Obama, "Veganism and race is not an issue", and other foolishness

I am reading Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama by Critical Whiteness studies author, Tim Wise. It’s his new book. These are the things I’m thinking….

I’m at the point that if I have friends who are not willing to engage in anti-racist activism and aren’t questioning “whiteness as a pathology”( because it truly is part of the fabric of the USA foundational beliefs), I am going to start kicking them to the curb. Seriously, if you haven’t noticed, your friend Breeze here is B-L-A-C-K! If my real lived experiences of racism STILL don’t convince you that it’s a problem in the USA… and if these covertly racist attacks towards President Obama still aren’t giving you a clue, I can no longer be your friend until you seek therapy for your pathology. I’m also getting annoyed with certain vegans who contact me because they are made uncomfortable that I would DARE research the implications of whiteness and racism within the vegan and animal rights movement. Seriously, people! Seriously…

And I’m not saying I agree with everything that President Obama is doing, but I’m just irritated that he’s being attacked because he is NOT white ( or at least not pandering to the needs of people like Bill O’Reilly, Nancy George, Sean Hannity, and Glen Beck…)

It has been 4 years since I’ve started the Sistah Vegan project and my graduate school research around these issues. I can’t tell you the number of  vegans (9/10 are white) who contact me because they are upset, annoyed, confused, etc., that I am doing the work that I do. I’m being told, “Veganism and race is not an issue.”  I offer them a reading list that CLEARLY shows that there is a problem with whiteness, racism, etc in the USA and that it’s IMPOSSIBLE that these “isms” haven’t touched vegan and animal rights philosophy!  I wonder how many have actually read any of the SCHOLARLY literature that has been produced!?

If I say I’m doing research on race and veganism, suddenly it’s an issue… but I would probably never EVER hear that this is a problem if I were to look at “religion and veganism” or “gender and veganism”.

Here is an excerpt from Between Barack and a Hard Place:

The worst possible outcome of the 2008 election would be for Obama to have won, only to then have the millions of people mobilized by his mantra of change go back to sleep, to hit the snooze button on the none-too subtle alarm clock that has been going off for many a year now, and which signals the crisis at hand. If the throngs who flocked to his speeches, and sent him hard-earned money they barely had to give, and went door-to-door canvassing for his campaign, and voted perhaps for the first time, decide that an Obama presidency will serve as a curative for the nation’s racial ailment, then all the excitement, all the hope, and all the paeans to “Change” will be for naught. This job was never his to tackle, it was ours. In that sense, we might remind ourselves that Obama cut his teeth as a community organizer, and that the role of the community organizer is not to swoop in and solve the people’s problems: rather, it is to help the people see their own strength, their own wisdom, so that they may, themselves,stand up to and fight back against the injustices imposed on them. Nothing could be more dangerous than for us to fall prey to the irrational exuberance that often characterized public reaction to the Obama campaign. While there were many reasons to be excited about his candidacy, statements by persons like Oprah Winfrey to the effect that Obama was the “fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream;’ or something along those lines, couldn’t be more absurd. (Wise 2009, 114)

Scary, but I’m seeing this as I type…. 🙁

0 thoughts on “Obama, "Veganism and race is not an issue", and other foolishness

  1. I share your fustration. I already fail to socialize with those who ignore racism as an issue. Not only are veganism and race synonymous issues, but race and nutrition, race and food access, race and environmental pollution. It’s fustrating dealing with so-called enlightened liberal vegansn and be told to your face “race is no longer an issue”

  2. As a white woman who has been involved in anti-racism work for close to 40 years, I applaud your commentary. I was not aware of your work before I saw this on facebook, but my eyes have been opened a bit further and I see a new edge of work that is mine as a white person in this country and the world. I will read Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the age of Obama. I would also welcome any reading list you would be kind enough to provide. I have a community garden on my property providing an opportunity for Oakland High School students the opportunity to learn about healthy vegetables from seed to table but I know this is just a small drop in large bucket of history and denial that as white folks we need to step up and acknowledge and address with fearlessness, authenticity and determination. Thank you for your work and for your words.
    Karen Hutchinson

  3. There’s nothing new about this subject to me as a whole, to expand on what Breeze mentioned, when a black person in America is reflecting on issues of their personal life its reality. On a personal note, an almost-potential partner of mine could not find the link between veganism and race in America (he’s being a vegan for 15yrs) and just wanted me to sweep it under the rug and/or thought I was just pulling teeth, so needless to say that relationship did not work out. That’s why it bugs me how people can relate to animal suffering but can not relate those same emotions to human’s suffering and injustice, and attributes it that blacks in America need to just let it go, or are looking for an excuse and the clencher racism doesn’t exist. Hmmm, if the President of the so-called ‘free-world’ is going through it, who am I?

