Dissecting the Implications of “Racist C*nt”: Reflections from Post-PhD ‘Post-Racial’ Land.

From Let to Right: Mariama Gray, Giovanna Montenegro, and A. Breeze Harper at the 1st Annual Women of Color Research Conference at UC Davis.
From Left to Right: Marima Gray, Giovanna Montenegro, and A. Breeze Harper at the 1st Annual Women of Color Research Conference at UC Davis.

On May 11, 2013, at 12:15 pm, I gave a short talk at University of California-Davis for the Annual Women of Color Conference, which was from 9am-5pm. The video is below. I also included the transcript. I didn’t read exactly from it, but you will get the basic idea.  This blog post and video are the continuation of my April 2013 blog reflection ‘Racist Cunt’ and Cyberbullying: Ruminations on the Troll Life.

Thank you to those of you who helped to cover my travel costs! I’m truly appreciative!

Title: On [cyber]bullying and racist [micro] aggressions: turning your experiences of discursive violence into opportunities for research and activism

Abstract: I will be discussing the research and activism I did as a PhD student, which investigated whiteness and neoliberalism within vegan spaces. I will draw special attention to how I had to navigate the tremendous amount of direct hate as well as covert racist micro-aggressions that I experienced largely from white identified people. Most importantly, I will speak of how I turned these situations into research and activist opportunities. I will try to answer what I think it means to do this type of work as a critical race feminist and Black woman in a ‘post-racial’ USA.

Full Transcript
In March 2013, I finally completed my dissertation and all my PhD requirements. Finally, I was PhD certified as a social scientist to investigate the phenomenon of structural racism and normative whiteness within ethical food movements such as veganism and vegetarianism in the USA.

I know that doctoral studies, and especially the dissertation portion of a doctoral program, can be very difficult for so many graduate students of color. However, I wanted to share with you my personal experiences of specifically doing the work of critical race feminism and critical whiteness studies in spaces that are quite hostile towards those of us- particularly women of color- who debunk the myth that we in a post-racial USA. I also wanted to share with you how repetitive experiences with what I’d call racist micro-aggressions, can be often times inspiring as well a physically, emotionally, and mentally debilitating. The most important question that I have had, since beginning my graduate work until now is: What does it mean for me, as a Black woman, to not play the expected “mammy” role, but to actually investigate the meaning behind this hostility and turn it into a scholarship?

Back in 2007, when I matriculated into Davis’s Geography Graduate Group program, I was dead set on researching 4 or 5 key black female vegans in the USA. I had posted on cyberspace, on as many blogs and other social media apps as possible, that I was releasing my Sistah Vegan Anthology and that I was searching for influential Black women vegans for my doctoral studies. However, I kept on running into what I would consider, hostile responses from white self-identified vegans who seemed rather angry that I was interested in how race and gender influenced not just Black women, but any vergan person’s consciousness in the USA. I tried not to be distracted by these responses, however, I have to admit that it nagged at my consciousness for a very long time. In the fall of 2007, I was invited to give a talk at Pitt, to discuss the concept of using veganism to decolonize the diet. I presented a case study about adjudicated black and brown youths who were introduced to a vegan diet [at an alternative rehabilitation program in Florida]. I solely concentrated on a bell hooks critical race feminist inspired analysis of this case study to my audience. Not once did I mention anything about animal rights, which is the mainstream reason why vegans in the USA feel strongly that people should become vegan. Within a week of giving that talk, an audience member emailed me. She was under the impression that I was quite “rude” to only talk about how at risk youths were utilizing a ‘decolonizing’ vegan diet to fight against white supremacist structures that make it so ‘easy’ for black and brown boys to enter the Prison Industrial Complex. She had let me know that it was “misleading” to give a talk about veganim and never talk about the TRUE purpose of veganism: which is really only about saving the lives of non-human animals. At the end of her email she also let me know that I needed to dress more professionally to be take seriously.

I forwarded her email to the person who had invited me to give the paid talk. Coincidentally, he actually knew who she was; she was a student of his and he had let me know that unfortunately, she reflected the ‘post-racial’ white entitled attitude that so many from her white Pittsburgh suburban neighborhood represented. Even though this happened 6 years ago, it highlights many of the similar emails, posts, and real world interactions I have had with white vegans who have heard about my Sistah Vegan Anthology, have viewed my recorded lectures, or attended my keynote addresses.

