The micro-aggressive responses that “‘we are all post-racial’ whiteness” produces…

Since posting my three part series about whiteness in Buddhism, as well as how racialization affects spiritual practice as I experience it in the Bay Area of California, I have received comments from Zen Buddhists who have determined that I am ‘racist’ or ‘practicing’ racism for having written about ‘post-racial whiteness’ within American Buddhism and/or for having participated in a Buddhist retreat of healing for women of African Descent. I think the most interesting observation from these comments is that they are almost always from ‘white’ and ‘male’ Buddhists. I receive the exact same comments and emails from white, usually male, vegans who feel strongly that I should not be applying critical race and critical whiteness analyses to the cultural phenomenon of American veganism for my doctoral studies. In the rare times that I do point out to them, “Wow, it’s 9/10 times that it is white men who tell me that I am ‘racist'”, the accusing party will ‘educate’ me that their opinion about my work/analysis has nothing to do with the social implications of being white men in which structural racism-sexism and post-empire whiteness afford their demographic the most favorable outcomes (and I am specifically talking about racial and sexual configurations of power in the USA). Instead, they tell me that it is their ‘superior’ Zen Buddhist training (or their superior training in “European philosophical logic debate,” if not Zen) that makes them “immune” to the ‘ego’ creating divisions of ‘human labels’ because of their ‘superior post-human’ minds.  Um, can you say ‘micro-aggressions’? It is my belief that it is these micro-aggressions that are produced by a “we are all post-racial” whiteness ‘ego.’   It is not that I want people to automatically agree with every single thing I say. However, there is a difference between wanting to engage in a dialogue about our differences in opinion vs. just replying with micro-aggressive words. I usually get the latter, and in doing so, in a manner that conveys that even though they have not picked up one book about critical race/whiteness studies, or admit to me, “I’m not really sure what ‘racism’ or ‘whiteness’ are because I don’t have any training in this field but…” and then they  decide to EDUCATE me anyway. However… As I receive these micro-aggressive comments, I am actually inspired to continue doing the dissertation work that I am doing, and other writing projects and literary activism that ‘out’ the violence of “‘we are all post-racial’ whiteness” in the USA. This is how I interpret the Buddhist precepts and how to alleviate the suffering that reality of racism and whiteness in the USA has produced. Being ‘post-racial’ about it is dishonest (and this is how I interpret the precepts about being more mindful about such dishonesty).

I am on the last revisions for my dissertation work for the academic year of 2012-2013. The quarter at UC Davis starts up at the end of September 2012.

Over the past few years, I have dedicated a lot of time to helping people from all walks of life. Some of you have expressed interest in transitioning into veganism, but don’t know how to start. Others have asked me to help them become more mindful around issues of whiteness and structural racism. And some of you have contacted me about how to achieve a vegan pregnancy and lactation period.

I truly have enjoyed helping and consulting with folk. Every time I engage in these issues with you, I learn a lot and feel like it helps me become a better teacher.

However, as much as I would love to do this for free, I have financial responsibilities. I am requesting donations to help me finish up my last academic quarter and to finally earn my doctorate degree at the end of this year. If you enjoy the work that I do and/or have benefited from anything I have done or said, I would appreciate a monetary donation towards my tuition fees. Whether it is $5 or $50, every bit will be appreciated.

Some of you have asked me why I need help with paying for school: “Aren’t you a famous and published author?” Yes, I did create the book Sistah Vegan, but like most authors, unless our books are New York Times bestsellers, we get a small amount of return on this. I only made about $666 in royalties this past year. I truly do this work because it is in my heart; becoming rich and famous was never my motivation.

As an incentive for donating, I will have a raffle for those who contribute a monetary donation. The winner will receive a signed copy of my 2013 book Scars, to be released by Eight Ball press. It is a novel that explores the life of a black teen lesbian living in rural White New England. One of the four major characters is a vegan and enjoys promoting the ideas of food justice for human laborers and non-human animals.

Deadline for school fees: September 15, 2012

Amount needed as of September 14, 2012: $1000.

How to donate: I accept Paypal donations to the email account breezeharper (at) gmail (dot) com.

Thank you to everyone for all your support over the last 6 years.

Excerpt from Dissertation Introduction in Progress .