  4. I have been a participant-observer of the un-removable connections in life. Especially, those that are choices of limitation. Any sentient being who does not comprehend these inter-weavings–race-gender-socio-economic status-location-history and more is a willing dupe, one whose equilibrium is upset by finding that the world is not the cocoon preferred. The fearful, smug and lazy are unwilling to face what is.

    Blessed Be to your work. After decades of trying to enlighten I am tired and bored with the snoozing dragons and would happily remove my presence from them. Where is the cave, the ship–or the tree?

  5. I applaud the work you are doing and your important critique of the lack of anti-racist activism within the animal rights movement. While the connection between gender and veganism has received greater recognition in recent years, ecofeminist activists still receive the same sort of complaints–“you’re being divisive,” “why can’t we focus on our commonalities,” etc. We have a long way to go as a movement!

  6. Breeze you are breathing life into an area of our existence that others have not been courageous enough to explore and wise enough to see. You contribute to my expansion of what’s going on and I appreciate you and all you do. You really are a breath of fresh air! Keep on doing what you do and sharing you PASSION!!!

  7. Thanks everyone for your support. I guess I just needed to vent, because sometimes I feel completely alone when I am doing this specific type of work. I have to be reminded that I’m not “crazy” and that I’m looking at issues that NEED to be made visible to the status quo…and to those who consider themselves “colorblind” or “post-racial”.

    I also wonder how many people of color in the USA, who do social justice anti-racism activism , end up physically sick, due to the stress that this causes. I know there are plenty of research reports out there that specifically look at cardio vascular health and black people’s perceived experiences of racism. Apparently, the hypertension we have is very much a result of these stresses and anxieties. And also, bell hooks asks the connections between dealing with internalized racism, direct racism and whiteness to “overeating junk food” in certain black communities; she implies that junk food is comforting (and easy to access) after a hard day of racism. (sigh)…

  8. I know specifically of a friend who was an activist of environmental justice – DAMU SMITH with Black Voices for Peace and his non-profit environmental justice organization he started. We lost him due to colon cancer and he was vegetarian.

    And yes there is much to research, discuss and conquer around how blacks – particularly economically challenged ones – turn to food, JUNK food in particular for the comfort that is needed after the dragged out internal injuries and collective damage.

    I am a big observer of the food world and the everyday choices that are made around food. As you know, we’d rather spend money on that hair do, shoes or outfit whereby I commonly hear our folks complain that healthier food is too expensive. People actually shop for food based on deals rather than what is essentially healthy. If it’s cheap then “we” want it and will stock up on it. I guess I spend most of my money on quality food since it’s how I instill prevention and maintenance.

  9. Hi Breeze:

    Great blog. Check out this book by Bobby Wright. It’s one of the few books out there that rightly in my opinion describes racism as a pathology and/or mental illness.

    Also if the rise in the number of hate groups, the treatment of Arabs (since 9/11), Hispanics, Chicanas/os and the rise of antisemitism since Obama’s election dosen’t convince those who classify themselves as white of the pervasive and very real reality of racism than nothing will. And let’s not forget the homophobia. Some folks just choose to live in the funk of their denial.


    I live in AZ and the Southern Poverty Law Center has just opened up an office here due to the 150% increase in the number of established hate groups in the state. I can’t tell you how many people who I’ve had to “check” because of their overt bigotry. I guess they assume since I’m African-American I’m ok with bashing other folks of color. I have to remind them that I am an equal opportunity defender.

  10. Breezie,
    I do not have studies at hand, but I have read of those that point to the dis-ease (out of ease) among people of color as racial stress related (caused?) Heard, a couple of days ago on NPR of rising alcoholism among Mongols, who have lost community and sustenance. Whether verified by studies or not I am convinced that dis-ease, physical-mental-spiritual is a result of pathologies of circumstance. My high BP, pre-ulcerative condition and other ailments are rooted in denials that initially and essentially are to be found in racism and sexism.

    Somewhere I learned that when one feels discomforted by another person’s truth, such as by vegan white friends, the remedy is, as Wise, etc. say in other areas, it would be well to look within. I try to ask, “Why am I upset, i.e. defensive. Often, if I can be honest, it is my denial of a validity I do not want to face. This denial and discomfort is, of course, not the same as unjust denials and actions by individuals and institutions.