In 2010, I passed my qualifying exams and presented to my committee, that I still would be looking at the history of Black female vegans in the USA. They approved my proposal. However, about a month later, I found myself going through my collected emails and posts of ‘post-racial’ racist microagressions from white people, mostly vegan or vegetarian. Something was definitely there, but I didn’t know what I should do about it. I couldn’t lie to myself and say that it didn’t “hurt” to be constantly blasted with such vitriol, despite me always being ‘professional’, backing up my analysis with the strong canon of critical race, black feminism, and critical whiteness literature, and being ‘mindful’ towards mostly white audience participants. So, I was at a serious crossroads. I knew my dilemma was not an isolated event within the alternative food and food justice movement. I had privately shared my hurt and pain with a plethora of other food activists of color who were trying to understand how to deal with such hostility towards them, when they would try to explain to white foodies how white supremacy, as a structure, is embedded in the food system.

About a month after having my proposal passed, I told my advisor that I just couldn’t become as excited about researching solely Black female vegans, and that if possible, I would like to understand the hate, anger, and denial from the collectivity of white, mostly vegan people that had contacted me. I felt like a needed to create a type of critical race literacy model for a post-racial era of wh
ites in the USA who sincerely though they were ‘good’ people for eating ‘ethically’, ‘vegan’, and or ‘vegetarian’, but were simply unable to grasp how race, whiteness, and globalized capitalism organized the food system, organized their consciousness around ethical consumption, and influenced them to be unaware of racial power dynamics.
Yes, I finished my dissertation, but I won’t lie to you: it was very very difficult. I spent days wondering if I had chosen the right path. Despite trying to create this much needed critical race literacy model for the hip and rising vegan movement, my soul and mental health seemed to suffer greatly. I began to have trouble with balancing the comments, emails, and even real world audience’s covertly angry questions about the scholarly-activist work I had chosen to do. I also began to wonder if it was worth it. The anxiety attacks I would get every time I would be asked to lecture at a university was difficult. I’d often show up and see how often, most of the audience was white, and then I would think to myself, How would they respond to what I had to say and was I putting my safety in jeopardy?

In November of 2011, I was asked to give a talk about veganism and critical studies of race at UC Berkeley. I decided to talk about how Queen Afua’s veganiusm is an Afrocentric response to colonial whiteness and response to the legacies of slavery that have manifested as black health disparities and inequities in food and health access. I was never allowed to complete my lecture, as I was constantly interrupted by white audience members who were irritated that Afua asked black women to practice veganism for decolonizing their food practices and did not mention anything about animal rights. Despite me trying to explain that the kitchen is not oppressive for all women, and that historically, second wave white middle-class feminists have a collectively different relationship to the kitchen space than black women, I was also  interrupted by white women who were irritated that Afua’s sense of Black female empowerment meant Black women should reclaim the kitchen space as the central site of resistance and Black nation building. Yes, one can agree with me; it’s okay. But the lack of respect and sense of entitlement to not even let me finish my talk and not wait to bring these these issues up during q and a was quite telling. I was the ‘formal’, ‘articulate’, and professional ‘accommodating’ negro, while they were allowed to be the opposite…. and without repercussions. If this was indicative of my ‘professional future’, then I wasn’t sure if I should just get the hell out now.
But no, I didn’t. After calming down my enraged and broken heart, my dissertation chapter on Afua continued, and I was inspired to provide more evidence the next few months, why Afrocentric veganism came about. But I also beat myself up privately for having bitten my tongue and being ‘nice’ to the audience members who had disrespected me. Did they not know or care? Was I being an ’emotional mammy’ by trying to be nice and to not hurt their feelings? What exactly was my role as a black feminist scholar and activist? When do you just stop being ‘nice’ because it is at the expense of your own health?

I explore these questions and experiences in my new forthcoming book, Black, Mama, Scholar. Find out more, here at www.patreon.com/sistahvegan .

12 thoughts on “Dissecting the Implications of “Racist C*nt”: Reflections from Post-PhD ‘Post-Racial’ Land.