Tentative Title: Neoliberal, Afrocentric, and Decolonial Food Politics: From Racialized Consciousness to Vegan Commodity 

Looking at and beyond neoliberal whiteness (i.e. “white bourgeois lifestyle politics”) this dissertation will articulate and show how race operates in the creation of several vegan spaces (consciousness and physical) and consumption patterns of particular vegan commodities.

First, to understand and conceptualize contemporary forms of race, let alone white bourgeois lifestyle politics, one must understand how race, racism, and whiteness operate as structures, versus individual racism. All of us in the USA live the effects of race in all spaces: from psychic spaces, to community spaces, to cyberspace (Tuana and Sullivan 2006; Yancy 2008; Zuberi and Silva 2008) This includes the ethical consumption and alternative foods movements (Alkon and Agyeman 2011; Guthman 2011; Harris 2009; Williams-Forson 2006; Nocella 2012).Though Nocella and Torres directly critique individuals (i.e. “white people”), I have chosen to focus on the system of racialized hierarchies. Such a system produces and privileges “whiteness” and white people; this dissertation seeks to reveal how such a system is experienced by particular racialized subjects in the USA who desire to create vegan spaces, as well as those racialized subjects living in spaces of coloniality.  “A systems approach helps illuminate the way in which individual and institutional behavior interact across domains and over time to produce unintended consequences with clear racialized effects” (Powell 2008, 791). Powell’s analysis of structural racism helps me re-orient the question of how race operates, within spaces of veganism, from being an individual phenomenon to a structural phenomenon, revealing that no one can escape its negative consequences. I also will be using the terms normative whiteness, neoliberal whiteness, and systemic whiteness, to more broadly define the concept of white supremacy as it relates more to structures and systems and less toward individual racists. Such a positioning of white supremacy from individuals to systems and structures moves away from the traditional scholarship that understood white supremacy in terms of individually violent acts of whites towards non-whites (see Almaguer 1994; Frederickson 1981). In this dissertation, I will be using Lori Pierce’s concept of white supremacy (i.e. neoliberal whiteness and normative whiteness), which is defined as “The conscious or unconscious promotion and advancement of the beliefs, practices, values and ideals of Euroamerican White culture, especially when those cultural values are represented as normal” (Pierce in Cheah 2011, 3). The “common sense” notion that neoliberalism is the “natural” course of action to achieve equality is one of these ‘cultural values’ underlying the modern day value system of whiteness; it is the same operation of race that Bob Torres and Anthony Nocella find problematic within the value system of mainstream American vegan consumerism.

This dissertation will focus on how particular racial concepts operate within the realm of veganism. This will be achieved through analysis of the book Sacred Woman (Afua 2000), Food Empowerment Projects (FEP) Food Empowerment Brochure, and PETA’s Cruelty Free Vegan Shopping Guide. PETA, FEP, and Sacred Woman are located within the landscape of vegan food philosophies to produce “cruelty-free” and “ethical” spaces across multiple scales (consciousness, the body, the home, the community, and the globe). However, these three sites represent three different engagements with vegan commodities as the method for achieving ethical consumption, and ultimately, a more socially just planet. Such differences are not so much about food, as much as they are about the social, political, and economic relationships underlying these vegan food commodities and spaces (i.e. neoliberal whiteness, decolonial politics, dysconscious racism, ‘race-consciousness,’ and sexualized-racism). Through the lenses of critical studies of race, ethical consumption, and food politics, this dissertation will explore such underlying relationships.

9 thoughts on “The micro-aggressive responses that “‘we are all post-racial’ whiteness” produces…

  1. I LOVE reading the comments. It’s amazing to me how those micro-aggressions play out:

    “Black people are not the only people who suffer.”

    As if I or you said or believe that. As if I or you are qualified to speak on the experiences of other people’s lived experiences. As if the suffering of other people dismisses or disqualifies the validity of black people’s suffering or the right to speak on it.

    “I’m not suggesting that Breeze is perpetuating reverse racism, I highlighting the point that if she goes to a one race only group she is being a racist. Not a reverse racist, an actual racist.”

    Because, historically, black people have experienced racism in the US by some other dominant group that is not white? Umm, okay…

    And because Breeze has the power to deny these white males their existence by merely speaking about their whiteness.

