurs are almost always [white] men. There is basically a non-existent consciousness around the technology they ‘created’ and how likely it would have been made possible without racialized and gendered inequality in tech industry. It must be noted that [white] men are most likely to be the ‘intellectual’ creators and owners of the start-up. However, someone has to actually put the technology devices together through the supposedly ‘not so intellectual’ (i.e. ‘unskilled manual labor’) process of manual labor:
Race is built into the tech industry[…]The industry, like the region, carries with it the inequalities of race, class, and gender of the broader social context in which it resides. The tech firms in Silicon Valley are predominantly led by White men and a few White women; yet the manual labor of assembling circuit boards is done by immigrants and outsourced labor, often women living in the global South.
(Source: Daniels Jessie. “My Brain Database Doesn’t See Skin Color”: Color-Blind Racism in the Technology Industry and in Theorizing the Web.” American Behavioral Scientist. March 31, 2015)
Under the new system, immigration policy would select immigrants on the basis of their skills or their existing family ties in the U.S. It kicked off a “brain drain” from the world’s most populous countries, India and China, which both had governments that were less than 20 years old at the time. A shaky sense of political stability combined with poor economic growth and disastrous projects like The Great Leap Forward encouraged the crème de la crème of these countries to seek better fortunes abroad.
Many of the most technically educated migrants favored by the new U.S. immigration policy ended up in Silicon Valley. Reforms and explosive economic growth have since tilted the balance back with the emergence of new tech hubs in Bangalore and Beijing.
But if the 1965 law had one effect on the Asian-American population, it had an entirely different impact on the Latino community.
I would like to know more about how foodie-tech businesses worth millions of dollars, with largely male and white leadership, are actively making sure the manual labor behind their ‘intellectual property’ and the ‘good’ food on their plates, does not also come at the expense of non-whites, women, or at the expense of less human-rights oriented immigration policy. However, perhaps my interrogations are fruitless; highly successful foodie-tech startups rely on neoliberal models embedded in competitive markets within a capitalist logos; and I need to remind people that capitalism– yes, even neoliberal capitalism supposedly designed to create an even playing field in a supposed post-colonial era– cannot exist without producing and reproducing systemic racial, gender, and class oppression as well as ecocidal views of the Earth’s resources. At first glance, I would argue that a lot of foodie-tech startups give the image that they are left neoliberals which they think is a ‘good’ thing to be. However,
The differentiation between left and right neoliberalism doesn’t really undermine the way it which it is deeply unified in its commitment to competitive markets and to the state’s role in maintaining competitive markets. For me the distinction is that “left neoliberals” are people who don’t understand themselves as neoliberals. They think that their commitments to anti-racism, to anti-sexism, to anti-homophobia constitute a critique of neoliberalism. But if you look at the history of the idea of neoliberalism you can see fairly quickly that neoliberalism arises as a kind of commitment precisely to those things.
(Source: Let Them Eat Diversity: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2011/01/let-them-eat-diversity/)
Is it possible to not have a commitment ‘precisely to those things’? If so, what would it look like?
I do not expect foodie-tech companies to be perfect. In the USA (where my scholarship is focused on), we are living in and under systems of oppression that have conditioned most of us to accept that racial injustice is ‘normal’; that hetero-normativity is ‘natural’; that cis-sexism is acceptable; that ableism is ‘okay’; that neoliberal economic policies and practices are the answer to creating justice in a now post-colonial world. What I am asking is to acknowledge that most of us are starting within a system of logic that makes exploitation and abuse of people the ‘norm’– but if you’re part of a privileged demographic (i.e. heterosexual, able-bodied, cisgender identified, middle to upper class, etc) you may never know that your privilege comes at the expense of those not in social and geographical locations of privilege. All I’m asking foodie+tech companies to do is to acknowledge these systems of oppression and to start making sure your business model (and other things) is not in collusion with these oppressive systems.
Thus far, a neoliberal, racist, and capitalist, [food] system has made it possible for foodie-tech companies to receive tens of millions of dollars in venture funding that benefit new foodie and technology projects that overall do not question or work to dismantle systemic racism, poverty, and hetero-patriarchy. We’re not just talking about ‘from seed to table’ here; with foodie-tech startups on the rise who bank on their potential clientele’s use of iPhones, iPads, and Nexus tablets, we need to consider if it is possible for foodie+tech to operate in a way that does not maintain systemic inequality ‘from seed to table[t].’
My questions for foodie-tech companies:
What is your commitment to creating a food system that acknowledges that systemic racism, whiteness, and poverty need to be dismantled?
What is your action plan in creating transparency or conversations around how systems of racism, xenophobia, and sexism basically uphold the food commodity chain?
How are you supporting a thriving wage for food workers? Do you actively vote for laws and support policies to ensure a living wage for food workers? (See Mark Bittman’s NYT article Can We Finally Treat Food Workers Fairly?)
Did you build your space or business as a beneficiary of gentrification? What is your commitment to making sure that your foodie-oriented start-up isn’t at the expense of kicking out working class and/or marginalized communities of color that have a long history of food insecurity and being victims of gentrification?
What is your commitment to not reproducing the racial and gender power dynamics found and reported in books like Behind the Kitchen Door and by organizations like Restaurant Workers United?
What is your commitment to abolishing the Prison Industrial Complex? Are you aware of how the food and agricultural industries rely on the mass incarceration of Black and Brown people to create food commodities as nearly enslaved prison laborers? (Starbucks is one of them, and so are Wendy’s and McDonalds) .
These questions are a good start and I don’t expect anyone to have all the answers over night.
There also are plenty of resources out there that address how structural racism operates in the U.S. food system if you want to learn more about this. Two scholars at Michigan State University just put together an annotated bibliography about how racism in the US food system that you can access at: Structural Racism in the US Food System (2015) .
Dr. Amie “Breeze” Harper has 15 years of experience in Social Justice Activism and Research. Her training and award winning Masters thesis from Harvard University employed critical race feminist methodology to understand how and why women of color use educational technologies to organize, learn about, and mobilize around ethical consumption practices such as veganism. She earned a PhD in Critical Food Geographies (with an emphasis in ethical consumption and Critical Race Feminism) from the University of California-Davis. Dr. Harper recently created and organized the conference, “The Praxis of Black Lives Matter” that took place April 24-25, 2015 (www.sistahveganconference.com). The central theme focused on how ethical consumptionand Black Lives Matter are not separate.
For the past eight years, she has been the senior research analyst and trainer for Critical Diversity Solutions (CDS). Founded in 2007, Critical Diversity Solutions is a social justice oriented consulting and training organization that seeks to teach people about social impact through food, technology, and wellness. CDS uses the creative platform of ethical consumption and ‘good food’ movement to address timely social justice issues.
Recently, Dr. Harper gave a book talk and workshop at University of Oregon Eugene (May 2015). She read from and analyzed her new book Scars and explained how food objects in the book can tell us about racial and socio-economic power dynamics in the U.S.A. View video of lecture here.