  1. My dear, young scholar-friend. I’ve not read your dissertation yet. I’ve signed a contract for the memoir, “Outsider in the Promised Land: Black Family in Jewish Community,” and am re-editing the manuscript for the publisher. Forgive me. You made no error in your choice of research. Your felt choice is your right. Consider that the concept of scholar-activist is an unknown concept in much of academia, particularly in misunderstanding the true purpose of research that I call the arrogance of the academy. Being ignored by 100+ judges (gatekeepers) is the sad reality for anyone who does stay in the road’s rut.

    Beneath the illusion of an open academy is a perspective that refuses, cannot, accept ” a wider reality.” having made one change, to veganism, they think they are correct in all dimensions. Recognizing that a cursory awareness of “diversity,” and the gospel of vegetarianism, veganism, any non-standard change do not preclude individual and communal histories and ideas. Finding a sliver of truth has resulted in an arrogance of assuming they have found THE singular Holy Grail. Racism, with all its fear filled permutations of nationalism, ethnicity, gender-bias and tribalism, is the root of racist micro-aggression that assumes itself to be “correct,” and superior, and if you do not agree, you are wrong. Criticism of your FREE, intellectual choice–and attire, and punishment to your survival, a la, no work, is ultimate cruel-genocidal rudeness. I have done no independent research in your subject, just decades of participant-observation. I dare say that the findings of your 21at century experience, to date, your expectation of an intellectual academy, is now, disillusionment. Know the enemy. Practice Akido, the non-offensive martial art, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually,

  2. I am finding these posts quite offensive to white vegans and vegetarians. It doesn’t matter to me if a person is black, white, purple or blue. I don’t know if its different in the US to the UK and we have more open minds but by talking ‘black’ & ‘white’ you are drawing attention to the past, not the present (4 us anyway) & certainly not the future. I wanted to say something when I read the ‘rascist cunt’ article/response to the article on dreadlocks as it did come across as condescending, to me anyway. I can’t help being white and as a vegetarian & average person I think this kind of analysis isn’t relevant in a modern society. Please try not to let race dominate so much! I know its your thing having a PhD but some of the things that are said can come across as derogitory to white people.

    1. Let me translate Loula’s message for the Sistah Vegan audience:

      “Hey! So, I don’t know if YOU know this but, basically, racism is in the PAST! Duh! If you keep bringing up race, RACISM COMES BACK, so people defining themselves as “black” and talking about “race” is the reason racism is around. Oops, I mean, racism ISN’T around . .. because I already said it’s in the past. You might call yourself “black” but I don’t see it because I’m COLORBLIND. And I can’t help it that I’m white. .. Oops, I mean, I don’t KNOW that I’m white because I’m colorblind, remember? Oh, and the UK is way more open-minded about these things, which is why we don’t talk about “white” and “black” here. Yeah, the people of color here, such as those with Indian and African backgrounds, are living a racist hellish nightmare right now in the UK as every news outlet will tell you but, I don’t pay attention to that stuff because stuff that happens to people of color ISN’T EVEN ON MY RADAR (cause I’m colorblind, so how could it be, ammaright?)

      Oh, and btw, just letting you know, multi-perspectivism is OFFENSIVE. .. to white people. I mean, there’s the mainstream, white perspective which shouldn’t be offensive to YOU because, well, duh, the mainstream, white perspective is the right and true one. I don’t even see why you need to resort to some other perspective when you can just use OURS. I mean, the way WE think and approach issues is the way EVERYONE should. If you don’t accept our approach, it’s derogatory. Oh, but it’s not derogatory for me to write this nonsensical message to you, a PhD who has spent over a decade researching these issues, despite my never having looked up what the word “post-racial” means. . .

      Oh, and all of this- namely, me telling you to forget about race- one of the many tools of oppression used to silence your voice- is not racist AT ALL. And my complete dismissal of Critical Race Studies has nothing to do with my racism. (What is critical race studies anyway, right, hahahaa?)