    I love it!

    1. One gets to a certain point in life when one assimilates: either people want to listen or they don’t. An educator produces work and teaches for people who are interested in challenging their comfort zone. Don’t stop to dwell on those who don’t (easier said than done…but one must). It is emotionally and intellectually counter-productive for oneself to be dragged into ugly resistance. And, frankly, get riled up about resistant and aggressive people contributes nothing to one’s own intellectual and emotional development– their anger triggering in us anger that is the source of ill health and intellectual stagnation. Other’s angers keeps one from growing as well (as Breeze state, we don’t need to agree with everything).

      It’s enough, I think, that a handful of people want to listen, learn and challenge themselves with the work that one offers. Maybe not ideal, but that is the reality one should operate under for the sake of one’s health (thinking of Breeze here and the emotional cost that her activism can take on her, as illustrated in previous weeks). Writing and teaching are for those who want to listen. The rest-you can’t do much about (and that perhaps is the hardest lesson to learn as an educator). Don’t honor them by responding either. They don’t want to listen.

  2. Hello Breeze
    From a sister in the UK. I would like to make a contribution to your PhD fund but am unable to do this via paypal. Could you recommend an alternative method of payment? I really want you to complete your dissertation. Your work is important.
    All the best
    Yula

  3. Breeze,
    I am an elder, as you know.I have tried to interact in this contrary world, a l-o-n-g time. I have exhausted the limits of my patience. The issue is only tangential to your encounters with criticism regarding racism within your chosen spiritual modality. I see it as related for i subscribe to “all things are connected.” I do not want more contrariness. It has made me ill.

    I joined the Unitarian Universalist Association nearly 20 years ago. Having been skeptical of traditional Presbyterian Christianity from childhood, I returned when I had children, saying, I had no right to deprive them of their cultural heritage (the paternal family has been Presbyterian from the Scots-Irish for generations.

    A year ago I left UU over my perception of a leadership that I found not practicing the “Seven Principles” that brought me to the Association.

    Now, due to arrogance and hierarchical control there is a division in which one fourth of the Fellowship has formed a protest group. It’s not racial, but on principles, such as “Respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person,” and “the democratic process.” A couple of people described the minister as a “narcissist.” A member counselor called this “labeling” and “diagnosing” “Narcissistic Personality Disorder.”

    I wrote that the word “narcissist” is from the Greek myth where a young man was turned into the flower narcissist because of his self absorption. No one is diagnosing, just using a part of the English lexicon as they understand the person. Censorship is what has brought the congregation to the point of disruption and they cannot see that this argument over a word–not the medical diagnosis– is doing the same. divisiveness. I am outta there. I already have stress related heart failure. I’m going to read, write,and become a near-hermit. Yuck!

  4. I found your blog via a facebook friend, and while I am not a member of the Buddhist or vegan communities, I was fascinated because this *exact same issue* plays itself out in many of the communities I have been involved with. In comics: http://www.bleedingcool.com/2012/09/13/understanding-ethnocrunching-how-racism-works-in-the-comic-industry/ . In the atheism community: http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2009/06/sikivu-hutchinson-black-atheist.html , and certainly in the technical community: http://cnnmoneytech.tumblr.com/post/12654093975/yes-overt-racism-and-sexism-still-exist . It’s not surprising that the same issues exist, or that those fighting for equality hear the same sentiment: “we’re super rational/logical/whatever and could not possibly be racist and or sexist!” Thank you for sharing this.

  5. I am white. I am male. I am Buddhist. I am, more importantly, many other things. I love this article, the work you do, and the ideas you are sending out into the ether. Thank you.
    Just based on what you wrote, I can’t help but think that the angry folks you quote seem to be missing some of the central ideals towards which we Buddhists strive. It seems like ego and self identification are playing a huge role in their micro-aggressions. In a perfect world having a class for a specific group might be seen as racist, but in the context of out polarized, angry world, it seems like a safe place with similar people is a GREAT place to learn and grow. I can’t say I’ve seem a large representation of women of African decent in Buddhist circles, and as such any chance to expose these ideas to a group less likely to have it naturally appear seems wonderful to me.
    Thanks for reading. And thank you for your work!

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