  11. Hi Breeze, do you think using the phrase ““whiteness as a pathology” can be misconstrued as ‘whiteness is a disease’ or something similar to the point that white people will automatically turn off from trying to understand race if they feel they are being attacked with that or similar phrases?

    1. Anon,

      Actually, that’s a good question. “whiteness” is not the same as “white people”. The Irish and Italians in the USA, for instance, were not “white” until the 20th century. They had to do certain things to be allowed into “whiteness”. If that doesn’t make sense, please look into the book “How the Irish became white”, by Ignatiev. Whiteness is a pathology because you must “other” anyone who doesn’t fit into that club, as well as erase what USED to make you “ethnic”. It’s complex and complicated, but “Whiteness” is a socialization and historical process based on colonization, oppression, othering, etc. “White” people and “whiteness” are not the SAME, but are actually inextricably linked to each other. This is why I say “whiteness” and not “white people” when I speak of pathologies. In all honesty, I think one should read Critical Whiteness studies to understand where I’m coming from and what I mean when I’m saying “whiteness”. Thanks for asking the question though.

  12. Breeze, I have honest questions for you and I know we are getting a little further off topic. First I have never heard of Ignatiev before and so I read a book review on his book that you mentioned then started reading about him. Honest question, by using him as a reference are you agreeing with his beliefs about whiteness and essentially agreeing with his overall views? ( IE not just about the Irish and becoming white, but his other views too )

    For example from a site that that I believe he is associated with ( or contributes too therefore could be considered endorsing it ) someone ( maybe he ) responds to a question under
    “Dear Race Traitor at”
    [ note: according to an online source ‘Ignatiev is the co-founder and co-editor of the journal Race Traitor and the New Abolitionist Society’ ]

    it is written in response:
    “….When we say we want to abolish the white race, we do not mean we want to exterminate people with fair skin. We mean that we want to do away with the social meaning of skin color, thereby abolishing the white race as a social category…”

    Honest question here: *If* you believe in and support this statement above, does this also mean that you also support doing away with the social meaning of *all* skin colors?

  13. I do not know Breeze’s response to “doing away with ‘all’ skin colors.” It is impossible to erase physicality. What needs to be erased, as Ignatiev et al discuss is the social connotation and denial associatied with the perception of external appearance.

    Humans are a categorizing/naming species. As such, categories/names allow the full concept to be ignored, denied and labeled. It is the socio-psychological unconscious and conscious use of color to separate and judge–as well as descriptions of separation. Discernment, as I was taught, is important, for we need to know the difference between the wall and the door. Separation on the basis of non-vital and valuable thought and behavior is limiting.

  14. My pointing you to Ignatiev’s book was simply to give you an easy start on one person’s understanding of the history of how certain groups of people were eventually allowed to be part of “whiteness” status quo. I read it when I was 19 (15 years ago) and remember that it was the first time I learned that people NOW seen as white in the USA, such as Irish Americans, were not always part of “whiteness club.” This was all my reference was.

    On another note, me recommending a book never means I 100% agree with any author. I believe every author has something to offer in terms of getting me to think more deeply about previous assumptions I have had.

    However, because it’s simply too much for me to teach everyone I encounter on the internet about critical race theory, critical whiteness studies, and black feminist theory, I ask that those who want to understand these topics to pick up a few books on these subjecs, because in all honesty, it’s really hard to have a dialogue about the very emotionally charged subject of “whiteness”, if one has not read about its history and its contemporary form in the USA. This is what I’ve been doing for the past 15 years when it comes not only to my problems with “whiteness” but also many problems I have encountered with constructions of “blackness” (not the same as ‘black people’).

    I am hoping that most people who write me with their concerns of my research on “whiteness” and critical race theory, have access to a library so they can check books out, as I know not everyone has the funds to by these books.

    And I know that there are those who may not have any interest in reading about these topics. Whatever floats your boat. I can only offer you a suggestion. I’ll post some titles if folk are interested in what have been reading these past 15 years.

    Also, I am not stagnant. My understanding of race, class, human-animal relationships, gender, etc are constantly transforming as I read more and dialogue more about these. My perceptions of these topics are not the same as they were 20 years ago, 16 years ago, 8 years ago, 1 year ago. Nor do I believe everything I read. I am not 100% in support of each author’s work or lifestyle. But, constantly reading various perspectives has helped me to try to better understand the complexities of USA as a society that has many major social issues that continue to be swept under the table.


  15. Breeze,
    I say nothing new to you, but hope to bring to the awareness of other readers that your comments above are so very important. The notion of reading, abstracting and assessing are critical thinking-reading skills that must be taught. You did a great job. Here’s hoping.

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