      BaBye!

      love (to expose my ignorance),
      Trolls MacKenzie”

    2. Dear Loula:

      Your statement highlights exactly what Breeze and countless others are discussing. First of all, no one is attacking you directly by bringing up race and inequality. You said “it doesn’t matter to me if a person is black, white, purple or blue”– that’s great! Keep being that way! This is not about individuals, but about how racism is structured into our society- so while you may not care, our political structures, economic opportunities, access to housing, etc etc DO CARE. You need to be aware of the immense privilege it takes to dismiss racism as something from the past. As for being derogatory to white people, perhaps you have difficulty understanding these critiques from someone who isn’t white. Don’t dismiss anti-racist critiques because you feel attacked- check out people like Peggy McIntosh or Tim Wise for anti-racist critique from white folks.

      In the meantime, know that a PhD is not a pre-requisite for not being an idiot. You can certainly pick up a lot of knowledge without dismissing those you don’t understand.

      1. There is no stigma to “not knowing.” It is, though, sad if a person is not interested in knowing. Humans are called “the thinking ape.” The definition becomes valuable when we acknowledge that we do not know “every thing,” possibly little to nothing, but we want to know so we make the effort, move beyond fear f of the unknown into seeking to know the unknown. Learning does not require universities–although they are helpful–leaning begins with questions, not accusations.. Learning demands that we are willing to explore what we do not know–after admitting we need to know. Then, seek teachers, books, experiences (listen-watch-ask… ) that move beyond fear. We can only be offended when we are ignorant–unknowing. We agonize for anyone who is unwilling to learn more. The people who hear, read, understand and commend Breeze for her willingness to look under the bed say, “Boo, go away ignorance. here is truth, they offer help–to inform–to open the doors to reality.

        Think about this, when a person sees her or himself as the center of the universe, “It doesn’t matter to me,” it appears thst person is unaware that there are seven billion+ humans on the planet–and oodles of other animals, plants and life. Each one is equal to the others–but most haven’t learned that. Not me, but WE.

        On Mon, May 13, 2013 at 7:22 PM, The Sistah Vegan Project wrote:

        > ** > Isabel Porras commented: “Dear Loula: Your statement highlights exactly > what Breeze and countless others are discussing. First of all, no one is > attacking you directly by bringing up race and inequality. You said “it > doesn’t matter to me if a person is black, white, purple or b” >

    3. Loula,
      This is an old post, but on the off chance you receive notification someone has replied to your post, I think it is important that you apologize to Dr. Harper. You clearly do not understand the issue and were being incredibly selfish. You attacked and bullied someone because you didn’t understand their position. That is harmful and not respective of life. Furthermore, a PhD *means* someone Haas devoted much of their life energy to scholarly pursuit of their particular subject matter. That alone deserves your respect. Perhaps you do not agree, but you owe a PhD respect. After all, humans are also animals, have you honored Dr. Harper’s life energy?

  3. Loula,
    You, inadvertently make the very point that Breeze, I, and the millions, including the 300 scholars at the 2013 “Collegium for African American Research made in Atlanta two months ago. The scholars were about one-third European, from universities from Finland to Fiji. The issue of race and racism is highly important or universities would not award degrees to students and scholars.

    You say you are “average,” that may mean that you are not aware of how scholarship works. Breeze could not have completed her study and been awarded a Ph. D. without the knowledge and support of the faculty.That’s how the process works. I wonder if much of her criticism is simply that “lay people” don’t know that simple fact–thesis approval? Scholarship is not “feelings,” it is study–as n mind-work. Noting is more relevant to modern society than to continue to study, write, read, talk about the deep denials of freedom to the majority of people on the planet, female, people of color, disabilities, aged…

    The socio-political climate in England and the US differs. England does not have the identical climate of chattel slavery, Jim Crow, and continuing denials of the lives of African descended people. It is difficult for some people to appreciate two things: 1. unique experiences of others, and 2. giving everyone the freedom to express that freedom, By not doing this, ignorance and denial–slavery continue.
    Of course white people become upset-angry, because it is human nature to not want to be criticized. Sadly, you extend the historical story of racism by saying just that.

    My reading of news from England shows that you are unaware of your own country’s experience-today–with the descendants of its former black colonials, from the West Indies and Africa, AND browns and blacks from Asia–e.g. Indian, Bangladesh. You do not seem to read your own press. I watch BBC America, Al Jazeera, Deutche Welle, and other NEWS reports from around the world, daily. Not “past!” Wishing will NOT make it so.

    You cannot “help” being white, I cannot ‘help”being “black,” although I am part European 35% MY dna demonstrates.

    I devised a check on my emotional reactions. I ask myself, “What is it about ME that has me so upset about what someone else says-writes or thinks.?” Unless the person has the “facts” wrong, as do you and others who can’t “get” Breeze’s point of view, my answer can be MY ignorance of the other persons experience/”facts”.

    Are you, like Breeze, unable to find work, despite qualifications and experience? Are you aware, as she and millions are, that “our” inability is in the perception of “others” who are unwilling to consider her/them for a job for which yoshe/they are qualified due to personal dislike and the POWER to deny that livelihood? That’s real and now, not history and then. Walk seven moons in another person’s shoes–first, one who does not have your “privilege.” Check the library for, anything by Tim Wise, perhaps,”White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son.”

  4. All I can add is that even though you (Dr. Harper) are currently facing something of a wall, the work you have done has got to break through it. You’ve been both an inspiration and this tremendous influence to me so I selfishly hope you continue on your path, no matter how taxing. I’ve only recently felt some of the issues you address–I’m a member of a local non-profit that supports vegan/vegetarian lifestyles and transitioning to such. I’m trying to complete one of their programs which requires some public service and when I bring up the fact that I’m most interested in doing work specifically with people of color to talk about veganism in a way that is connected to our experiences and resources in this area–I get blank stares from the completely white staff at this non-profit. Others in the program want to volunteer at animal sanctuaries and support causes specifically for animal rights and their requests receive tons of support. It saddens me this is my experience, but thru your work and others I just can’t give up the struggle.

    Thanks so much for being and doing so much!

  5. Breeze,

    “Part 2” is a fantastically good follow-up to “Part 1.” I have so far only watched your 12 min video one time through, but I see nothing that strikes me as disrespectful or inappropriate in any way for an audience of white male and female vegans. I will watch the video again and comment with proper feedback, but I may not be able to get back to it until this weekend. This is just a quick note of sincere collegial applause for what I perceive to be an exceptionally helpful therapeutic process (for me included) and a job very well done.

    Also, the warm opening photo (three great smiles) and academic venue are welcoming and professional. This astute intentional contrast with the opening photo of Part 1 creates a therapeutically balanced whole.

    1. Jonathan,

      Thank you for all your great contributions on this and previous threads. I’ve really appreciated and learned from your lucid perspectives and even temperament!!

      1. Thanks, YaDi! Your kind remark has prompted me to chime in again a bit sooner than I had expected.

        Breeze’s articles and the comments from her followers (including yours and all the others on Part 1 and Part 2) are educational and enriching for me. I once thought about these issues somewhat as Loula does, which is to say not very deeply at all. (This is not meant as a criticism of Loula, but rather as an observation about a necessary developmental journey). Now I am learning how to show respect for the truth and courage of women of color – without disrespecting myself as a white male – in a virtual seminar of astonishing heart and intelligence.

        We are here for a serious conversation about race, gender, equity and compassion, and Breeze clearly deserves first to be heard, validated and made to feel safe by her vegan white audience members. Her psychological needs in a moment of intensely vulnerable disclosure – especially given the scope of the trauma and injustice we are talking about – certainly outweigh the child-like psychological desire of adult whites to feel mammied by Breeze into a vegan post-racial “la-la land.”

        (White readers should look up mammy archetype on Wikipedia if they want to be blown away by the psychological depth of Breeze’s question at the conclusion of her article.)

        So how should Breeze react to an adult white VEGAN audience that does not validate her personal and racial trauma, and make her feel safe and loved in the discussion? Is the white version of this word “vegan” a sick hypocrisy? How can it represent true compassion if it places more value on the emotional health of chickens than it does on the emotional health of human beings?

        What does it say about human nature, nurture and language for such micro-aggression (not validating debate) to come from fellow “vegan” mothers and mothers-to-be? What is Breeze’s healthiest way out of the intellectually and emotionally hurtful “mammy double-bind” this ironic situation puts her in?

        I suspect her best option is to use social media to grow a supportive network of next-generation thinkers who resonate with her authentic vegan self-expression (exactly like she is doing), but the blowback must really take its toll, and the blowback from white vegans and prospective academic employers who profess to “know better” must be the hardest of all not to anguish over.

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